21 December, 2018 09:05

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, December 21, 2018 and the last day most people will be in the office before the Holidays. I intend to send out the clips next Thursday and Friday, and the following Thursday and Friday. I will endeavor to make the clips longer on those days if there are stories in the intervening time that should be noted. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a wonderful New Year. Today’s clips will be somewhat abbreviated as I have a radio show to do this morning.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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NYT: Jim Mattis, Defense Secretary, Resigns in Rebuke of Trump’s Worldview

By Helene Cooper
Dec. 20, 2018
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, whose experience and stability were widely seen as a balance to an unpredictable president, resigned Thursday in protest of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria and his rejection of international alliances.
Mr. Mattis had repeatedly told friends and aides over recent months that he viewed his responsibility to protect the United States’ 1.3 million active-duty troops as worth the concessions necessary as defense secretary to a mercurial president. But on Thursday, in an extraordinary rebuke of the president, he decided that Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw roughly 2,000 American troops from Syria was a step too far.
Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House with his resignation letter already written, but nonetheless made a last attempt at persuading the president to reverse his decision about Syria, which Mr. Trump announced on Wednesday over the objections of his senior advisers.
Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, was rebuffed. Returning to the Pentagon, he asked aides to print out 50 copies of his resignation letter and distribute them around the building.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being cleareyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held,” Mr. Mattis wrote. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
[Read the Mattis resignation letter.]
His resignation came as Congress appeared to be hurtling toward a government shutdown and as a deep market slump became even worse over fears of continuing government turmoil.
With the ousting this month of John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff, Mr. Mattis was the last of Mr. Trump’s old-guard national security team — leaving policy in the hands of Mike Pompeo, the president’s second secretary of state, and John R. Bolton, the third White House national security adviser.
Mr. Trump said that Mr. Mattis, 68, will leave at the end of February, and that Mr. Mattis “was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations.”
The president said he would name a replacement soon.
As Mr. Mattis was handing in his resignation, the Pentagon was preparing to draw down forces in Afghanistan. Two Defense Department officials said Thursday that about 7,000 troops will be withdrawnin the coming months — cutting in half the number of American forces there — in an early step to ending the United States’ involvement in the 17-year war.
“This is scary,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a Twitter post. He called Mr. Mattis “an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, called it “a sad day for America because Secretary Mattis was giving advice the President needs to hear.”
He added that Mr. Mattis “rightly believes that Russia and China are clear adversaries and that we are at war with jihadists across the globe who plot to kill Americans at home.”
Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter was the sharpest, and most public, protest from inside the Trump administration over the president’s rejection of the alliances and relationships that have underpinned American security since the end of World War II.
It was also the first resignation over a major national security issue by a leading cabinet member since 1980, when Cyrus Vance quit as secretary of state. Mr. Vance left over President Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue effort for American hostages in Iran that Mr. Vance considered ill-advised and that ended in tragedy.
Mr. Mattis’s letter did not single out any decision. Instead, it condemned Mr. Trump’s approach to the world as destructive to American influence and power.
He said the core of American national interests lay in “providing effective leadership to our alliances,” and specifically described the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a defense alliance Mr. Trump has often derided. Mr. Mattis also praised the “Defeat ISIS” coalition that Mr. Trump just abandoned in Syria.
But Mr. Mattis’s core complaint was that Mr. Trump had lost sight of the importance of the competition for global power with Russia and China, who want “a world consistent with their authoritarian model.”
Mr. Mattis was the primary author of a new American defense strategy whose central goal was to take on “revisionist” powers — an approach that some of Mr. Trump’s former advisers say the president never fully comprehended.
Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria, which was opposed by virtually every high-level administration official but lauded by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was the last straw. Among his other concerns, Mr. Mattis viewed the withdrawal as abandoning Kurdish fighters and other American allies, and as ceding critical territory to Russia and Iran.
No senior Pentagon official has defended the withdrawal publicly, despite requests from the White House. As a result, Mr. Trump appeared by himself in a video — which he tweeted Wednesday evening— announcing victory over the Islamic State.
During Thursday’s meeting at the White House, officials said that Mr. Trump again asked Mr. Mattis to publicly endorse the Syria decision. Mr. Mattis refused.
The president’s tweets announcing the departure of his defense secretary shocked officials at the Pentagon, who as recently as Thursday afternoonwere insisting that Mr. Mattis had no intention of resigning.
Mr. Trump’s selection of Mr. Mattis as his Pentagon chief only weeks after his 2016 election was widely praised. The career Marine was respected among allies and adversaries and on Capitol Hill, and he was beloved in the Pentagon as a protector against a president with scant understanding of his own role as commander in chief.
Mr. Mattis commanded Marines in Afghanistan and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq before becoming the head of United States Central Command, overseeing all American troops in the Middle East. Though a colorful, hard-charging advocate of aggressive offensive action, Mr. Mattis viewed a tough American posture overseas as a way to deter war, not to start them, with potential foes like Iran.
He favored working with allies, and often spoke of how difficult it was to conduct American policy without the benefit of friends. During his job interview with Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Mattis said he did not believe in torturing terrorism suspects to get information because he thought he could get more out of detainees by talking to them over a pack of cigarettes and a beer.
The relationship between Mr. Mattis and Mr. Trump had deteriorated for months. The widely accepted narrative that Mr. Mattis was the adult in the room when at the White House came to annoy the president. In October, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Mattisof being a Democrat — a charge akin to treason in the current Republican administration.
As defense secretary, Mr. Mattis oversaw the world’s most powerful military, supervising active-duty troops based in the United States and deployed worldwide, including in war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and on the Saudi border with Yemen. There are also around 25,000 American troops in South Korea, where they have served for generations as a deterrent against North Korea.
As with Mr. Trump’s abrupt firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the split with Mr. Mattis was a full turn in a relationship that once appeared strong.
In Mr. Mattis’s early days as defense secretary, he often ate dinner with the president in the White House residence. Over hamburgers, and with the help of briefing folders, Mr. Mattis explained to Mr. Trump key points about the United States’ relationships with allies.
But Mr. Mattis also quietly slow-walked a number of Mr. Trump’s proposals, including banning transgender troops, starting a Space Force and putting on a costly military parade. In each case, he went through the motions of acquiescing to the White House — and then buried the plans in Defense Department red tape.
Military Times: Mattis Retirement Letter
Dear Mr. President:
I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.
I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.
I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.
I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.
James N. Mattis

Military.com: Budget Impasse Delays 2019 Military Pay Charts Release
18 Dec 2018
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The Pentagon has delayed release of the 2019 military pay charts until Congress and the White House resolve a standoff on the budgets for several federal agencies and border wall funding that threatens a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday.
The 2.6 percent pay raise for military personnel of all ranks is still guaranteed, but the release of the military pay charts, normally distributed in mid-December by the Defense Finance and Accounting Agency (DFAS), has been put on hold because of a wrinkle in the law that could possibly affect four-star ranks.
Top paygrades in the military are capped by law to align with those of the highest federal government civilian pay rate.
However, the top civilian pay rates can’t be determined until the budgets for a number of departments and agencies are approved, said a U.S. official who has knowledge of the issue but spoke on the condition of anonymity with Military.com on Tuesday.
Once the budgets are approved, DFAS will need to gauge whether the 2.6 percent pay raise would put the four-star ranks above the highest civilian pay rate.
If that ends up the case, "they’ve got to be lowered to the cap amount," the official said.
Only after these comparisons occur can DFAS release fully accurate military pay charts for 2019, the official said, adding that other paygrades would not be affected by the stipulation.
DFAS’ pay chart release issues stem from Congress’ failure to pass spending bills for the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Commerce, Justice, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and several smaller agencies.
As part of any deal to fund those departments, President Donald Trump has demanded $5 billion for construction of the southern border wall. House and Senate Democrats have offered $1.6 billion for border security measures that would not include wall construction.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Senate Republican and Democratic leaders have restarted negotiations after the White House signaled that Trump did not want a shutdown.
Unless an agreement is reached by midnight Friday, the unfunded departments will face a shutdown that would affect about 800,000 federal workers. Those whose jobs are considered to affect national security would be asked to work without pay, while others would be furloughed.
In previous shutdowns, all federal workers have been reimbursed when the shutdown ended.
The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs would not be affected by the threatened shutdown. Both departments are fully funded through this fiscal year.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the more than 40,000 active-duty Coast Guardpersonnel, who are part of the Department of Homeland Security and would be affected by a shutdown.
Homeland Security and the Coast Guard referred questions on whether service members would get paid to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not immediately respond.
In previous shutdowns, Coast Guard personnel were ordered to work without pay.
Stripes: Trump agitating for major military withdrawal from Afghanistan, advisers say
By DAN LAMOTHE, MISSY RYAN AND JOSH DAWSEY | The Washington Post | Published: December 20, 2018
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to come up with a plan to withdraw nearly half of the more than 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, a move that many of Trump’s senior advisers and military officials have warned will plunge the country further into chaos.
The order comes on the heels of Trump’s announcement that he will be withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, a surprise decision that the president made against the counsel of his top advisers and without warning any of the allies who have fought alongside American forces in the battle there against the Islamic State.
The Afghanistan directive also comes as the United States attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, potentially undercutting leverage that American diplomats have. It marks a significant departure from Trump’s August 2017 decision to slightly increase the number of U.S. troops there and keep them in place with conditions on the ground dictating withdrawal.
Trump’s moves on Syria and Afghanistan prompted the resignation Thursday of Trump’s Pentagon chief, Jim Mattis, who said in a letter to the president that Trump had the right to find a defense secretary whose views were better aligned with his. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who was among the first combat leaders in Afghanistan, opposes a hasty withdrawal from both countries.
The issue came up at a White House meeting of Cabinet-level officials this week, according to one adviser to the president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. The president pressed White House national security adviser John Bolton to make the moves, and Bolton is resisting, the adviser added.
Outgoing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine general, also has opposed Trump’s impulses on both countries but no longer has any lasting power with the president.
A senior administration official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that other U.S. officials are still trying to change Trump’s mind, and it is unlikely a decision on it will be announced Friday.
The news, first reported Thursday by the Wall Street Journal, is certain to worry senior officials in Afghanistan, who already are battling deteriorating security in the country despite the existing U.S. military presence there. And it will be greeted wearily by many senior U.S. military officers, who have launched more airstrikes in Afghanistan this year than in any in the history of the 17-year-old war, the longest in American history.
The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. David Butler, said he did not have comment right now. Defense officials in the United States either did not respond to the reports, or said they had no information.
A cut to about 7,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would likely mean the United States abandons much of its mission advising Afghan forces, with emphasis remaining on counterterrorism operations and securing a few military installations, such as Bagram Airfield.
Senior U.S. military officials have repeatedly warned that leaving Afghanistan could have dangerous consequences in the United States.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Dec. 6 that in his judgment, withdrawing would "give terrorist groups the space within which to plan and conduct operations against the American people, our homeland and our allies."
Mattis, speaking in August, said that the U.S. military remains in Afghanistan to ensure American security at home.
"That involves the Afghan people being in control of their own future," Mattis said. "This is why we talked about an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process. We believe that the best way to get there is to ensure the Taliban recognizes they can’t win on the battlefield; they must negotiate."
Army Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller took over as the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan in September, and has mainly remained quiet in the media while assessing conditions on the ground. He survived an attack in Kandahar province in October that killed two senior Afghan officials and wounded an American senior officer, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley.
Miller, speaking with NBC News after the attack, said that he assesses that neither the U.S.-led coalition backing the Afghan government nor the Taliban can presently win the war through military force. He also said that he does not feel pressure from Washington to show results.
"I naturally feel compelled to try to set the conditions for a political settlement," Miller said in the interview. "So pressure from that standpoint, yes. I don’t want everyone to think this is forever."
Speaking in his confirmation testimony in June, Miller told senators his initial belief was that the United States had the correct number of troops in Afghanistan.
He said the continued mission there was crucial to protecting U.S. security, a lesson he learned in his counterterrorism work of over a decade and a half.
"I’ve learned these groups thrive in ungoverned spaces," Miller said. "And I’ve also learned when we maintain pressure on them abroad, they struggle to organize and build the means to attack us. Our core goal in Afghanistan is to ensure terrorists can never again use the country as a safe haven to threaten the United States or other members of the international community."
Federal Times: Shutdown Watch: House passes CR with border wall funding
By: Jessie Bur   10 hours ago
Update: Dec. 20, 8:05 p.m.
The House voted 217 to 185 to pass legislation that would fund the federal government through Feb. 8, 2019, with the addition of over $5.7 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection for “procurement, construction and improvements.”
The legislation also includes $7.8 billion in disaster relief funding.
The bill now moves on to the Senate, which must pass the legislation or other government funding before midnight Friday to avert a partial shutdown.
The situation thus far
The White House position on continued government funding into 2019 and whether or not that funding would have to include provisions for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border has shifted in the week leading up to a potential government shutdown, making Congress’s job of nailing down the details of a funding package that much harder.
The Trump administration indicated early in the week that it did not want to shut down the government and would look for other avenues to fund the border wall, walking back from Donald Trump’s statements the week prior that he would be proud to shut down the government over border security.
Late Wednesday night, the Senate then unanimously passed a “clean” continuing resolution, meaning that the federal agencies without fiscal year 2019 appropriations would be funded at the same levels as prior without changes.
But Trump flipped his stance again Thursday morning, likely due to pressure from his base and the conservative House Freedom Caucus to ensure that border security funding was guaranteed by the end of the year.
Trump told House Republican leadership at a White House meeting that he would not sign the legislation passed by the Senate without border wall funding.
Military Times: Trump tells GOP leaders he won’t sign bill to avoid shutdown
By: Lisa Mascaro, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, The Associated Press   16 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told congressional Republicans Thursday he would not sign a bill to fund the government because it doesn’t include money for his border wall with Mexico, throwing the budget process into deep disarray and risking a federal shutdown this weekend.
"The president said he will not sign this bill," House Speaker Paul Ryan said exiting a hastily called meeting with Trump and other GOP lawmakers at the White House.
The House had been set to vote on the bill Thursday, before a deadline at midnight Friday to fund parts of the government or risk a partial shutdown just before Christmas.
The White House suggested earlier Thursday that Trump was not onboard with the critical spending agreement because it lacked billions of dollars for “steel slats or a wall” at the Mexican border.
And Trump himself lashed out at Republican leaders on Twitter after speaking by telephone with Ryan. Then Trump’s press secretary issued a statement saying the president "does not want to go further without border security," including money for the wall.
Trump has faced rare, bitter criticism from some fellow Republicans over the past day for "caving" on wall funding. As House Republicans struggled to find the votes to pass the Senate bill, Trump started blaming GOP leaders for failing to deliver on the $5 billion he had demanded for the wall. Ryan had promised a "big fight" after the midterm elections, but as Republicans lost House control, negotiations over the year-end spending bill have largely been between Trump and Democrats.
"I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership," Trump tweeted shortly after calling Ryan during a morning meeting of House Republicans. "Would be done by end of year (NOW). It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries – but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!"
The day’s schedule was thrown into chaos. A morning press conference of GOP leaders was abruptly canceled as lawmakers filed out of a basement meeting to head to the floor for other matters. Voting was not set.
"Republicans are in a state of disarray," said House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become speaker when Democrats take control Jan. 3. "Wall funding is a non-starter."
The temporary funding bill would keep government running to Feb. 8, but some House Republicans say it’s better to fight for the border wall now, before they relinquish their majority to Democrats in the new year. Facing enormous criticism from high-profile conservative media figures, they don’t want to leave town without one last fight over the border wall.
Rep. Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican and House Freedom Caucus member, said some Republicans want to "continue to fight for wins we promised the American people we would get."
"I don’t know anybody that’s ready to vote for this," he said.
Members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus have been urging Trump to insist on money for the border wall with Mexico. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the group, said Trump should veto the funding bill if it passes.
"I’m not afraid of losing the vote, but I am afraid of not fighting," said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas. "That’s how this president got in. We want a secure border. It’s not the time to quit."
Without a deal, more than 800,000 federal workers would face furloughs or be forced to work without pay, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.
Trump has not indicated whether he would sign or veto the legislation if it is approved. With Pelosi’s backing the bill likely has enough support to pass with votes mostly from Democratic lawmakers, who are still the minority, and some Republicans.
The White House had previously indicated that Trump was open to reviewing whatever Congress could send him. But the president did not immediately weigh in on the short-term spending plan, which would fund government past Friday’s deadline to Feb. 8. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday.
Trump in an early morning tweet on Thursday had appeared to focus on other aspects of border security, and not just the wall.
"With so much talk about the Wall, people are losing sight of the great job being done on our Southern Border by Border Patrol, ICE and our great Military," Trump tweeted. "Remember the Caravans? Well, they didn’t get through and none are forming or on their way. Border is tight. Fake News silent!"
Trump appeared earlier in the week to shelve his shutdown threats after promising a fight over the wall, a project central to his presidential campaign. Just last week Trump said he would be "proud" to shut down the government over it. Some of his allies described the move as caving on his pledge and they expressed concern it could hurt Trump’s 2020 prospects.
Meadows said Trump’s political base "will just go crazy" if he signs a stopgap bill without the wall money.
Meadows added on Fox News, "A lot of people are very nervous this morning about whether the president will cave or not."
Trump had been directing his ire at Democrats, tweeting that they were "putting politics over country."
The president also put Democrats on notice Thursday about their agenda for the new year, saying he "will not sign any of their legislation, including infrastructure, unless it has perfect Border Security."
Trump wanted $5 billion. The bill keeps funding at current levels, $1.3 billion, for border security and fencing, but not for the wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said passing the stopgap funding bill would show that Republicans, still in control of the House and Senate, could finish the year by not prolonging a potential crisis.
It was unclear how many House members might return for votes. Some 70 members missed Wednesday’s session, almost as many Democrats as Republicans.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have made it clear they will not support money for Trump’s wall.
Schumer said Democrats oppose Trump’s border demands because the wall is "inefficient" and because Trump, as a candidate, promised that Mexico would pay for it, which Mexico has refused to do.
"We want smart, effective border security," Schumer said. "That’s not a wall."
Congress did pass legislation to fund much of the government through the current budget year, until next Oct. 1.
At issue in the current fight is money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.
Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are covered for the year and would continue to operate as usual. The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, would not be affected by any government shutdown because it’s an independent agency.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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