Trump asks China for help against political rival; Iraq protests explode; Marines’ future; Snake moat, cost-estimated; And a bit more.

Trump calls on China to help investigate a domestic political rival. The U.S. president used a televised press conference on Thursday to ask China, against which he has launched a self-described trade war, to investigate business dealings by the family of 2020 candidate Joseph Biden. New York Times, here.

China: no way. “We do not want to get in the middle of the US politics,” a Chinese diplomat told CNN, here.

Text messages detail how U.S. pressured Ukraine to help Trump politically. Messages between State Department employees show that U.S. government officials refused to schedule a meeting between Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump unless the Ukrainian president acceded to U.S. demands that he launch an investigation into a key Trump domestic political rival, CNN reports off a Thursday letter sent from the chairmen of three House committees looking into alleged crimes by the Trump administration.

Here’s a message from Kurt Volker, special envoy to Ukraine, just a few hours before Trump phoned Zelensky to ask for “a favor”: “Heard from the White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/’get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.” 

Adds context to aid freeze. The message exchange and phone conversation took place after Trump directed the executive branch to hold up congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine, which has been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014. House Democrats have vowed to begin impeachment inquiries into the president’s use of his official powers to seek help from a foreign government against an American electoral rival.

The messages were obtained by House committees. Reps. Adam Schiff, Eliott Engel, and Elijah Cummings, chairs of the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and oversight committees, sent them in an Oct. 3 letter to their House colleagues. “American presidents should never press foreign powers to target their domestic political rivals,” they wrote. “Over the past week, new reports have revealed that other Trump Administration officials may also have been involved in the illict campaign to get Ukrainian help for the president’s campaign.” Read the letter and the text messages, here.

It apparently worked. The New York Times is reporting today that “Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday that he would review several important cases previously handled by his predecessors, including a criminal case involving the owner of a natural gas company that employed a son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.” This raises questions “about whether Ukraine was, in effect, bowing to public and private pressure from the president of the United States, on which it has depended on for millions of dollars in aid,” the Times wrote.

Javelin transfer OKed. The State Department formally approved the sale to Ukraine of 150 Raytheon Javelin anti-tank missiles and 10 launchers worth a total of $39.2 million, The Hill reports.


From Defense One

Pentagon’s Top Lawyer to Review All Ukraine-Aid Documents // Katie Bo Williams: But a DoD spokesman still won’t say when the department was told about the aid freeze at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

The Future of the Marines Is Smaller, More Robotic, More Naval // Patrick Tucker: The new Commandant of the Marine Corps lays out a vision for high-tech force that will often operate like special forces.

The Snake-And-Alligator Border Moat: A Budget Analysis // Peter W. Singer: We ran the numbers. It’s doable.

A National-Security Problem Without Parallel in American Democracy // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Democrats — candidates and lawmakers alike — make it clear that they will impose consequences on any country that meddles with voting.

The Hidden Damage of Trump’s Secret War in Somalia // Melissa Salyk-Virk: Terrorist activity is not discernably declining, even as U.S. military activity and alleged civilian deaths rise.

USAF Seeks Custom Game Environment to Test New Ideas // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: So it’s inviting game builders to compete in a three-part contest.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Navy’s fast-track helo; USAF’s cutting-edge program office; Boeing’s uncertain stock, and more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston above and Ben Watson below. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1957, the Soviets launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, triggering the space race with the United States. 


For the first time in 52 years, Hong Kong’s leaders have invoked emergency powers (known officially as an “Emergency Regulations Ordinance”) in an effort to slow pro-democracy protesters. The unelected leader of this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Carrie Lam, said authorities there can now “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever they deem to be in the public interest, Reuters reports today.
That includes a ban on face masks that’s set to begin on Saturday. “The emergency laws allow curfews, censorship of the media, control of harbors, ports and transport,” Reuters writes, adding “Lam did not specify any particular action that might follow beyond the mask ban.” 
“The ban covers all kinds of facial covering,” the BBC reports, “including face paint. Protesters have increasingly worn masks for a number of reasons, including to conceal their identities — from employers, parents and, in some cases, police — and to protect themselves from tear gas.” Violators of the new ban face up to one year in prison, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Bigger picture: “In the past few weeks, Lam has tried to deescalate the anti-government protests,” NPR writes, “which demand among other things that she call an independent police inquiry into violence against protesters, institute universal suffrage and step down. In September, Lam officially withdrew a proposed extradition bill that would have sent suspected criminals to be tried in mainland China, a proposal that touched off the nearly four months of protests… Protesters say the compromises are too little, too late. Lam reiterated Friday that she would not step down.”
Snapshots of unrest: “Crowds took to the streets even before the decision was announced, swelling as night fell,” Reuters reports. “Banks and shops in the busy Central district closed early in anticipation of violence as some protesters burned Chinese flags and chanted ‘You burn with us,’ and ‘Hong Kongers, revolt.’” Elsewhere, “Thousands of demonstrators gathered in other parts of the territory, filling shopping malls and blocking roads as protests looked set to continue into the night. Bus routes were suspended and rail operator MTR closed stations.”
Said Hong Kong’s security secretary, via NPR: “One thing is certain. If lawbreakers are not wearing masks, it is much easier for us to prove the charges and bring them to courts.” He also said “the ban would apply for approved and unapproved public assemblies — rallies and marches — as well as in unlawful assemblies and riots,” the BBC adds.
Said one university student, to Reuters: “The anti-mask law has become a tool of tyranny… There’s no rule of law anymore. We can only be united and protest.” The BBC has more in its broad overview of what’s going on, here
What you won’t hear about unrest in Hong Kong: much of anything from POTUS45. CNN reports today that “During a private phone call in June, President Donald Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US would remain quiet on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong while trade talks continued,” citing two people familiar with that phone call. 
What this would seem to indicate: “a dramatic departure from decades of US support for human rights in China and shows just how eager Trump is to strike a deal with Beijing as the trade war weighs on the US economy,” CNN writes. 
But that’s not all: “[L]ike other calls with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and Saudi Arabia, records of Trump’s call with Xi were moved to a highly-classified, codeword-protected system, greatly limiting the number of administration officials who were aware of the conversation.” Read on, here

Dozens of Iraqis have been killed as protests sweep across the nation. “Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government is scrambling to quell a wave of protests in a crackdown that has left at least 35 civilians dead and more than 1,250 wounded since Tuesday,” the Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report from Baghdad. (The Associated Press updated that death toll to as many as 42 this morning; Reuters put the number at 46.)
What’s going on? “The rallies have erupted spontaneously, mostly spurred by youths wanting jobs, improved services such as electricity and water, and an end to endemic corruption in the oil-rich country,” AP writes. “Authorities have also cut internet access in much of Iraq since late Wednesday, in a desperate move to curb the rallies.”
Reuters reporters “saw police snipers stationed on rooftops open fire on a crowd, critically wounding at least one protester hit in the neck.” AP adds that the Iraqi city of “Nasiriyah has witnessed the most violence in the protests, with at least 25 people, including a policeman, killed.” The Post also reports Iraqi security forces stand accused of “arresting wounded demonstrators from Iraq’s hospitals.”
And today “The country’s most influential cleric [Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani] pinned the blame for the violence on politicians who had failed to improve the lives of the public, and ordered them to meet the protesters’ demands,” Reuters adds. “Sistani’s religious influence in Iraq is unparalleled,” writes Loveluck and Salim, “and his pronouncements have the potential to dampen or inflame the protests.” However, AP notes “It was not immediately clear whether al-Sistani’s comments would give momentum to protesters or help diffuse the situation.”
Iraqi families are reportedly stockpiling food, terrified of what will develop from this week’s violence and unrest, according to the Post
Said PM Abdul-Mahdi today: There is “no magic solution” to Iraq’s problems. “The security measures we are taking, including temporary curfew, are difficult choices. But like bitter medicine, they are inevitable… We have to return life to normal in all provinces and respect the law.” More from AP, here. Or check out AP’s separate explainer on what all the unrest means for the region, here
By the way: Iran has not eased its regional military posture since the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil refinery, the U.S. Navy’s Vice Adm. James Malloy, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, tells Reuters this morning. “I don’t believe that they’re drawing back at all,” he said. Read on, here

The U.S. military conducted its third ground patrol with Turkish forces in northern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced today on Twitter. Military Times reports “The patrol followed a telephone call late Thursday between Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper during which Akar reiterated that Turkey wont’ accept a delay in the creation of what it calls ‘a safe zone’ and would act alone if necessary to set it up.”
Background: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that Turkey plans to settle 2 million refugees in the zone, and will hold a donors’ conference to help build homes and infrastructure for them. It is not clear how Turkey plans to move the largely Sunni Arab Syrians it is hosting from many parts of Syria into the Kurdish-dominated region, and whether the US is on board.” Read on, here

Dozens of Russian mercenaries in Libya are believed to have been killed in a recent airstrike, The Times reports this morning from Moscow. “They were fighting alongside forces loyal to the self-styled Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a Gaddafi-era general backed by Moscow. They are thought to have been employed by the Wagner Group, a shadowy private military contractor linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin.” More behind the paywall, here.
Take a look at the Libyan battlefield in this unofficial but nicely-detailed territorial map via the Libya Observer’s Dzsihad Hadelli.

Finally this week, and just in time for your Christmas shopping: Purchase your very own “Blue Falcon” action figure via the toy-makers of Joy Toy Hardcore Coldplay online. We first noticed this story in Military Times on Thursday; but it’s apparently been all over the web for the past several weeks. 
What’s a “Blue Falcon” to U.S. military culture? For the uninitiated, Urban Dictionary has the answer (F-bomb warning) here. Task & Purpose describes it as “the worst person in your unit,” and “the 1/18 scale figure features removable armor, a helmet, pistol, two machine guns, a shovel, and an axe.”
There are more like Blue Falcon, and they include “Marine Corps Individual Soldier” (sic) and “CIA South African Bounty Hunter.” The asking price? About $40. Peruse their tools and accessories, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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