Politico: Esper avoids Washington as Covid crisis deepens
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Politico- October 8, 2020
— The defense secretary is spending most of his time traveling even as the virus infects more top military, government officials.
— President Trump commits to having all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
— Pence, Harris spar over Trump’s treatment of the military in only vice presidential debate.
IT’S THURSDAY AND YOU’RE READING MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re reminded that as much as this year’s protests over police brutality are demoralizing, it could be worse. Today’s the 51st anniversary of the “Days of Rage,” when the domestic terrorist group Weather Underground attacked businesses, homes and police over the war in Vietnam and racism (they also later bombed the State Department and a military recruiting center). A new film from Aaron Sorkinairing next week on Netflix that recounts the trial of the Chicago 7 may put our current troubles in perspective. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
‘NO INTENTION OF REVERSING COURSE’: A pair of senators on Wednesday renewed calls to levy sanctions against Turkey amid reports it plans to test a Russian-made missile defense system against American aircraft, our colleague Connor O’Brien reports.
“To-date, the administration has not imposed sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of the S-400,” despite a law aimed at preventing allies from purchasing Russian weapons, Sens. Chris Van Hollen and James Lankford wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Reports of this activation make clear that Turkey has no intention of reversing course and divesting of this system.”
“Additionally, the slow pace at which the Department of Defense is moving to remove Turkey from the F-35 supply chain has no doubt emboldened President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan,” they added. “Turkey’s recent reported activation of the S-400 system to detect the U.S. F-16 underscores our grave concerns about Russia’s ability to access sensitive data.”
Related: Turkey to test Russian-made missile that angered the U.S, via Bloomberg.
And: Congress must act to end U.S. military aid to the Philippines, via The Hill.
‘A REMARKABLY BONEHEADED IDEA’: A Pentagon proposal to move the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command out of Germany doesn’t stand a chance, says House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith.
“All they know is the president wanted 12,000 troops out of Germany and they couldn’t make the math work unless they moved that command,” Smith said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the American Security Project.
He predicted the most likely endgame is that President Donald Trump, who ordered the troops out after criticizing Berlin for not spending enough on defense, loses to former Vice President Joe Biden next month and the idea becomes moot anyway.
NEW BID FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT BILL: Advocacy group Protect our Defenders, which is dedicated to ending sexual assault and rape in the military, islaunching a campaign today to gain support of at least 60 senators for the MilitaryJustice Improvement Act to overcome any filibuster.
The “2020 Senate Candidate Pledge” comes ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on Oct. 13 that will address statutes of limitations for rape cases including those involving multiple veterans who are survivors or sexual assault.
‘NOT SUPPORTED BY THE FACTS’: Rep. Elissa Slotkin is pressing the nation’s top intelligence official for assurances that he’ll keep politics out of intelligence on foreign election interference.
“I am concerned that your recent public statements on foreign interference in our elections are not supported by the facts, as briefed to Congress by career intelligence officers,” Slotkin, a former CIA officer, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
She is asking Ratcliffe to commit to a congressional briefing from the heads of the CIA and NSA on election threats and permit career intelligence officials to brief lawmakers after the election on assessments of foreign influence.
OPERATION QUARANTINE: Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas has tested positive for coronavirus, the second four-star officer to be hit by the disease this week, our colleague Lara Seligman also reports.
Thomas was among top military officers who put themselves under quarantine this week after Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray tested positive on Monday. Thomas is experiencing mild symptoms.
The news came as the Pentagon stepped up the frequency of testing for top military officials, Seligman also reports. All but one member of the Joint Chiefs were tested on Tuesday and Wednesday and plan to get tested again on Friday.
Related: White House informed vets they may have been exposed to virus at event: The Daily Beast
GETTING OUT OF DODGE: “The Pentagon’s top military leaders are under quarantine. The president’s case of coronavirus is prompting concern that the U.S. is vulnerable to adversaries. And the election is stoking fears of more unrest in America’s cities. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper is rarely seen in the capital these days,” Seligman reports.
In all, Esper has spent nearly half of the past two days on official travel, and defense officials say he has another trip planned for this month. Critics say he’s avoiding Washington at a time of crisis.
Esper’s spokesperson, Jonathan Hoffman, responded that “even through the challenges presented by COVID-19, the Secretary has seen great value in his recent trips – especially those in which he continues to engage our nation’s partners and allies and meet with military members and their families.”
The Pentagon boss also “remains in full command and control of our armed forces and is in constant communications with the Pentagon and the White House,” Hoffman stressed.
HOME BY CHRISTMAS: On the 19th anniversary of the start of America’s longest war, Trump on Wednesday pledged that all remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be home by the end of the year, POLITICO’s Caitlyn Oprysko reports.
“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!” he posted on Twitter.
Previously, all troops in Afghanistan were supposed to be home by May of next year under the peace agreement struck with the Taliban earlier this year.
Related: U.S.moves from conditions-based withdrawal to inelegant bug-out from Afghanistan, via Task & Purpose.
HARRIS SLAMS TRUMP RECORD ON MILITARY: Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, who is hoping to replace him, sparred over Trump’s treatment of the military in their only debate on Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
“This is about a pattern of Donald Trump’s, where he has referred to our men who are serving in our military as suckers and losers,” Harris said in one testy exchange. “Because of course he only thinks about what is in it for him.”
Pence, whose son is a captain in the Marine Corps, defended the president, saying “the slanders against President Donald Trump regarding men and women of our armed services are absurd.”
Pence also touted the president’s record on foreign terrorism, including more aggressive efforts to rout the group from Iraq and Syria.
In honoring Kayla Mueller, an American humanitarian worker who was captured and killed by the militant group — and whose parents were in the debate audience — Pence accused his predecessor of abandoning her.
“The reality is, when Joe Biden was vice president we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller,” Pence said. “It breaks my heart to reflect on it but the military came into the Oval Office, presented a plan, they said they knew where Kayla was. But when Joe Biden was vice president, they hesitated for a month and when armed forces finally went in, it was clear she had been moved two days earlier, and her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American, that if president Donald Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today.”
F-35s TO QATAR? Gulf ally Qatar has filed a formal request to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet, joining the United Araba Emirates in seeking cutting-edge military equipment following their U.S.-brokered agreement with Israel, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
But an administration official told Morning D that a request does not mean the U.S. government will approve or even consider it. Congress is typically notified after the State Department has received such a request, but the House Foreign Affairs Committee has not yet been notified about any potential sale, a congressional aide said.
John Rood, who was ousted as the Pentagon’s top policy official in February, is now CEO of his own consulting firm, John Rood and Associates LLC, according to his LinkedIn page.
— Decisive Theaters: Navy must pick the right fights in great power competition:,Heritage Foundation
— Why national security requires a robust, innovative technology sector:Lexington Institute
— Crippled icebreaker Healy to get complex rebuild: Breaking Defense.
— The Pentagon should focus on Taiwan: War on the Rocks.
— How Russia skirts high-tech blockade to reach U.S. readers: The Wall Street Journal
— BOOK REVIEW: War: How Conflict Shaped Us: The New York Times