Security Brief

What’s in the $740 Billion U.S. Defense Bill?

Trump is already threatening a veto over plans to rename Army bases named after Confederate generals.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. We are wishing everyone a happy early Fourth of July (and for our neighbors up north, a happy belated Canada Day!).

What’s on tap today: Congress finishes marking up the Pentagon’s authorization bill, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the Taliban is banishing al Qaeda amid the “Bountygate” story enveloping Washington, and the race to lead the House’s oversight of the State Department heats up.

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New Defense Bill Sets Up Showdowns with Administration

 It’s the most wonderful time of the year: when weary U.S. lawmakers and sleep-deprived congressional staffers hash out how to spend over $740 billion of taxpayer money in the annual defense authorization bill. The House Armed Services committee approved its bill over Zoom just before midnight on Wednesday after a marathon 13 hours of deliberations.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill after the July 4 holiday weekend before sending it to the White House, where it already faces a potential veto from President Donald Trump.

Among the National Defense Authorization Act provisions, we’re keeping an eye on:

Stonewalled Jackson. The bill gives the Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the chiefs of the services one year to rename U.S. military bases named after Confederate generals. Trump is threatening to veto the legislation over this provision, setting up a showdown between the White House and Capitol Hill—despite widespread bipartisan support.

Toy story. The House bill authorizes 79 new F-35 Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighters and a new nuclear-powered Virginia class fast-attack submarine.

Hell no, we won’t go. The House has opted to strip money from Trump’s announced withdrawal of 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany, which has met bipartisan opposition in Congress.

 Show me the money. The bill provides a billion-dollar fund for pandemic preparedness as coronavirus cases in the U.S. military have surged by nearly 3,000 since mid-June.

 No, really, show me the money. The House passed a 3 percent pay hike for U.S. troops, which would equal about an $860 yearly raise for junior enlisted soldiers, $1,500 for senior enlisted and junior officers, and a cool $2,800 for more senior officers, Defense News reports.

Flight delay. The committee adopted a measure that would fence in 25 percent of Esper’s travel budget until the Pentagon gives Congress a quarterly report of where U.S. troops are deployed around the world.


 What We’re Watching

Talibanned. The Russian bounty scandal continues to cast a shadow over Afghanistan, but Trump’s top diplomat has said the administration’s deal with the Taliban is still. “I spoke with the Taliban again just this week in an effort to further the peace negotiations to try and get them to the table with the Afghan government. I think we’re closer than we were even just a couple weeks back,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview on Wednesday.

Pompeo said he has seen indications the Taliban is working to destroy al Qaeda, and there are only “a couple of hundred active al-Qaeda fighters” left in Afghanistan. But recall what the government said in 2009, when top Obama administration officials assessed there were only around 100 al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan.

With friends like these. The NATO alliance can’t afford another rift between its members, but it has one anyway. This week, France announced it would temporarily suspending its role in a NATO operation patrolling the Mediterranean after an incident between French and Turkish warships in June. NATO announced last month it would open an investigation into the matter.

French officials accused Turkish ships of targeting one of its frigates with fire control radars after it tried to inspect a ship off the Libyan coast suspected of smuggling arms. Turkey denies the charges.

No unmasking. The Defense Department’s new industrial policy chief—charged with ramping up production of masks and protective gear to fight coronavirus—started this week, as Foreign Policy reported last Friday. George W. Bush administration veteran Jeffrey Nadaner took over as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy on Monday, replacing Jennifer Santos, who was fired and moved to a civilian job in the Navy in May.

The Trump administration later plans to nominate Nadaner as the department’s Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

Meeks shall inherit the earth? New York Rep. Gregory Meeks appears to have an inside track to succeed Rep. Eliot Engel to become the next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee following Engel’s looming primary loss. Behind the scenes, there is a heated race brewing in the Democratic caucus for the gavel with another top contender, Rep. Brad Sherman. Meanwhile, Rep. Ted Deutch and Rep. Karen Bass, a longshot vice presidential contender for Joe Biden, have told supporters they will not seek the chairmanship, current and former congressional aides told Foreign Policy.


The Week Ahead

A Turkish court begins the trial on Friday of 20 Saudi officials implicated in the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visits Washington to meet with Trump at the White House on Wednesday, July 8.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, July 9.

The Brookings Institution hosts the ninth annual EU Defense Washington Forum with the EU Mission in Washington on July 8 and 9. The event will be an online discussion featuring speakers including Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. special presidential envoy for arms control, and German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the German defense minister.


Foreign Policy Recommends

Not in my Marine Corps. Pervasive sexual harassment and assault issues in the U.S. military were thrust into the spotlight yet again this week in the wake of the disappearance of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén. In a moving account for Defense One, Erin Kirk-Cuomo, a former photographer and Marines sergeant in the U.S. Marines, shares her experiences with sexual assault in the military. Task and Purpose also has a new look into a sexual harassment case in an Army reserve unit that’s leading to a re-appraisal of how the military deals with the problem.


Odds and Ends

Treating the travel bug. One Taiwanese airport has a novel fix for people itching to travel during the pandemic lockdown: a fake airport experience where you can check in, go through security, and sit on a plane—but not leave. It’s the perfect solution for anyone who loves all the tedious aspects of air travel and hates the fun parts.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

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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