Pentagon orders aircraft carrier to remain in Persian Gulf as US braces for possible Iran attack
By Jamie McIntyre
NIMITZ ON GUARD: In a reversal of an announcement made just last week, the Pentagon has ordered an aircraft carrier to stay in the Persian Gulf as threats from Iran have escalated on the anniversary of the assassination of Iran’s top commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike Jan. 3, 2020.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” said acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller in a statement. “The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America.”
In addition to the aircraft carrier, the U.S. has flown three separate “show-of-force” missions in which pairs of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers have flown in international airspace off the Iranian coast. “The two-ship deployment also delivers a clear deterrent message to anyone who intends to do harm to Americans or American interests,” said a statement from the U.S. Central Command, which said the flights “demonstrate a unique ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power on short notice.”
IRAN THREATENS ‘SEVERE REVENGE’: Among the threats made by Iran was one directed at President Trump personally. “Do not presume that someone, as the president of America, who appeared as a murderer or ordered a murder, may be immune from justice being carried out. Never,” said Ebrahim Raisi, head of Iran’s judiciary, on the eve of the anniversary.
“Those who had a role in this assassination and crime will not be safe on Earth,” Raisi said, “They will witness severe revenge.”
THINK IT OVER: After an attack two weeks ago in which 21 rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, which includes the U.S. Embassy compound, the U.S. blamed what it called an Iranian-backed rogue militia group, and President Trump issued a pointed warning on Twitter.
“Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq,” Trump tweeted Dec. 23. “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” he added.
IRAN’S BACK AT IT: Meanwhile, Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to resume enriching uranium to 20% at its hardened underground plant at Natanz, in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Iran says it is no longer bound by the deal since the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
The move will increase pressure on President-elect Joe Biden, who has indicated he would like to rejoin the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, if Iran goes back into compliance.
IRAN’S CALCULUS: An analysis by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America says Iran is under pressure domestically to save face after a series of high-profile assassinations, including most recently its top nuclear scientist, and may be considering low-level proxy attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and/or Syria or targeting Israel or other U.S. regional partners.
“If Tehran decides to act militarily against U.S. interests, it will likely intend for the attacks to serve as a propaganda tool to consolidate domestic support,” the group’s defense and strategy arm writes. “On the other hand, Tehran does not want to take action that drives Biden to renege on his offer to reenter the JCPOA and grant sanctions relief. An attack attributable to Iran that causes American casualties would be hard to ignore by any administration.”
HAPPENING TODAY: President Trump is scheduled to address a rally tonight in Dalton, Georgia, as he stumps for Republican candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on the eve of tomorrow’s crucial Georgia runoff election that will determine control of the Senate.
Trump is promising to repeat the argument that he made in an hourlong call Saturday with Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he insisted he won Georgia and pressed Raffensperger to “recalculate” the final tally in his favor.
“I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes. There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes,” Trump said, according to a leaked audio recording of the call. “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”
“We don’t agree that you have won,” countered Raffensperger. “We did a hand re-tally, a 100% re-tally of all the ballots, and compared them to what the machines said and came up with virtually the same result. Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result.”
‘THE TIME FOR QUESTIONING THE RESULTS HAS PASSED’: In another unprecedented development, all 10 living former secretaries of defense, including two that served Trump, have signed a joint op-ed in which they call on the president to cease his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” write Ash Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, Jim Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry, and Donald Rumsfeld.
NO ROLE FOR THE MILITARY: The op-ed expressed particular alarm over the discussions at the White House involving former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, in which Flynn urged Trump to declare martial law and use the military to re-run elections in states where he lost narrowly to Biden.
“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic,” they warned.
“And so, it is really our attempt to call out to the American people. We believe all of them are patriotic. They’ve been led down a path by President Trump, which is an unconstitutional path,” said Cohen, a former Republican senator who served in the Clinton administration, on CNN. “And so we felt it incumbent on us as having served in the Defense Department to say please, all of you in the Defense Department, you’ve taken an oath to serve this country, this Constitution, not any given individual. So, we expect you to adhere to that oath you’ve taken, not to allow yourself to be used for any political purpose, particularly to try and overturn the election.”
IT WAS CHENEY’S IDEA: “The idea for this statement actually originated from Vice President Cheney,” tweeted Perry in a reply to CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution; that oath does not change according to party designation.”
NDAA OVERRIDE: On New Year’s Day, the Senate voted 81-13 to override President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, which had already passed the House 322-87. The vote was the first successful override of a Trump veto, and it left in place provisions that Trump had complained about, including restrictions of overseas troop withdrawals and renaming Army bases named after Confederate military leaders.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe called the vote “a strong message of support to our troops.”
“Not only does this bill give our service members and their families the resources they need, but it also makes our nation more secure,” he said, “Pushing back against China and Russia, strengthening our cyber defenses, and accelerating innovation into the technologies that will keep our children’s children safe.”
“President Trump tried to make this vote a loyalty test and an overwhelming majority of U.S. Senators demonstrated their loyalty to the common defense and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who defend our nation,” said ranking Democrat Jack Reed. “The truth is: both parties care about national security and this bill earned overwhelming bipartisan support because it strengthens our defense capabilities — including our cyber defenses — and enhances the military’s ability to respond to COVID-19 and a host of evolving threats and challenges.”
IT’S PAYBACK TIME: Remember last year when Trump wanted to suspend Social Security tax withholdings to give the public a little more cash in their pocket in the middle of the pandemic? The idea landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, but Trump used his executive authority to impose the plan on federal employees, including members of the military.
Now they have to pay that money back. From now until April 30, the 6.2% Social Security tax withholdings will resume, along with an extra 6.2% to make up for the payments deferred over the past four months.
NEXT DEPSECDEF: President-elect Joe Biden has announced that he intends to nominate Kathleen Hicks as the deputy secretary of defense and Colin Kahl as undersecretary of defense for policy.
Hicks is the senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She currently leads the Biden-Harris Transition’s Defense Agency Review Team. She would be the first woman to serve as the Pentagon’s No. 2.
Kahl is currently a co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation. He served as national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden from 2014-2017 and served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009-2011.
“Dr. Hicks is a superb choice for this important job. She has the discipline, intellect, and organizational skill to make the Department work effectively for the Secretary,” said former Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, who is president and CEO at CSIS. “I have worked with Dr. Hicks now for seven years directly, and for an additional seven years indirectly. She has a strong moral compass and a keen commitment to the success of the Department and the well-being of its military and civilian personnel.”
MICHELE EVANS 1965-2021: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics division leader Michele Evans died Jan. 1, the company announced over the weekend.
Evans, who was 55, died after a long battle with cancer, according to her obituary. She has been on medical leave since November.
“With more than 34 years of experience in the defense and aerospace industry, Evans led a significant number of programs in support of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy; as well as for commercial and international military customers,” Lockheed said in a statement. “She most recently served as executive vice president of the Aeronautics business area for Lockheed Martin.”
Originally published in The Washington Examiner