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Security Brief

Trump Bats Down Military Plans on Confederate-Named Bases

The move comes after the defense secretary clashed with the White House over the deployment of active-duty troops to quell protests.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with African American supporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 10.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with African American supporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 10. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: Trump rejects a plan to rename military bases, a top U.S. general says he regrets attending the president’s politicized photo-up, and what to make of new developments in peace talks in Libya and Afghanistan.

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Trump: Bases Will Keep Their Names 

After a week of global protest against racial injustice saw statues of Confederate, segregationist, and slave-owning figureheads toppled from Belgium to Birmingham, Alabama, senior Pentagon leaders including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy were ready to scrub the names of Confederate generals from forts throughout the southern United States.

But President Donald Trump had other ideas. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” the commander-in-chief tweeted on Wednesday. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”

Caught off-guard. In what has become an age-old story in the Trump era, the Pentagon was blindsided by sudden policy change from the president’s Twitter account, Politico reports. The tweets again highlighted the growing gap between Esper and the White House, after the Pentagon declared opposition to the president’s plan to use active-duty troops to quell U.S. protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

The timeline matters. Most of the posts—including Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Benning in Georgia—were established between World Wars I and II. Ret. Gen. David Petraeus wrote in The Atlantic this week that he supported renaming the bases. “The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention,” he wrote.

Some former Pentagon officials agreed. “I don’t know anyone in the military that wouldn’t support renaming our military installations after the young Medal of Honor marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen recipients, many of which sacrificed their life, over a general that took up arms against their country to protect the vile institution of slavery,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Trump administration. 

What We’re Watching

Milley regrets Trump photo op. Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s top general, Mark Milley, said he regretted joining President Trump’s controversial photo-op at Lafayette Square near the White House last week after police used tear gas and other riot control measures to clear out protesters. Critics said the episode showed the risk of increased politicization of the armed forces amid a debate over using active-duty U.S. troops to quell nationwide protests.

“I should not have been there,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the National Defense University in a pre-recorded speech. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

A stalemate in Libya leads to talks. A potential glimmer of good news is emerging in Libya, a recent hotbed of proxy power competition between United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey all backing various sides in the conflict. The United Nations said that Libyan National Army Gen. Khalifa Haftar met with representatives of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) earlier this week for “productive talks” after fighting reached a stalemate.

As the talks got underway, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who backs the GNA, said that he had reached agreements with Trump that could mark the beginning of a “new era” for Libya, though he didn’t elaborate on specifics.

Tenuous moment in Afghanistan negotiations. Meanwhile, Taliban officials have said they are preparing their agenda for peace talks with the Afghan government. No date is set for when the intra-Afghan negotiations will begin, but talks were held up over prisoner exchanges. As part of the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February, the Afghan government was expected to release 5,000 Taliban fighters and the Taliban to release 1,000 Afghan military personnel.

After weeks of stalling, prisoner swaps began in April, and as of June 8, the government has reportedly released some 2,710 fighters and the Taliban has reciprocated with over 500 prisoners. But complicating the peace talks are growing tensions between factions of the Taliban and indications a senior leader is severely sick with COVID-19.

Boko Haram attacks. Boko Haram militants are believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least 81 people in a gruesome attack on a village in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday, underscoring the growing threat from extremists in West Africa. Survivors told reporters that the militants arrived at the village claiming to be Islamic teachers. Once they convinced villagers to drop their arms, they opened fire. Nigerian troops have since been sent to the area to bolster the military’s presence there.

Proposed plans from the Pentagon to draw down the U.S. military footprint in Africa have drawn anger  from U.S. lawmakers, who want to bolster troop presence in support of counter-terrorism operations.

Movers and Shakers

Pentagon policy chief. Trump announced on Wednesday that he intends to nominate Anthony Tata, a retired brigadier general and Fox News contributor, as the Defense Department’s next policy chief. If confirmed, Tata would replace John Rood, who was fired by Trump in February: He opposed a freeze on U.S. aid to Ukraine that prompted that impeachment investigation.

Tata is already a familiar face in the halls of the Pentagon. He currently serves in a senior advisory role awaiting the nomination process in a move that could raise questions in Congress.

 Cybercom. The Pentagon announced on June 9 that Maj. Gen. Charles Moore will take over as the deputy commander of Cyber Command, replacing Vice. Adm. Ross Myers. Moore currently holds the position of director of operations, where he was instrumental in implementing the Defense Department’s “defend forward” policy, a cyber strategy aimed at monitoring foreign networks and preventing attacks before they happen.

Space Command. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker was tapped to serve as the next senior enlisted leader of the command. Space Command, launched in 2019, is separate from the U.S. Space Force.

Foreign Policy Recommends

Former DIA Director on racism. Vincent Stewart, a retired lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote a powerful op-ed for Task and Purpose on systemic racism in the United States: “I am now part of the ‘privileged’ class, a black man who overcame obstacles to become a three-star general, told by white people that at least things are better than they were, while black people think I can’t possibly understand their anger, frustration, or despair. Neither are right.”

The Week Ahead

NATO defense ministers will meet virtually on June 17 and 18. They are likely to discuss the decision by Trump to withdraw some U.S. troops from Germany.

The target date for a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Revolutionary Front is June 20.

Odds and Ends 

Accidental invasion. Polish soldiers reportedly crossed into the Czech Republic in late May and accidentally set up a checkpoint in Czech communities. Both Czech and Polish officials confirmed that the incident was not a purposeful invasion but the result of a misunderstanding on the Polish side and was resolved. Phew.

That’s it for today.

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Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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