National Security Weekly Report
National Security Division
Week of November 9, 2018
Items of Interest
Balangiga Bells Update
Conflicting resolutions on the “Bells of Balangiga” were brought before the National Security Commission at the 2018 American Legion National Convention. The Balangiga bells are three church bells taken by the United States Army from the town church of Balangiga in the Philippines as war trophies after reprisals following the Balangiga massacre in 1901 during the Philippine-American War. One church bell is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, their base in South Korea, while two others are on a former base of the 11th Infantry Regiment at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Since the 1990s, there have been several attempts to return the bells to the Philippines by both Filipino and US lawmakers, all of which The Legion resisted. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte called for their return in his 2017 State of the Nation Address, saying the bells belong to the Philippines and are part of the Filipinos' national heritage. Filipinos revere the Balangiga bells as symbols of their long struggle for independence. In early August 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis notified Congress that the department plans to return the Bells to the Philippines this year.
After vigorous debate, the National Security Commission agreed that there was now a compelling national security interest in returning the bells and approved Resolution No. 2: Return of Church Bells from F. E. Warren AFB to the Philippines, which was also approved by the convention delegates.
A recent article from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative about U.S.-Philippines-China relations contains reference to the issue. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
While Duterte has yet to pay a visit to any Western capital two years into his term, his visits to major non-NATO U.S. allies, sending high level delegations to the United States and Australia, participation in major naval exercises, and sustained comprehensive engagement belie the claims that he is dumping the West for China. To date, Duterte has already visited six major non-NATO allies—Jordan, Israel, South Korea, Bahrain, Thailand, and Japan, with three of the six also being fellow U.S. treaty allies.
In a remarkable twist in his visit to Israel, the first ever by a Philippine president, he even apologized for insulting former U.S. president Barack Obama following U.S. comments on the Duterte administration’s human rights record ahead of a proposed sideline meeting. The apology came a few weeks after reports came out saying that the Balangiga bells—church bells taken by U.S. soldiers as trophies during a bloody episode of the Philippine-American War more than a century ago—were finally going to be returned to Samar province. Several efforts over past decades have been made to facilitate their repatriation, but their repeated failure has been a source of frustration in the bilateral relationship. Duterte demanded the return of the bells in his second State of the Nation address in 2017, and required their return before he would agree to talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Progress on this thorny issue bodes well for the trajectory of relationship.”
The Geopolitical Fallout From the U.S. Midterm Elections
- The Democrats' newfound control over the U.S. House of Representatives probably won't translate into greater control of the president's foreign trade powers. With vocal critics of Trump's trade policies out of the Senate, the new House will instead try to influence congressional approval for future trade negotiations.
- The president has significant clout over foreign policy, but Congress can still try to build momentum for heavier sanctions against Russia or measures to rein in Saudi Arabia.
- Gridlock will dominate some parts of the policymaking process under a divided Congress. The House probably won't be able to go after the tax reform that has already passed, but White House priorities such as immigration reform and additional tax cuts are now likely off the table.
The Nov. 6 U.S. midterm elections delivered the mixed result for Congress that had been widely anticipated. The Democratic Party won control of the House of Representatives, while the Republican Party's advantage in the Senate widened slightly. The divided control of Congress means that White House policy priorities in some areas will face more resistance from lawmakers, with the inevitable partisan gridlock providing fodder for both parties ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Here's what to expect over the months ahead in terms of the election's most relevant geopolitical implications.
Little Change on Trade
A divided Congress will not increase the potential for a stronger check on the trade powers being exercised by President Donald Trump. For the most part, Democratic candidates who campaigned on a message of opposing Trump's trade agenda did not fare well in the election.
A number of proposals have been floating in Congress over the past several months that focus principally on curbing presidential authority granted under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, under which Trump has exercised broadly to impose tariffs and quotas in the name of national security. However, those proposals were largely a reaction to Trump's threat to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement without a replacement agreement and to impose auto tariffs on its North American partners. The 11th-hour deal reached on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to supplant NAFTA largely neutralized that threat, robbing momentum from the movement to institute a congressional check. Democrats will gain a stronger presence on the House Ways and Means Committee, but two of the Senate's most vocal critics of the president's trade policy, Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, will not return to their seats.
The White House is still holding onto the threat of auto tariffs as a point of leverage in its trade negotiations with the European Union and Japan, but any negative domestic reaction from auto tariffs slapped on partners outside North America will be more muted. The best hope for the European Union and Japan on trade at this point is that a Commerce Department report on auto tariffs, expected to come out by mid-February, will clarify the extent of expected White House action on the auto tariff threat so they can adjust their own negotiating strategies accordingly.
House approval will be required to pass implementing legislation for any free trade agreements the White House may negotiate. A Democratic-controlled House will be more forceful in demanding that the White House conduct trade negotiations in line with priorities outlined through the Trade Promotion Authority process, including pushing for high labor and environmental standards. Democrats are not likely to derail approval of the USMCA, but their concerns may weigh on the trade deals that the White House is attempting with the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom that would require bipartisan support.
The Effects on Foreign Policy
Though Congress generally has limited clout over U.S. foreign policy, there are a few areas where congressional intervention could have an impact.
On China: Trump's broad assault on China has largely garnered bipartisan support, as evidenced by Congress' approach to subjecting Chinese trade and investment in the United States, particularly in sensitive sectors like technology, under more oversight and restrictions. Now that some political pressure on Trump has eased with the conclusion of the midterms, and trade negotiations face more obstacles ahead, China will be bracing itself for more tariffs.
On Taiwan: Historically, Congress has been more assertive than the White House in pushing pro-Taiwan policy, another area that enjoys bipartisan consensus. As part of its broader competition with China, the White House has shown greater willingness to back Taiwan more prominently, though key Cabinet figures like U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis have advocated avoiding provocations that could result in a Chinese military response. The key congressional hawks on Taiwan policy to watch include Menendez and Senate colleagues Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio and Ed Markey.
On North Korea: Similar to Iran policy, the North Korean portfolio remains largely in the executive branch's hands at this stage. As the White House tries to break out of a negotiation impasse with Pyongyang, any attempt to ease sanctions to further the denuclearization process could be met with tight scrutiny from national security hawks in Congress looking for more visible evidence of North Korea's commitment to denuclearization first. One area to watch is whether Congress may eventually try to impose conditions on any easing of sanctions with legislation, thereby hampering the president's personal guarantees to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
On Russia: With the Democrats in control of the House, the White House will fall under more scrutiny in the probe to determine the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 national elections — an ongoing thorn in the Trump administration's relationship with the Kremlin. Nonetheless, a U.S. imperative to keep a strong check on Russian aggression abroad and hold Moscow accountable for its cyberwarfare campaigns has drawn bipartisan support. The conclusion of the midterms will now bring legislation to expand sanctions like the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act and the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act back into focus. It will be important to watch whether Congress will continue to incrementally build sanctions (targeting specific individuals and entities) or go for the more aggressive option of sanctioning Russian sovereign debt and bank transactions.
On Saudi Arabia: There are few defenders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remaining in Congress in the wake of the disappearance and apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Now that the midterms are complete, Congress will be free to again focus on Saudi Arabia policy and solidify the bipartisan forces needed to pass legislation. A review of the extent of U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia in Yemen's civil war will be first up, and the likely result in Congress will at least be some restriction — a vote in March to limit aid for the Saudi war effort narrowly failed despite bipartisan support. Beyond Yemen, moves to sanction Saudi officials, delay or cancel arms deals, or block cooperation on development of a Saudi civilian nuclear program — will require Congress to navigate between the imperatives of maintaining the Saudi alliance and the need to mitigate the excesses of the crown prince's rule. Key Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Chris Murphy, who both won their re-election bids, have backed legislation that seeks to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Newly elected U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, criticized U.S. arms sales to the Saudis throughout her campaign. Another incoming freshman representative, Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, has been a strong voice against the U.S. arming Saudi Arabia in its Yemen campaign.
On Iran: The current U.S. policies toward Iran likely will not face much in the way of congressional action. Congress is not going to be a significant check to the aggressive sanctions policy underway, as almost every significant aspect of U.S. policy on Iran falls under the purview of the executive branch. The Trump administration has floated the possibility of seeking a treaty with Iran, which would require bipartisan support, but at this point, the prospect of Iran coming to the negotiating table is extremely low.
Forcing an Immigration Policy Shift
Democratic control of the House means the Trump administration will find its push for immigration reform virtually dead. House lawmakers will resist the administration's demands for border wall funding along with its proposals to do away with the diversity visa lottery and to shift the focus of the legal immigration system toward awarding permanent residency to those with the highest professional merits.
Congress will also now be less likely to agree on federal budget cuts to foreign aid to Central America. Threats to cut aid have been a principal means by which the White House has tried to pressure Central American governments to stop their citizens from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally. Faced with the loss of leverage against those governments, the administration's focus will shift to Mexico. It will press the Mexican government to maintain its policy of arresting and removing migrants detained in southern Mexico.
What Will Change for Defense?
Democrats are set to fill some important positions in Congress such as leadership of the House Armed Services and House Appropriations committees. That will put the party's lawmakers in a strong position to challenge the White House over issues they have, on the whole, opposed previously. These include further increases in defense spending, plans to move ahead with the creation of a Space Force military branch, more intervention by the U.S. military abroad and an expansion of the nuclear force.
Furthermore, with Congress divided between the two parties, it becomes more likely that political gridlock will interfere with setting defense budgets and a likely return to overreliance on disruptive continuing resolutions, particularly as automatic spending caps are set to return in fiscal 2020. Such a disruptive process will complicate U.S. efforts to seamlessly shift its strategic focus from the global war on terrorism to the unfolding great power competition with China and Russia.
Quality of Life
A reminder to TRICARE beneficiaries that the first ever open enrollment will be held from November 12 – December 10, 2018. To enroll visit: https://www.tricare.mil/Plans/Enroll
Starting in 2019, you will only be able to enroll in or change your Tricare plan during the open enrollment season or within 90 days of a qualifying life event, such as a marriage, birth or relocation.
The program, which covers basic dental care for retired military and their families, will end on Dec. 31. It is being replaced with the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Dental and Vision Program (FEDVIP), which will offer retired military members more choice in dental plans and coverage. Enrollment for these plans will begin Nov. 12 and run through Dec. 10., during the new open enrollment season.
Active duty military, retirees and their family members will also be able to sign up for vision plans through FEDVIP in November. These plans will offer beneficiaries more comprehensive coverage than what is currently offered under Tricare. To read more about these changes visit: https://tricare.mil/About/Changes
In addition, the DoD has designed infographics specifically targeted to three key audiences:
- Reserve Component Members and Families
- Active Duty Family Members
- Retired Service Members and Families
Find these one-stop-shop infographics at this link: https://health.mil/News/Gallery/Infographics
- National Security staff continues planning for the Commander’s upcoming trip to the Far East.
- On Monday, National Security Assistant Director Jeff Steele attended a book launch at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Author Robert Kagan discussed his new book “The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World” which argues for America's role as an enforcer of peace and order throughout the world--and what is likely to happen if we withdraw and focus our attention inward. More information and archive video of the event is available here.
- On Wednesday, Assistant Director Jeff Steele and Senior Legislative Associate Larry Lohmann met with staff from the office of Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15) to discussed veterans’ immigration issues and possible solutions. Resolution No. 15: Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service, passed at the 2018 fall meetings was shared with the office.
- On Thursday, Deputy Director Freddy Gessner was invited by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to participate in a Veterans Day celebration at National Counter-intelligence and Security Center. Mr. Gessner managed a booth and provided information about the American Legion to dozens of veterans working at the campus. Mr. Gessner was also a distinguished guest during remarks made by the Director of National Intelligence. The result of the efforts allowed many veterans to sign up for the American Legion’s email letter and informed them of the many programs the American Legion offered and were made aware of the value of becoming a member.
- On Friday, National Security staff briefed executive director Louis Celli on where things stand with the planning for the Commander’s upcoming trip to the Far East. Commander Rohan and her husband, Mike, participated, providing valuable feedback from their experience during her tenure as commander.
This week, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency made 4 new funeral announcements. Click on the links to read more:
Any Department or Post that would like to provide military funeral honors for the returned can find interment and funeral information by visiting the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s website at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Releases/.
Please coordinate the military funeral honors with DPAA by contacting them at:
DPAA provides an online newsletter which can be requested at:
Joe Sharpe, Acting Director, National Security Division
Rhonda Powell, Director, National Security Division