Overnight Defense: Trump poised to sign defense policy bill | Defense highlights from the Democratic debate | Top general denies 'coordinated lie' on Afghanistan

Overnight Defense: Trump poised to sign defense policy bill | Defense highlights from the Democratic debate | Top general denies 'coordinated lie' on Afghanistan

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


Programming note: Overnight Defense will be on hiatus for the holidays after today. We will resume publication Jan. 6. Happy winter break!


THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpMaxine Waters warns if Senate doesn’t remove Trump, he’ll ‘invite Putin to the White House’ Trump signs .4 T spending package, averting shutdown Twenty-five Jewish lawmakers ask Trump to fire Stephen Miller over ‘white nationalist’ comments MORE is scheduled to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at a 7:30 p.m. ceremony at Joint Base Andrews before he heads to Florida for the holidays.

Trump is also expected to sign the two bills that make up $1.4 trillion government spending package, including Pentagon funding, at some point before the midnight deadline to keep the government opening.

In the morning, he tweeted he will sign the defense spending bill, though he appeared to conflate the NDAA – a policy bill – with the two government spending bills.

“I will be signing our 738 Billion Dollar Defense Spending Bill today. It will include 12 weeks Paid Parental Leave, gives our troops a raise, importantly creates the SPACE FORCE, SOUTHERN BORDER WALL FUNDING, repeals “Cadillac Tax” on Health Plans, raises smoking age to 21! BIG!” he tweeted.

The NDAA has paid parental leave, a troop pay raise and Space Force. Wall funding was in the national security spending bill, which included funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon. The “Cadillac tax” repeal and the smoking age were part of the other spending bill.

Pentagon grateful: Ahead of Trump signing the bills, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump signs defense bill creating Space Force Overnight Defense: Trump poised to sign defense policy bill | Defense highlights from the Democratic debate | Top general denies ‘coordinated lie’ on Afghanistan Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff pushes back on Afghanistan reports MORE thanked Congress for passing them during a year-end press briefing.

“Importantly the NDAA authorizes the establishment of the United States Space Force as the newest branch of the Armed Forces,” Esper said. “Our reliance on space-based capabilities has grown dramatically, and today outer space has evolved into a war fighting domain of its own. Maintaining American dominance in that domain is now the mission of the United States Space Force.”

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Other year-end housekeeping: The Senate on Thursday night also confirmed three Pentagon nominees, starting to refill the hallways that have become increasingly empty in recent weeks.

As part of the wrap up before recessing for the holidays, the Senate approved by voice vote Lisa Hershman to be chief management officer, Dana Deasy to be chief information officer and Robert Sander to be Navy general counsel.


DEBATE RECAP: Democrats held their final presidential debate of the year Thursday night.

The PBS NewsHour-Politico debate in Los Angeles had plenty for national security and foreign policy watcher to chew on.

Here are some of the highlights:

On Afghanistan: Asked about the Washington Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” report, which revealed officials lying about the progress of the war, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenClaire McCaskill: Young girls ‘are now aspiring’ to be like Warren, Klobuchar after debate Booker releases list of campaign bundlers Yang campaign raises 0K since debate MORE highlighted his opposition to former President Obama’s troop surge.

“I was sent by the president before we got sworn in to Afghanistan to come back with a report,” Biden said. “I said there was no comprehensive policy available. And then I got in a big fight for a long time with the Pentagon because I strongly opposed the nation-building notion we set about.”

“Rebuilding that country as a whole nation is beyond our capacity,” he continued. “I argued from the very beginning that we should have a policy that was based on an antiterrorism policy with a very small footprint that, in fact, only had special forces to deal with potential threats from that territory to the United States of America.”

On China: During a section on how the U.S. can counter China, Biden revived an idea from the Obama-era “pivot to Asia:” sending 60 percent of U.S. naval forces to the Pacific.

“We should be going to the U.N. immediately and sought sanctions against them in the United Nations for what they did,” Biden added. “We have to be firm. We don’t have to go to war. But we have to make it clear, this is as far as you go, China.”

On Gitmo: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenClaire McCaskill: Young girls ‘are now aspiring’ to be like Warren, Klobuchar after debate Booker releases list of campaign bundlers Klobuchar raises more than M in online donations since debate MORE (D-Mass.) called for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility because “we have to be an America that lives our values every single day,” but did not explain how she would succeed in doing so.

Biden, meanwhile, defended the Obama administration’s failure to close the facility by pointing the finger at Congress, saying “they’ve kept it open.”


MILLEY DENIES MISLEADING ON AFGHAN WAR: The military’s top uniformed official pushed back on the “Afghanistan Papers” findings Friday, calling them a “mischaracterization.”

“I know there’s an assertion out there of some sort of a coordinated lie over the course of, say, 18 years. I find that a bit of a stretch; more than a bit of a stretch, I find that a mischaracterization, from my own personal experience,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon.

Milley argued that the sheer number of agencies and officials that worked on the strategy in Afghanistan would make it too difficult to coordinate on a message to deceive the American people.

“You’re looking at probably hundreds of general officers, State Department employees, CIA, the Department of Defense folks. I just don’t think that you can get that level of coordination to do that kind of deception,” he said.

Asked whether American lives had been lost in vain — to date more than 2,300 American troops have lost their lives in the war — Milley responded, “Absolutely not.”

“This is a very difficult, complicated situation, but at the base of it, for the United States of America it has to do with our vital national security interests to protect our people. And our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have given their lives in Afghanistan have not given their lives in vain, in my view.”

Afghanistan Papers vs. Pentagon Papers: Milley also said it was unfair to compare the so-called Afghanistan Papers with the Pentagon Papers of the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon Papers “were multiple volumes — I think it was 50 or 60 volumes of these things — and they were contemporary papers written in advance of decisionmaking,” while the Afghanistan Papers “was an attempt by SIGAR in about 2,000 pages or so to do post facto interviews looking backwards to determine lessons learned for the force as we go to the future,” he said.

“I think they’re fundamentally different in both nature and scale and scope.”



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