Overnight Defense: Biden’s stalled Pentagon nominee gets major support | Blinken presses China on North Korea ahead of meeting | Army will not return medals to soldier Trump pardoned

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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, 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: Former national security officials back stalled Pentagon nominee

More than 50 former national security officials, diplomats and lawmakers, as well as Jewish communities leaders, threw their support Thursday behind President Biden’s stalled nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop.

In a letter Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the group argued Colin Kahl, Biden’s nominee to be undersecretary of Defense for policy, is “eminently qualified.”

“Given Dr. Kahl’s strong support of Israel and firm approach to Iran, we strongly oppose the smear campaign against him and the use of his nomination as a proxy for relitigating the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” they wrote, referring to the Iran nuclear deal by its official name.

Who put it together: The letter was organized by former U.S. ambassadors to Israel Dan Shapiro and Martin Indyk; former undersecretary of Defense for policy Michele Flournoy, who was under consideration to be Biden’s Defense secretary and introduced Kahl at his confirmation hearing; and Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Co-signers of the letter include some big names in defense and foreign policy such as retired Gen. John Allen and Bush administration State Department official Eliot Cohen. Also on the letter are former Democratic Reps. Steve Israel (N.Y.), Mel Levine (Calif.), Howard Berman (Calif.) and Ron Klein (Fla.).

The controversy: Kahl’s nomination for what’s considered the Pentagon’s third-most-powerful civilian job has stalled amid fierce opposition from Republicans over what they describe as partisan outbursts on Twitter where he was critical of former President Trump.

Republicans have pointed to tweets such as one where Kahl said Republicans “debase themselves at the altar of Trump” and called the GOP the “party of ethnic cleansing” in response to a news story on Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) defending Trump’s decision to move troops out of northern Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion.

What Kahl said: During his confirmation hearing, Kahl apologized for the “disrespectful” language in his tweets and pledged to approach the Pentagon job in a nonpartisan way, saying his past government service demonstrates his ability to do so.

Kahl’s background: Kahl served as Biden’s national security adviser when he was vice president and before that was the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

What’s next?: He does not need Republican support to be confirmed. But with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, he cannot afford to lose any Democratic votes if all Republicans oppose him.

Read more here.




Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed China on Thursday to use its influence with North Korea to push Pyongyang toward denuclearization. 

“Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest in helping to pursue denuclearization of [North Korea] because it is a source of instability,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Seoul.

“It is a source of danger and obviously a threat to us and our partners,” he added.

Tensions flaring: Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have flared, with Pyongyang saying it will not resume negotiations with Washington and the head of U.S. Northern Command telling Congress that North Korea may begin testing an improved intercontinental ballistic missile soon.

“What has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only a lunatic theory of ‘threat from North Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization,’” Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, said on Thursday.

‘A priority’: After a meeting in South Korea, Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean foreign ministers released a statement saying “a priority for the alliance” is addressing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

Blinken’s comments come ahead of his meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska on Thursday. The meeting will be the first face-to-face meeting between Biden administration and Chinese officials.

Read more here.



The Army denied an appeal to return medals for valor to retired Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Special Forces soldier whom former President Trump pardoned for allegedly murdering a man in Afghanistan, an Army spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday.

USA Today first reported on the decision on Wednesday after obtaining documents that determined the Army decided not to return the medals to Golsteyn last June after Trump pardoned him in the killing of a suspected Taliban bomb maker in 2010. 

Golsteyn had submitted a request to the Army review board in December 2019 asking for his Distinguished Service Cross to be reinstated after he was pardoned that November. 

‘Does not indicate innocence’: In its denial, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records pointed to a Justice Department letter that said his pardon “is a sign of forgiveness and ‘does not indicate innocence,’ ” according to USA Today.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gabriel Ramirez acknowledged the board’s decision to The Hill but said privacy laws prevented him from further remarks.   

“The Army Board for Correction of Military Records, the service’s highest level of administrative review for personnel actions, has considered and denied Mathew Golsteyn’s application,” he said in a statement. “Privacy laws prevent the Army from disclosing specific information regarding the Board’s decision.”

What he was pardoned for: Golsteyn admitted in an interview that he killed the bomb maker who was ordered to be released, prompting the murder charge. Trump’s pardon was controversial at the time.

Read more here.




The Atlantic Council, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy will hold a virtual conference on “Looking North: Security in the Arctic,” with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Soreide; and Norwegian Minister of Defense Frank Bakke-Jensen, at 9 a.m. 

Retired Adm. Harry Harris, former U.S. Pacific Commander and U.S. ambassador to South Korea, will speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies webinar on “the latest situation on the Korean peninsula,” at 9 a.m. 

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), will speak at a Brookings Institution webinar on “Revitalizing America’s Alliances,” at 9:30 a.m. 

Katie Arrington, special assistant to the assistant Defense secretary of acquisition for cyber, will speak at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association virtual discussion at 12 p.m. 

Air Force Lt. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, Space Force Deputy Chief of space operations, cyber and nuclear, will speak at a Brookings Institution webinar on “Remembering the First ‘Space War,'” focusing on Operation Desert Storm in 1991, at 1:30 p.m. 



— The Hill: North Korea: No nuclear talks until US stops ‘hostile policies’ 

— The Hill: Blinken warns of possible sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline

— The Hill: US grid at rising risk to cyberattack, says GAO 

— The Hill: Schiff defends Swalwell as ‘trusted’ member of intel panel 

— The Hill: Senate confirms former diplomat William Burns as CIA director

— The Hill: Opinion: The risk of new military technologies must be properly assessed

— Stars and Stripes: Veteran homelessness increased from 2019 to 2020, according to new HUD report 

— The Associated Press: Russia hosts Afghan peace conference, hoping to boost talks

— The New York Times: At Least 9 Dead in Afghan Helicopter Crash, After Clashes With Local Militia

Tags Antony Blinken Army Biden nominees China Colin Kahl Donald Trump Joe Biden John Cornyn Lloyd Austin North Korea Steve Israel Trump pardon William Burns

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