House votes to sanction Turkey; Estimates triple on rising-sea threat; Russian sub test-fires ICBM; Vets’ cancer rate jumps; And a bit more.

In a resounding bipartistan vote, House lawmakers passed a sanctions bill (text here) on Tuesday targeting Turkey for its invasion of Kurdish-held land along northern Syria. According to CNN, the lower chambers’ sanctions package “would punish senior Turkish officials involved in the decision to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria and those committing human rights abuses, block the sale of arms to Turkey for use in Syria, and require a series of reports to examine the consequences of the Turkish offensive in Syria.” 

However, don’t expect that bill to go anywhere in the Senate, CNN cautions, and for a couple of reasons. “Competing sanctions proposals regarding Turkey already exist in the Senate, but there has been little movement on the issue in recent days, and it is not clear that Republican leaders plan to bring such a response to the floor.”

The House also passed a resolution condemning Turkey’s genocide of Armenians nearly a century ago — an event Turkish leaders have been trying to keep under the rug and out of conversation for decades. “The House-passed resolution has existed in various forms for decades,” CNN writes, “but congressional leaders from both parties had avoided taking action on it because of Turkey’s strategic importance to American interests in the Middle East and its membership in NATO.” A bit more here

Ankara has now summoned the U.S. ambassador to express its “strong criticism” of the genocide resolution, which Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says today “is devoid of any historical or legal basis,” state-run Anadolu reports.

The UN is trying to put Syria back together today with the first meeting of its Constitutional Committee, Reuters reports from Geneva. A bit more about this committee: “The government, Syrian opposition and civil society groups each have 50 members serving on the panel. Each delegation includes Kurds, but there is no representation from the SDF militia or its main Kurdish YPG component.”

Some of Reuters’ notes from the meeting include “Government and opposition delegations sat stony-faced opposite each other” and mention that “co-chairs did not shake hands at the end.” Meantime, “A sub-group of 45 is charged with drafting a new constitution or revising the 2012 one,” which is no small task. Read on, here. More from Syria below…


From Defense One

Price of F-35 Falls, But Not as Much As Pentagon Hoped // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense officials say the cost of the plane’s engine is not declining as much as the airframe itself. The engine maker says it already dropped by half.

Pakistan May Be Stumbling Toward a Two-Front War // Patrick Tucker: Months after India instituted a lockdown on the disputed region of Kashmir, clashes have erupted on Pakistan’s borders with Kashmir and with Afghanistan.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 58: Wargames // Defense One Staff: All about one of the safer, cheaper ways to figure out who’s going to win a war.

Pull the Nukes from Turkey — and Then Think Bigger // James Siebens and Jim Baird: Removing America’s nuclear weapons from Incirlik Air Base doesn’t have to drive a permanent wedge between Washington and Turkey.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1922, the March on Rome began with fascist armed squads known as Blackshirts seizing key locations in the capital. One week later, Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III, possibly hoping to avoid a civil war, appointed Benito Mussolini the new prime minister. 


From the closed-door impeachment hearings: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told House lawmakers Tuesday that he tried and failed to add key details to the rough transcript of the July phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president, the New York Times reported after more than 10 hours of testimony. 
What kind of key details? “The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.”
Worth noting: “Colonel Vindman did not testify to a motive behind the White House editing process. But his testimony is likely to drive investigators to ask further questions about how officials handled the call, including changes to the transcript and the decision to put it into the White House’s most classified computer system — and whether those moves were meant to conceal the conversation’s most controversial aspects.” Read on, here
And for today: John Bolton told U.S. diplomats that Giuliani could hinder efforts to help Ukraine. The then-national security adviser warned that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s private lawyer, “was a key voice with the president on Ukraine,” Christopher Anderson, a Foreign Service officer who was special adviser for Ukraine negotiations until June, wrote in his opening statement for Congressional investigators, AP reports. Anderson is to testify today behind closed doors.
AP: His statement “makes clear that administration officials were concerned about Giuliani’s back-channel involvement in Ukraine policy and his push for investigations of Democrats, even before the July phone call between President Donald Trump and his Ukraine counterpart that’s now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry…Anderson also says that senior White House officials blocked an effort by the State Department to release a November 2018 statement condemning Russia’s attack on Ukrainian military vessels.” Read on, here.

Russia says Syrian Kurds have moved away from the regions Turkey demanded, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Beirut. The lede: “The last remaining Kurdish fighters exited Syria’s northern border area as a cease-fire period ended on Tuesday, Moscow said, clearing the way for Russia and Turkey to secure the area.”
We don’t think so, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said predictably today in Ankara. Or as Reuters reports Erdogan said, “The information in our hands suggests this has not been succeeded in a full sense.” That is, Kurdish YPG fighters departed their previous positions “from a depth of 30 km south of the border inside Syria by late on Tuesday,” which was inside the 150-hour deadline Russia and Turkey agreed to last week.  
Also worth noting: Joint Turkish-Russian patrols will start three days later than planned (now Friday instead of Tuesday) and won’t be as deep as previously thought (7 kms instead of 10), Erdogan said today. More to all that, here.

Soleimani crashed Baghdad’s government the day after protests swept Iraq. Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani flew into Baghdad’s Green Zone in early October, when the Associated Press reports today “he surprised a group of top security officials by chairing a meeting in place of the prime minister.” Soleimani reportedly told Iraqi officials during that visit: “We in Iran know how to deal with protests. This happened in Iran and we got it under control.”
What’s going on here? “Iran is afraid of these demonstrations because it has made the most gains in the government and parliament through parties close to it,” said Iraq analyst Hisham al-Hashimi to AP. Iran is afraid of losing those gains so officials are trying to control the protests, he said. “It hasn’t worked,” AP writes.
And that Iran concern also extends to Lebanon, where Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Tuesday, meeting “a key demand of Lebanon’s anti-government protesters,” AP reported Tuesday. 
But Reuters reports today Hariri is ready to be PM again with a new government. And Lebanese would very much like that, especially since the “banks remained closed for a 11th working day… as traffic began moving along major traffic arteries that had been blocked for days by demonstrators whose demands included the cabinet’s resignation.” More from Beirut, here.

Afghan peace talks, latest. Last week the Taliban said they wanted to move negotiations to China. This week, the Afghan government says that it’s not negotiating unless a cease-fire with the Taliban holds for at least a month, the New York Times reported Tuesday. 

Russia’s newest submarine test-fired an ICBM. The Knyaz Vladimir is the fourth and latest of the Borei-class ballistic-missile subs that are to replace the Soviet-era Delta III, Delta IV and Typhoon classes. It is also the first of the improved Borei-A subclass, a quieter, more maneuverable, and better-equipped version.
On Wednesday, the sub submerged in the White Sea and launched a missile with a dummy payload, which flew thousands of kilometers and hit its target in Kamchatka, Defence Ministry officials said. The sub is to join Russia’s Northern Fleet after weapons tests are concluded later this year, Reuters reports, citing TASS.
By 2027, Russia intends to have a nuclear-deterrence fleet of three Borei and 11 Borei-A subs, TASS said last year.
Show of force: Ten Russian submarines have sailed from their Kola Peninsula homeports this week, Norwegian intelligence officials told the country’s NRK news organization. “The aim of the massive operation is to get as far out to the North Atlantic as possible without being discovered by NATO, the intelligence service informs to NRK. Such maneuvers haven’t been seen from the Northern Fleet since the days of the Cold War,” writes the Barents Reporter, here.

SecNav: We need 355 warships. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer insists that the Navy is not “walking back” from its goal of 355 ships, despite at least one service leader’s hint that the Navy will have to adjust that vision to meet budget realities. “You give us the funding, we’ll give you the 355,” he told reporters at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday morning. “We will have 305 ships with the top-line funding we have — it’s not what we want.”
There’s a “gap” between “the Navy the nation needs” and “the Navy the nation has funded, and the gap is the risk we’re going to take.” On the same note, Spencer noted that he has “a demand for carriers right now that I can’t fill…The combatant commander wants carriers.” (Editor’s note: No one in today’s Navy has served at a time that this was not true.)

Global vulnerability to rising seas tripled. By 2050, the number of people whose lives will be threatened by sea-level rise and coastal flooding won’t be 50 million or so, as scientists had recently thought. It will probably be three times that many to 150 million, according to new research published Tuesday in the journal Nature.
Why revise the old estimate? Previously, satellite imagery used for calculating height measurements confused the heights of treetops and many ordinary buildings with the surface of the Earth. Here‘s the New York Times projecting these new estimates on to Bangkok. It’s pretty brutal for that city, in particular. But there are many others like it.
Eight other Asian nations will likely be among the hardest-hit, according to the new data. And that includes China, Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. 

And finally today: Cancer rates among veterans have jumped since 2001, a McClatchy investigation shows. A trio of reporters used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain data on every cancer treatment provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs from fiscal years 2000 to 2018 — during which tens of thousands of service members returned home with chronic illnesses or cancers, questions have been raised about the health effects of their exposure to burn pits, toxic air, cancer-linked firefighting foam or emissions from advanced jets.
From 2000 to 2018, the rate of treatments for 

  • Urinary cancers (include bladder, kidney and ureter) rose 61 percent. 
  • Blood cancers ⁠(lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia) rose 18 percent.
  • Prostate cancer rose 23 percent. 

And these numbers may not fully capture the extent of the rise in cancers among veterans, because many are not elegible for VA treatment. “If the government acknowledges widespread service-connected links to cancer, it could get prohibitively expensive, very fast,” McClatchy wrote. Read on, here.

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