Trump: NATO’s obsolete; Russia rising in Libya; US-backed Syrians repel attack; Can the Obama Doctrine survive Trump? And just a bit more...

Thought all that NATO-is-over stuff was just campaign talk? Nope. In a bombshell interview with two European newspapers, Bild and The Times of London, President-elect Donald Trump “called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico.” (Via Bloomberg.)

Moreover, “We should be ready to trust Putin,” Trump said, and floated the idea of negotiating down the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States by offering to ease the sanctions imposed after Vladimir Putin directed the illegal annexation of Crimea. (It has long been U.S. policy to try to keep nuclear negotiations separate from other issues.)

He also said “he would appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to try to broker a Middle East peace deal, urged Britain to veto any new U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel and criticized Obama’s handling of the deal between Iran and six world powers including the United States which curbed Tehran's nuclear program.” Via Reuters. (Like his father-in-law, Kushner has outlined what outside ethics observers call an insufficient plan to divest himself of assets that will pose conflicts of interest. New York Times, here.)

On the Alliance: “It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror,” Trump told the newspapers. (Anthony Scaramucci, a hedge fund manager who is joining Trump's White House staff as an adviser, later walked that back a bit. “NATO is working but there are things about it that need to change,” he told an audience at the World Economic Forum. Reuters, here.)

Here’s the interview transcript.

Ethics troubles claim a Trump team member. Monica Crowley, who was to have been a National Security Council spokeswoman, withdrew after she was found to have plagiarized passages her Ph.D dissertation, her book, and more. Washington Post, here.

Will SecDef Mattis be the saucer that cools Trump’s tea? David Barno and Nora Bensahel: “This period of looming unpredictability will make the role of the Department of Defense — the nation’s largest department of government — unusually important in shaping the Trump team’s thinking during its first year and beyond.” Read on, here.

Russia rising in Libya. “Russia is planning to arm a Libyan general who has been fighting the western-backed government in Tripoli,” The Times of London reported Monday.

The general: 73-year-old Khalifa Hiftar, “who has been denounced by the UN-supported government as a terrorist, [and who] held high-level talks last week aboard the Russian aircraft carrier stationed in the Mediterranean…During the meetings aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov General Hiftar spoke by video link to Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, about counterterrorism efforts,” said Akram Bouhlaiga, one of the general’s adjutants, adding, “Russia promised to lobby the UN to drop the weapons embargo, while General Hiftar presented a list of equipment his men needed.”

On the other side of the Libya fight, "Britain and the US had hoped that the GNA would bring all warring factions together to end the conflict but it has failed to gain the approval of the rival parliament in the east that is fiercely loyal to General Hiftar,” ToL writes. “In western Libya, forces loyal to the GNA and which ousted Isis from its stronghold in Sirte said that if Russia armed General Hiftar, the civil war would be prolonged and terrorism encouraged... The GNA, plagued by resignations and boycotts, has struggled to retain its grip on the capital. It said that Islamist militias that had attempted a takeover last week had failed." More here.

Also in Libya: Erik Prince’s mercenaries are flying bombing missions in converted cropduster planes on behalf of the UAE air force, War Is Boring reported late last week. “The United Arab Emirates strongly supports Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his regime in Tobruk, one of two major factions vying for power in Libya...Prince’s ties to the United Arab Emirates are strong. He moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010, the same year he sold his stake in scandal-riven Blackwater. In Abu Dhabi, Prince founded Reflex Responses Company, also known as R2... Most of the for-profit aviators are American, according to IOL."

Worth noting: "Prince denied involvement in the UAE air operations."

If you were curious: "Mercenary pilots are hardly new to Libya. In early 2015, the Libya Dawn Air Force — the main aerial rival of Haftar’s own Libyan National Army Air Force — paid the Ukrainian companies Glissada and Amber Tiger and the Jordan-based Caravana Middle East to find suitable pilots for its tiny fleet of fighters and helicopters." More here.

Russia has asked the Trump administration to attend peace talks on the Syrian war on January 23, the Associated Press reports.

ICYMI: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his brother are reportedly linked to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, according to a document “seen by Reuters but has not been made public, [and which] was based on a combination of evidence compiled by the U.N.-OPCW team in Syria and information from Western and regional intelligence agencies,” Reuters reported Friday, adding that they were “unable to independently review the evidence or to verify it.”

Will it make any difference? “While the inquiry has no judicial powers, any naming of suspects could lead to their prosecution,” writes Reuters. “Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but alleged war crimes could be referred to the court by the Security Council - although splits among global powers over the war make this a distant prospect at present.” More to the story, here. And more from the ISIS fight in Syria and Iraq, below.


From Defense One

Putin's DNC Hackers Actively Targeting French Elections // Patrick Tucker: Putin's efforts to destabilize Western democratic processes are moving across Europe.

The Military Loves the Obama Doctrine. Can It Survive Trump? // Kevin Baron: Commanders say they're already fighting ISIS the right way: "by, with, and through" local forces.

A Pledge for More of the Same at the Pentagon // Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University: James Mattis has no new ideas for solving America's most intractable conflicts. Neither does Congress.

Defense Secretary Nominee Cautions Against 'Stumbling' into Cyberwar // Nextgov’s Heather Kuldell: James Mattis also said he was "philosophically OK" with elevating U.S. Cyber Command into a unified command.

Trump Has Considerable Authority to Revamp the Intelligence Community // GovExec’s Charles S. Clark: But the the 2004 law that created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence creates some hurdles as well.

Why Is Obama Expanding Surveillance Powers Right Before He Leaves Office? // Kaveh Waddell: It could be to prevent Trump from extending them even more.

Welcome to the Jan. 17 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1781, Continental forces defeated the British in South Carolina, engendering one of the all-time great warship names. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


In Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces repelled "an aggressive pre-dawn attack on their forces... in al-Suwaydiyat al-Kabirah, west of Raqqa, close to the strategic Tabqa Dam, the primary target for the current phase of the Kurdish-led operation to isolate Raqqa," Kurdish Rudaw news reports. "The fighting continued until 10 o’clock this morning, local time, when the militants were defeated."

According to the SDF, “An area of 3200 square kilometers has been fully liberated since the beginning of the [Euphrates Wrath] operation,” Cihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokesperson for the operation, said at a press conference on Monday. “It includes 236 villages, and tens of hamlets. This means that Raqqa has been encircled from both north and west.” More here.

In Iraq, “special forces pushed deeper into Islamic State-held districts [of Eastern Nineveh and Souq al-Ghanam] in eastern Mosul on Tuesday, and army units battled the militants inside [Kindi military base] in the north of the city,” Reuters reports.

As well, “Further south, rapid response units of the Iraqi federal police have secured much of the eastern bank of the Tigris. A spokesman for those forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi, said some Islamic State fighters had fled by boat across the river, taking civilians as human shields.” Story, here.

3,000 fake tanks on Putin’s doorstep. The folks in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab reported this weekend “how a network of conspiracy sites spread a fake story about U.S. reinforcements in Europe.”  DFL fills in the details: “Like much fake news, this story started with a grain of truth: the US was about to reinforce its armored units in Europe. However, the article converted literally thousands of other vehicles — including hundreds of Humvees and trailers — into tanks, building the US force into something 20 times more powerful than it actually was. The story caught on online. Within three days it had been repeated by a dozen websites in the United States, Canada and Europe, and shared some 40,000 times. It was translated into Norwegian; quoted, unchallenged, by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti; and spread among Russian-language websites. It was also an obvious fake, as any Google news search would have revealed.” More here.

McCain’s defense budget buildup. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is reportedly going to pitch a $430 billion increase in defense spending through 2022, Politico reported Sunday. “The 21-page plan advocates boosting the Pentagon budget as well as nuclear weapons spending in the Department of Energy by approximately $430 billion over budget projections between fiscal 2018 and 2022 — including to finance a bigger Army and significantly more new warships and fighter jets. It would also bust through the spending caps now mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which are not set to expire until after 2021 and would have to be overturned.”

The number$: “The plan calls for $640 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2018, $54 billion above current projections. Combined with $60 billion in projected spending for overseas operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, that would bring total defense spending next year to just over $700 billion... Including war funding, defense spending would top out at just over $800 billion in fiscal 2022, according to the McCain plan.” Lots more to sink your teeth into, here.

Lastly today: Should investors give money to this weird-looking mine-clearing tool? Mashable all but says yes in their video roll-up of the device, called the Mine Kafon. For a contrary view, check this take, which suggests donating any money that’s burning a hole in your pocket to the Mines Advisory Group or HALO Trust.

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