The Cable

SitRep: Trump Demands More From Military; Will Decertify Iran

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Threats, congrats, and Trumpisms. In a matter of moments Thursday night, president Trump managed to praise the nation’s top military brass, threaten Iran (and maybe North Korea), and then insult the nation’s top military brass right to their faces. Just another night at the White House. During a ...

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for pictures with senior military leaders and spouses. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose for pictures with senior military leaders and spouses. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Threats, congrats, and Trumpisms. In a matter of moments Thursday night, president Trump managed to praise the nation’s top military brass, threaten Iran (and maybe North Korea), and then insult the nation’s top military brass right to their faces.

Just another night at the White House.

During a photo session before a dinner with military leaders and their wives, Trump asked reporters, “you guys know what this represents?” Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”

One reporter asked what storm he was referring to. “You’ll find out,” Trump replied, vowing to “do what we must do” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. “And it will be done, if necessary. Believe me.”

He also praised the generals and admirals surrounding him, saying, “we have the world’s great military people in this room, I will tell you that.”

BUT.

He also said he expects those in the room to provide him with “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”

Trump to ditch Iran deal. WaPo’s Anne Gearan and Karoun Demirjian write, “President Trump plans to announce next week that he will ‘decertify’ the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on an emerging White House strategy for Iran said Thursday.”

Be sure and go back and reread the story by FP’s Dan De Luce earlier this week, that reported much of this.

To the Hill! The move will kick the ball over to Congress, the NYT’s Mark Landler and David E. Sanger report. “By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Mr. Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now.”

Russian hackers snatch NSA data. From the WSJ’s Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris: “Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.”

Pwned. Hackers have been accessing White House chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cell phone for months, dating back at least to December 2016 when he worked as a member of the Trump transition team, according to Politico. Kelly began complaining that his device was malfunctioning, leading to the discovery that it had been compromised.

Special ops in Africa. In the wake of the deadly ambush in Niger that killed three U.S. Special Forces soldiers and wounded two others, questions are being raised about how troops in the region conduct threat assessments and their intelligence collection habits. FP’s Paul McLeary takes a wider view of the American footprint in Niger, which includes at least 800 troops and a new U.S. drone base under construction, which would be the second in the country.

Duty free. Saudi Arabia agreed to purchase a slew of new weapons systems from Russia during King Salman’s first trip to Moscow. Saudi officials signed preliminary agreements to purchase S-400 air defense missiles, the TOS-1A multiple launch rocket systems, Kornet anti-tank missiles, and AK-103 assault rifles.

Asked if the U.S. saw the deal coming, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon emailed FP that despite the “robust and significant defense trade” between the U.S. and Saudi, “we have concerns about the purchasing of the S-400 systems, as we emphasize the importance of maintaining interoperability with US and regional systems on any major defense systems procurements in order to ensure interoperability against common threats.”

Hurricanes and troop surges. This year’s hurricane season and the ongoing relief effort by the U.S. military to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean will likely delay at least some part of the U.S. troop surge into Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the Joint Staff director, told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday. “There are going to be delays,” McKenzie said, though “I think the delays are relatively minor.”

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Nobel. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has won the Nobel Peace Prize, according to an announcement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The committee called the campaign, which produced an international treaty banning nuclear weapons possession among signatories, “a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.”  

Russia inquiry. Over the summer investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election meddling interviewed former British spy Christopher Steele, author of a controversial dossier alleging, among other things, that Russia worked with members of the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. CNN reports that the intelligence community has managed to confirm some allegations in the Steele dossier and has weighted it more heavily than intelligence officials initially let on.

Denial. Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service intelligence agency, pinky swears that his organization did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election, saying “Russia has never interfered and won’t interfere in sovereign nations’ affairs.”

Captives. Russia’s domestic spy agency told the parents of one of the men being held by the Islamic State in Syria to be quiet and “not to make a fuss” about their son’s predicament, the family told RFE/RL. The terrorist group released a video of the two men, saying it had captured Russian soldiers during an offensive in Syria’s Homs Province. Russia’s Ministry of Defense denies that any of its troops are missing, but the brother of one of the men in the video says the man worked for Vagner, a Russian private security contractor.

North Korea. The CIA’s top North Korea analysts say Kim Jong-un is a rational actor, saying that “Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke” Los Angeles isn’t on the dictator’s to-do list.  Yong Suk Lee and Michael Collins, deputy assistant directors for the CIA’s East Asia Mission Center, spoke at a George Washington University conference on Thursday. Yong said that, despite Kim’s bellicose acts and war talk, “He wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”

Selfie ban. Russia is forbidding its troops from taking selfies and publishing them to social media while deployed after reporters and open source researchers have used the posts to track the location and movement of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine.

Gulf. U.S. Central Command is scaling back some of its exercises in the Gulf as a result of the ongoing diplomatic feud between Qatar and its neighbors. “We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests,” a Central Command spokesperson writes in an statement to Reuters.

Iraq. The Islamic State’s last remaining urban stronghold has fallen to Iraqi forces as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the complete liberation of Hawija on Thursday in a televised address. Nearly a thousand suspected Islamic State fighters have fled the city towards to the town of Dibis in Kirkuk Province, with leaders trying to cut deals with Peshmerga forces for their surrender.

Haiti. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti is just about completed after 13 years. The mission first began in the wake of a rebellion against the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, and will begin transitioning to a civilian police advisory mission on October 15.

Myanmar. A consultant hired by the United Nations in May predicted a “serious deterioration” in the Myanmar government’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority and warned that U.N. officials must begin urgent contingency planning. The author of the report, Richard Horsey, now says the agency buried his report, squandering an opportunity to prepare for the humanitarian catastrophe.  

Like rain on your wedding day. A memo from Secretary of Defense James Mattis warning employees against the risk of leaks has, predictably, leaked to Military Times.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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