Overnight Defense: Pentagon effectively bans Confederate flag | LGBT groups raise alarm that policy hits Pride flag, too | Trump reportedly eying South Korea troop drawdown

Overnight Defense: Pentagon effectively bans Confederate flag | LGBT groups raise alarm that policy hits Pride flag, too | Trump reportedly eying South Korea troop drawdown
© Greg Nash

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.

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon has effectively banned the Confederate battle flag ... while not explicitly banning the Confederate battle flag.

In an effort to avoid the ire of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE, who has vociferously defended the display of the Confederate flag, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Stopgap spending measure awaits Senate vote | Trump nominates former Nunes aide for intelligence community watchdog | Trump extends ban on racial discrimination training to contractors, military Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Official: Pentagon has started 'prudent planning' for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May MORE unveiled a policy Friday that bans the flag by omission.

Specifically, the policy names which flags are allowed on Pentagon property. The list of approved banners doesn’t include the Confederate flag, meaning it’s banned even though Esper’s memo never once mentions the Confederacy.

“We must always remain focused on what unifies us, our sworn oath to the Constitution and our shared duty to defend the nation,” Esper wrote in a memo laying out the new policy. “The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.”

The specifics: In addition to the American flag, Esper’s new policy allows flags that promote “unity and esprit de corps” such as state flags, military service flags, the POW/MIA flag and flags of allied countries.

The policy applies to the display of flags in public spaces on all Pentagon property, including office buildings, naval ships, aircraft, common area of barracks, school houses and porches of military housing, according to the memo.

The display of unspecified “unauthorized flags” is still allowed in museum exhibits, on state-issue license plates and at grave sites, monuments and other historical or educational displays, the memo added.

Congressional reaction: The House version of the annual defense policy bill would outright ban the Confederate flag at all Pentagon property, and Democrats cheered the Friday move.

“As our military leaders take down symbols of white supremacy, our Commander-in-Chief sides with those who betrayed their country to preserve slavery,” tweeted Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Pelosi seeks to put pressure on GOP in COVID-19 relief battle MORE (D-Md.), who sponsored the amendment to ban the flag. “We’re going to pass into law an outright ban of the Confederate flag on DOD property, I dare Pres. Trump to stop it.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police 40 groups call on House panel to investigate Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Wash.) called the new policy a “good first step.”

“Secretary Esper’s decision to effectively ban the public display of the Confederate flag — a divisive symbol of hate and oppression — is a good first step in the right direction as our government and our military grapple with our shared history of racism,” Smith said in a statement.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police When 'Buy American' and common sense collide MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of Senate Armed Services Committee, hailed the Confederate flag ban as long overdue.

“This may not have been the outcome President Trump wanted, but it is the one our troops, military leaders and the American people overwhelmingly support,” Reed said in a statement. “Flags are symbols and this is a symbolic move that demonstrates that racism and discrimination have no place in an organization that requires unity of purpose and action.”

Not just the Confederate flag: Because of the way the new policy is written, questions were almost immediately raised about what it means for other popular flags that are not on the approved list.

For example, Task and Purpose noted the Jolly Roger pirate flag, which has been a fixture on naval ships for decades, could be on the chopping block.

Others are also expressing concern the policy bans the LGBTQ Pride flag. After the Washington Blade reported that Esper’s new policy does in fact ban the LGBTQ flag, the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) called on the Pentagon to “immediately reconsider.”

"It's absolutely outrageous that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would ban the Pride flag — the very symbol of inclusion and diversity," Jennifer Dane, MMAA interim executive director, said in a statement Friday. "In what universe is it ok to turn an opportunity to ban a racist symbol like the Confederate flag into an opportunity to ban the symbol of diversity? This decision sends an alarming message to LGBTQ service members, their families, and future recruits.”

SOUTH KOREA DRAWDOWN NEXT?: Coming on the heels of Trump’s much maligned plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, a report Friday indicated South Korea could be next.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon has given the White House options to reduce the U.S. troop presence in South Korea following Trump’s demands that Seoul pay significantly more to keep U.S. forces there.

A U.S. military official told the Journal that the Pentagon’s Joint Staff has reviewed forces in South Korea — currently 28,500 troops strong — as part of a broader look at potentially repositioning and reducing deployments across the globe.

The Defense Department referred questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Context: The potential decision to pull troops from South Korea comes as Washington and Seoul have yet to reach a solid cost-sharing agreement after the last one expired Dec. 31. The deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), lapsed amid the Trump administration’s demands for South Korea to pay significantly more to base U.S. troops there.

The two countries reached a temporary deal in June to allow Korean nationals who had been furloughed to return to work, but a new SMA remains elusive. 

Trump initially insisted South Korea contribute about $5 billion a year, or about 400 percent more than what it paid in the now-expired agreement. Both sides say the administration’s demands have since softened, but a new deal has yet to be reached.

South Korea’s most recent offer increases its payment by 13 percent from the previous deal for the first year, with annual increases after that of about 7 percent. Trump rejected the plan.

Congress has already said no: Last year’s annual defense policy bill, signed into law in December, banned funding from being used to reduce the number of troops in South Korea unless the Pentagon certifies it is in the national interest and that both Seoul and Tokyo have been consulted.

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseWhy a backdoor to encrypted data is detrimental to cybersecurity and data integrity McEnany says Trump will accept result of 'free and fair election' McConnell pushes back on Trump: 'There will be an orderly transition' MORE (R-Neb.) immediately blasted a potential drawdown Friday, calling such a decision “strategic incompetence.”

“We don’t have missile systems in South Korea as a welfare program; we have troops and munitions there to protect Americans,” Sasse said in a statement. “Our aim is to give the Chinese communist leadership and the nuclear nut tyrannizing his North Korean subjects something to think about before they mess with us.”

THE NDAA RULES: The House Rules Committee is still working on setting up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for next week’s House floor debate.

As of publications, the panel finished hearing lawmakers’ testimony on their amendments and is in recess until later this evening.

The final number of amendments filed on the bill clocked in at 752, which committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said appears to be the most filed for “any legislation ever.”

We’ll know later tonight which of the 752 will get a vote.

One interesting amendment that has been filed since our last check-in comes from GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Graham vows GOP will accept election results after Trump comments Liz Cheney promises peaceful transfer of power: 'Fundamental to the survival of our Republic' MORE (Wyo.) that would express the sense of Congress that “a prohibition on funding to conduct or make preparations for any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield would cause grave harm to the security of the United States.”

Cheney’s proposed amendment comes after Democrats included in the energy and defense spending bills prohibitions on funding to conduct a nuclear test.

ON TAP FOR MONDAY

Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, will participate in the Association of the U.S. Army’s “Thought Leaders” webinar at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3hgMjsJ

ICYMI

-- Stars and Stripes: Military in Europe mandates virus quarantine for troops arriving from US, with no exceptions

-- New York Times: $174 million Afghan drone program is riddled with problems, U.S. report says

-- San Diego Union Tribune: Top Navy official is unsure if Bonhomme Richard should be repaired

-- Military Times; More than 20,000 troops have contracted COVID-19, as numbers continue to rise

-- Associated Press: Anniversary of world’s 1st atomic test fuels nuclear debate