Admiral Squashed White House Request to Hide USS John McCain
The debacle threatened to overshadow Patrick Shanahan’s first major speech on the international stage.
Good morning and welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief.
Good morning and welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief.
What’s on tap today: How the admiral in charge of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet squashed a White House request to obscure the USS John McCain during Trump’s visit to Japan, U.S. officials shoot down reports that the president overruled his State and Defense department and agreed to work with Turkey on the S-400 purchase, and a dogfight between F-35 fighter jets leaves an x-rated shape in the sky.
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U.S. Navy Stands up to White House Over USS John McCain
Shot down. When U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer received a request from the White House to obscure the USS John McCain during President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Japan, his answer was crystal clear: No way.
A senior U.S. defense official told FP on Sunday that Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, was the person who ultimately squashed the request, which sparked a global furor and threatened to overshadow Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan’s first major speech on the international stage.
Not an ‘unreasonable’ request. The directive, which was acknowledged by the Navy on Saturday, seems to have come from lower-level aides trying to avert an uncomfortable scenario—an effort that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney called not “unreasonable.” The president has made no secret of his dislike for Sen. John McCain, who emerged as one of his strongest Republican critics during his 2016 campaign.
But it raises questions about the politicization of the military, an organization that is traditionally apolitical. Trump has drawn the military into the debate over his long-promised wall on the border with Mexico, clashed with Gold Star families, and frequently used military events to deliver politicized speeches. Following the uproar Shanahan himself, Trump’s nominee to become Secretary of Defense, directed his chief of staff to tell the White House that the military “will not be politicized.”
Shanahan’s Asia speech overshadowed? The debacle likely came as an unpleasant surprise for Shanahan, who delivered a much-anticipated address at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue, Asia’s largest defense summit, over the weekend. In the speech, Shanahan blasted China’s efforts to bully its Pacific neighbors and steal other nations’ technology.
U.S. Won’t Compromise Over Turkey Missile Purchase
Officials deny Trump will work with Ankara on S-400. U.S. officials shot down reports that Trump overruled his State and Defense departments and agreed in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart to discuss ways to allow Turkey to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which the United States says is a threat to the F-35 fighter jet.
Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the National Security Council said the United States has been clear that the S-400 will create an “unacceptable risk” to U.S. pilots and hardware. Russia built the S-400 to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesperson. Having the Russian system operating in the same vicinity as the F-35 also provides Moscow the opportunity to collect critical intelligence that could compromise the aircraft, officials say.
Running out of time. U.S. officials have suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program over the pending S-400 purchase, but Ankara is still trying to convince Washington that the Russian technology isn’t a threat, writes Al-Monitor. But the clock is ticking: The S-400 scheduled to arrive in Turkey as soon as June.
What We’re Watching
North Korean official resurfaces. A senior North Korean official who had been reported as purged over the failed nuclear summit with Washington might not be on the outs after all. He was shown in state media on Monday enjoying a concert near leader Kim Jong Un.
Afghan peace talks resume. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, kicked off a two-week trip to the Middle East and Europe last week as part of the ongoing effort to bring peace to Afghanistan. The tour comes amid fresh violence in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where a car bomb targeting a U.S. convoy exploded early Friday, leaving four Afghan civilians dead.
Blow to Maduro. Russian state defense contractor Rostec, which has trained Venezuelan troops and advised on securing arms contracts, has cut its staff in Venezuela to just a few dozen, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The move is an embarrassment for President Nicolás Maduro as Moscow weighs the leader’s political and economic resilience against growing U.S. pressure.
Inside ISIS trials. Twelve French citizens are facing charges in Iraqi courts for their roles in the Islamic State. The cases could set a precedent for about 2,000 foreign Islamic State fighters lingering in camps in eastern Syria with no clear path to repatriation or justice, the Guardian reports. Most of the Frenchmen have been sentenced to death.
A message in the sky? Fighter jet contrails resembling the shape of male genitalia emerged in the sky once more last week, the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents for the military fighter pilot community. But this time, the U.S. Air Force says the figure was the accidental result of a dogfight between two F-35 jets.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider two key nominations—U.S. Air Force Gen. John W. Raymond to be commander of U.S. Space Command, and Christopher J. Scolese to be National Reconnaissance Office director — on Tuesday, June 4, at 9:30am.
Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, joins Brookings to discuss how security cooperation—including arms sales—can advance U.S. interests, on Tuesday, June 4, at 10am.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day and against the backdrop of evolving EU-U.S. relations, the EU and FP bring together some of the foremost leaders across the defense and security community for the EU-FP Defense Forum on Thursday, June 6, 8am-3pm.
The Center for Security and International Studies’ Africa program hosts a half-day conference on the growing insecurity in Mozambique on Thursday, June 6, at 9am.
Movers & Shakers
India gets a new defense minister. Rajnath Singh, a senior politician of India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, who previously served as home minister, has been appointed the new defense minister.
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Lara Seligman was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2018-2020. Twitter: @laraseligman
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