President Trump cancelled a U.S. military response to Iranian-backed attacks in Iraq because of the coronavirus, NBC News reported Thursday. At a meeting last week to choose among options for responding to attacks by Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed proxy militia groups inside Iraq, the president “expressed concern that hitting back hard at Iran at this time would make the U.S. look bad given the extent to which Iran and the rest of the world are struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19,” one former and four current senior U.S. officials told NBC.
“It was a notable shift for a president who has made a bellicose approach to Iran a cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda and one that showcases how consumed Trump now is with the coronavirus pandemic.” Read on, here.
Top National Guard general: don’t federalize Guard. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel recommended at a Thursday press conference that the president “not federalize control of Guard troops so that they can continue to be available to assist state and local governments with law enforcement duties amid the widespread coronavirus outbreak,” Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Thursday. Lengyel “said that if the federal government assumes control of the Guard, those troops, like active duty U.S. military members, would be forbidden from engaging in domestic law enforcement by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act.” Read on, here.
New York state could run out of hospital supplies within weeks, Gov. De Blasio said Thursday in a plea for more federal help. (Politico)
A Colorado hospital has set its nurses to sewing masks and surgical gowns. Operating room nurses at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs are doing fewer surgeries this week because the governor put elective procedures on hold, so they are preparing for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients by making supplies they can’t depend on getting any other way. NBC9: “Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says they have received PPE [personal protective equipment] from the national stockpile, but that it won’t be enough to fight the pandemic over time. [Gov. Jared] Polis is asking the federal government for more help on that front.” More, here.
The U.S. should soon be receiving about 1 million coronavirus nasal test swabs each week in an ongoing mission from Italy, Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, told Bloomberg news. “The U.S. Air Force will be flying as many as three flights a week to pick up the supplies from Aviano Air Base north of Venice,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio writes. More here.
Federal officials rush to correct Trump’s false statements, again. In his Thursday press conference, the president said various anti-malarial drugs had been approved for use against COVID-19, prompting Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to say it wasn’t true, and much more testing is needed before it could be. (New York Times)
Trump also blamed the media for making his response to COVID-19 look bad. In 2018, the president explained that he attacks the press “so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
By the numbers: Total COVID-19 deaths in the United States, as of Friday morning: 195, per NYT. Total as of Wednesday, 109; one week ago, 41; two weeks ago, 12; three weeks ago, 0. (Worldometer) More after the jump.
From Defense One
Leave the National Guard to the States, Says Top General // Katie Bo Williams: If Trump federalizes the Guard, they can’t help with law enforcement, says Gen. Lengyel.
US Navy Working to Keep Subs and Destroyers From Becoming COVID-19 Hotspots // Patrick Tucker: Meanwhile, the coronavirus is putting the military health-care system under stress.
Will An App Tell You Who Will Give You COVID-19? // Patrick Tucker: Researchers say a movement-tracking app, like one China deployed, could help slow the spread of the disease.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: The great unknown; Leidos CEO on COVID-19; F-35 lines reopen, and more.
Finding ‘The End’ to Our Story in Afghanistan May Be The Best We Could Do / Al Pessin: There are Taliban peace talks in my novel, too. No spoilers, but you can bet how that goes.
The Foreign Policy of 2021 Democrats // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Joe Biden represents the so-called establishment’s last chance to reform U.S. foreign policy so it is better aligned with how Americans see the world.
China Is Avoiding Blame by Trolling the World // Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic: Beijing is successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus.
OMB Says ‘Work From Home.’ But Some Defense Contracts Say Workers Can’t // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: Industry association pushes for the administration to issue guidance for flexibility and greater use of contractors during the coronavirus pandemic.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston with Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
How are other countries faring in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19? NYT’s has a feature on which countries have “flattened the curve” for the coronavirus, here.
Wargame warning. From January to August of last year, the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services department ran a series of pandemic “wargames.” The conclusion, summed up in an October draft report obtained by the New York Times, was that the country and its federal government were disastrously unprepared. Little was done. Read on, here.
Senate Intel chairman warned “a small group of well-connected constituents,” but not the public, according to NPR. On Feb. 27, when there were 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and President Trump was “suggesting that the virus could be seasonal,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told the Tar Heel Club, “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history… It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” NPR obtained a secret recording of Burr’s talk, which you can find, here.
And Burr dumped as much as $1.5 million in stock, including in hotel chains, before he expressed any concern publicly, Anna Massoglia of Open Secrets DC reported Thursday, with the financial forms to back it up. ProPublica has more, here.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., also dumped millions in stocks after a private, all-senators meeting on the coronavirus. The Veterans Affairs committee member then bought stock in a teleconferencing company. The Daily Beast has more on that case of alleged insider trading, here.
The Taliban stormed an Afghan military base and killed more than two dozen people in southern Zabul province, Tolo News reports today — which is just one day acting Defense Minister Assadullah Khalid announced his forces were switching from “defensive status” to “active defensive status” against the Taliban. Reuters calls today’s violence in Zabul “one of the biggest attacks since a violence reduction agreement was signed between the United States and the Taliban last month.”
Tolo reports multiple “insiders” turned on Afghan security forces in the Zabul attack, possibly as many as six, according to a local official who chose not to give his or her name. Reuters has not yet been able to confirm the alleged “insider” involvement.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called for “unity and cooperation from all of us” in a Nawruz message to his fellow countrymen Thursday evening. More on that, also from Tolo, here.
And finally this week: a new U.S.-RoK cost sharing deal is still TBD. There are just 11 days before “many of the almost 9,000 South Koreans employed by the U.S. military command will be placed on unpaid leave” provided American and South Korean negotiators cannot resolve “how much each should pay to support the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice,” Reuters reports today from Seoul.
“The two countries held a seventh round [of] talks in Los Angeles this week,” Reuters writes, and today South Korea announced there has still been no end in sight. Read on, here.