Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship
Happy Monday 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.
THE TOPLINE: Washington spent Monday digesting Sunday night’s announcement from national security advisor John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonCarrier strike group deployment offers opportunity to sharpen Iran policy Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words MORE that a carrier strike group and a bomber task force are headed to the U.S. Central Command area in response to unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.
Other administration officials also spoke Monday about a threat from Iran without getting any more specific.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words Acting Pentagon chief cites ‘credible threat’ from Iran over decision to deploy military assets to region MORE said the deployment “represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation,” Shanahan tweeted. “We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”
Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo says shrinking Arctic sea ice presents ‘new opportunities for trade’ Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words MORE similarly told reporters traveling with him in Finland that the United States has “continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there’s escalation that may be taking place.”
Routine or not?: The carrier strike group that’s being sent is the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The Navy first announced the Lincoln was deploying in early April, sailing around the world from Norfolk, Va., to its new home in San Diego, Calif.
On Monday, fleet trackers such as the U.S. Naval Institute showed the carrier was still operating in the central Mediterranean Sea in the U.S. European Command region.
That led to questions about whether the administration was just hyping a routine deployment that would eventually get to the Persian Gulf as previously scheduled.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson confirmed the Lincoln’s deployment was planned “for some time now.”
But he also suggested the carrier’s movement to the Middle East is being sped up.
“At the direction of @AmbJohnBolton and @ActingSecDef ABE CSG will transit to CENTCOM AOR,” Richardson tweeted. “This is the beauty of having a dynamic force. The @USNavy can easily maneuver to protect national interests around the globe.”
Lawmaker reaction: Iran hardliners in Congress cheered the deployment and warned against any attack on U.S. forces.
“We will not distinguish between attacks from Shia militias in #Iraq & the #IRGC that controls them,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words Mueller fails to break stalemate on election meddling crackdown MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted Monday. “Any attack by these groups against U.S. forces will be considered an attack by #Iran & responded to accordingly.”
Critics, though, suggested threats against U.S. forces were inevitable after President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo says shrinking Arctic sea ice presents ‘new opportunities for trade’ Iowa Republican ousted in 2018 says he will run to reclaim House seat Trump pardons ex-soldier convicted of killing Iraqi prisoner MORE‘s terrorist designation against Iran’s Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).
“The Trump Administration knew that naming the Iranian IRGC as a terrorist group would lead to increased threats against U.S. troops in Iraq. That’s why Bush and Obama didn’t do it. They concluded the benefits did not outweigh the risks,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words Senate fails to override Trump’s Yemen veto MORE (D-Conn.) tweeted Monday.
“When I was in Baghdad last month, our diplomatic and military leaders were almost unanimously opposed to the designation because of its practical impact on our objectives in Iraq,” he continued.
“Drawing a hard line on Iran in Iraq might sound good on paper, but it might end up w our troops getting kicked out of Iraq again, opening the door for ISIS,” he added in another tweet. “That would be much more disastrous than the inconvenience of leaving the IRGC off the list of terrorist groups.”
Nuke deal anniversary: All this is happening with the one-year anniversary of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal just days away.
On Monday, several Iranian news agencies teased action later this week because of Trump’s withdrawal.
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Iran’s official IBID news agency said the country would resume some nuclear activities, while the semi-official ISNA and Fars news agencies ran stories promising “reciprocal” actions on the one-year anniversary.
IBID said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would announce a reduction in some of the country’s “minor and general” commitments. The Fars report quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as saying in December his country could ignore the limit on uranium enrichment “whenever we wish, and would do the enrichment at any volume and level.”
ISNA specified that withdrawing from the deal is “not considered as an option for now,” but that the country’s action will be in line with an article of the deal that says Iran will treat the re-imposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”
TRUMP MAY LET CADETS GO STRAIGHT TO PRO SPORTS: Trump wants to reverse the Pentagon’s reversal of a policy on whether athletes in military service academies can go straight to professional sports.
Speaking at a Rose Garden ceremony awarding the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to West Point, Trump said the current wait is a “long time” and that cutting it would “make recruiting a little bit easier” for service academy sports programs.
“I’m going to look at doing a waiver for service-academy athletes who can get into the major leagues, like the NFL, hockey, baseball,” Trump said. “And they’ll serve their time after they’re finished with professional sports.”
Current policy: Right now, athletes from service academies are allowed to obtain a waiver to play professional sports after serving in the military for two years.
The policy was set in 2017 by then-Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment | Trump floats letting service academy athletes go pro quicker | Venezuela tests Trump, Bolton relationship Trump says he may allow service academy athletes to go straight to pros Comey on Barr: ‘Amoral leaders’ reveal ‘character of those around them’ MORE, who reversed a 2016 policy that allowed certain athletes to bypass active-duty service entirely and fulfill their obligations in the reserves while playing professional sports.
At the time, the Pentagon said the policy was needed to ensure readiness.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” then-Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a May 2017 statement. “Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”
The law: The current policy is also enshrined in law in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill, signed into law by Trump, says that cadets and midshipmen at West Point, the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy cannot seek release from their commissioned service obligations until the end of at least two years of consecutive commissioned service.
VENEZUELA TEST: The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell took a look over the weekend at how the situation in Venezuela is testing Trump’s relationship with his national security adviser.
Bolton has signaled support for military intervention in the South American country to oust embattled President Nicolás Maduro, a move that would pose a challenge for Trump, who has so far indicated a preference for and campaigned on scaling down existing military conflicts and avoiding new ones.
While Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela, Bolton has become the public face of any military effort.
But Trump has long declared that the United States is done with nation building. He has called for an end to the war in Afghanistan and has withdrawn hundreds of U.S. troops in Syria.
Those two competing schools of thought on foreign intervention are now playing out at the highest level within the administration as the U.S. hashes out its course of action on Venezuela.
“The administration is very divided,” Paul W. Posner, a Venezuela expert at Clark University, told The Hill. “Trump likes Bolton’s rhetoric, but I don’t think he’s interested in intervening in Venezuela.”
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