Iran deal goes over the top; ISIS affiliates strike in several countries; China shows off; Ukraine seeks ships; And a bit more.

With yesterday’s support from Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the President Obama has secured enough Democratic backing in the Senate to override a GOP veto when lawmakers return to vote on the measure following August recess. The messaging from the White House and Democratic leaders has reportedly been carefully crafted, slow-drip style since, in late July, skeptical Dems were told by senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia that the current deal was the best they could expect—and, take it or leave it, they would not be re-joining the U.S. in imposing any sanctions on Iran, the New York Times reports.
Which all adds up to this strange truth: Obama “is now poised to implement a critical piece of American foreign policy without support from the majority of Congress and with no backing yet from Republicans,” the Wall Street Journal writes.
But a better deal is just wishful thinking, argues Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writing in Defense One. “To achieve better terms, the current sanctions regime must hold as long as it takes to resume negotiations. Also, the next American president must be able to convince all of Washington’s negotiating partners to support better provisions than those rejected by the Congress…Sinking this deal is far more likely to result in no deal than a better deal.”
And if it comes to military action: “There is a huge difference between making war against a country that violates the terms of an international agreement not to make nuclear weapons,” Krepon writes, “and making war after rejecting an agreement could have avoided war in the first place.” Read the rest, here.
For what it’s worth, since all eyes have been on the upper chamber in recent days, the House will begin debating the deal on Sept. 9, with a vote expected two days later, RFE/RL reports.

Amid a backdrop of some 12,000 soldiers, 500 weapons and 200 aircraft in the streets of Beijing this morning, Chinese President Xi Jinping—in what he called a gesture of peace—let the world know he’s downsizing his military by 300,000 troops. The force is currently estimated to have roughly 2.3 million members.
“In announcing the cuts, the largest in nearly two decades, Mr. Xi signaled his determination to press forward with his agenda of military restructuring despite China’s economic slowdown,” NYT reports. “The government will be under pressure to find jobs for the demobilized soldiers, many with limited skills.”
Here are 10 weapons unveiled at China’s Thursday parade, from tanks to a lot of Dong Feng (East Wind) 21D “carrier-killer” missiles.
Meanwhile, the Chinese navy’s being a bit fishy off the coast of Alaska. The Pentagon flagged the presence of three Chinese combat ships along with a fuel vessel and an amphibious landing ship in the Bering Sea on Wednesday—“a first in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands,” a U.S. defense official told the WSJ. However, the official went on to say the Pentagon so far wouldn’t characterize the behavior of the ships as threatening. Just, you know, unusual timing perhaps is all…
Despite all the hardware, citizens aren’t buying the “fake nationalism” Beijing is hawking, The Daily Beast writes.

In the past 24 hours, reports have come in that ISIS affiliates are wreaking more damage in Egypt, Yemen, and now Russia. That according to the Washington Post (twice) and Long War Journal, respectively.
On Wednesday, the group’s so-called Caucasus branch claimed to have carried out an attack on Russian army barracks in southern Dagestan, allegedly “killing and wounding of a number” of Russian troops, LWJ reports.
In Egypt, a fragmenting network of jihadists—“ a cluster of independent but increasingly dangerous cells linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,” WaPo says—has security officials grappling with a growing Islamist insurgency.
And in Yemen, the local ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for a Wednesday bombing that killed nearly two dozen people at a mosque frequented by both Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the capital of Sanaa. The affiliate claimed the bombing was intended as revenge against Houthi rebels, the Shiite group that currently control Yemen’s capital.
Meanwhile in Yemen’s Marib province, “more than 20 Houthis were killed in ground clashes with pro-government forces and in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition since Tuesday night,” WaPo reports. Pro-government forces there “are preparing for a large attack in the next two days, anti-Houthi officials said. If they clear the province of Houthi fighters, the pro-government forces could then proceed to Jawf province, and then to Saada” in the northwest.

From Defense One

Army Ranger Course, all-male no more. One of the military’s most grueling leadership and special forces courses is now officially open to both genders, the Army announced Wednesday. Just weeks after the first two women graduated from the Army’s Ranger school as part of a pilot program to study the remaining barriers to full gender integration in the military, the Army opened the course to all personnel who qualify. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole has the story, here.

In Iraq, ISIS is using the economy as a recruiting tactic. In areas controlled by the Islamic State, economic persecution and high unemployment are leaving the desperate with few options. “ISIS controls every detail of the economy,” says Abu Mujahed, who fled with his family from ISIS-controlled Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. “Only their people or those who swear allegiance to them have a good life.” The Atlantic’s Joanna Paraszczuk reports.

Congress can learn from the military about cybersecurity. As it stands, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act won’t much improve information-sharing. But applying lessons from the Pentagon’s classified network could reshape it into effectiveness. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Knake opines, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Brad Peniston. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Here’s our subscribe link. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at

The Ukrainian Navy now has about 5,000 sailors and about a dozen ships, after Russia seized most of its fleet along with Crimea more than a year ago. That’s enough to hold international exercises, at least, but Kiev is looking to rebuild. And this week, Ukrainian vessels will drill in the Black Sea warships from 10 other countries, including the U.S. Navy. That story from Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, both government forces and Russian-backed separatists are guilty of using cluster bombs on the battlefields in the east—though not since the Minsk ceasefire was drawn up in February. That’s the word from the NYT, writing off an annual report from the monitoring group, Cluster Munition Coalition.
The bombs have also been used in conflicts across Libya (unclear who is responsible there), Sudan (the military was behind that one), Syria (both the Assad regime and the Islamic State) and Yemen (Saudi Arabia and possibly others in their coalition stand accused of use)—all nations which, along with Ukraine, have not yet signed an international treaty banning the munition.

What’s on the White House agenda for the Friday visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman? The conflicts in Syria and Yemen—and, of course, the Iran deal, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said, according to AFP, which notes “Both Washington and Riyadh would like to see an end to Syria’s brutal civil war and see leader Bashar Assad pushed from power. But Saudi Arabia’s backing for opposition groups like Jaysh al-Islam, an amalgam of factions that include hardline Islamists, has concerned the White House.”
Speaking of the Assad regime—and by extension, its muscular ally in the Kremlin—Russia may be on the verge of its own mission creep in Syria, the Daily Beast writes, compiling reports that “Russian pilots are gearing up to fly missions alongside the Syrian air force, dropping bombs not just on ISIS but on anti-Assad rebels who may or may not be aligned with the United States or its regional allies.”
And before we leave Syria, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Canberra could make a decision on expanding its anti-ISIS air campaign into Syria next week. More on that via The Guardian, here.

Back stateside, the U.S. Air Force’s quest for a next-generation bomber plane is getting interesting: the two competing Long Range Strike Bomber designs from Northrop Grumman and a Lockheed Martin-Boeing partnership “have undergone extensive testing by the service and are far more mature than previously known, to a level nearly unheard of in the Pentagon before a contract award,” Defense News’ Aaron Mehta reported Wednesday.
“The testing, unusual this early in the acquisition process, is in part because the bomber program is being handled by the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO),” Mehta writes, “a small group inside Air Force acquisitions which handles secretive programs such as the service’s X-37B space plane.”
And here are some more of the known-knowns on the secretive LRSB from Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, working off a newly released Congressional Research Service report. “The initial bomber will be manned, ‘with unmanned operations possible several years after initial operational capability’ in the mid-2020s, according to the assessment. The bomber would be qualified to carry nuclear weapons ‘two years or so after’ the initial operational capability,” Capaccio writes. Read the rest, here.

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