Trump tries to shakedown NATO; 5 more Syrian cities surrender to Assad and Russia; Pompeo back to Pyongyang; Gangs at the border (or not); The music of Mosul, after ISIS; And a bit more.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” said Thomas Jefferson, on this day, 242 years ago. Happy 4th of July, readers. We’re off tomorrow, so here’s your preemptive vacation read. Have a great holiday.

Why American support for NATO matters: The wave of preemptive op-eds defending the transatlantic alliance from Trump’s appearance at the Brussels HQ next week has begun. And today one of the better ones comes from CNN’s Twitter-proficient retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who was commanding general of the Army’s contingent on the continent, U.S. Army Europe.

More than military relations… Hertling was less than convinced that level-headed generals can save the alliance from Trump’s political rhetoric, tweeting at Defense One’s Kevin Baron last week: “You make some strong points, but the generals — who are under civilian control — can only do so much to continue to garner trust within an alliance when politicians are degrading that trust. In the history of NATO we have never seen something like this.”

Trump’s undercutting words and moves matter, Hertling argues, and could dangerously fray the fabric of the alliance. Hertling doesn’t like the Putin summit timing or the White House leaking that Trump was negatively surprised the U.S. had 35,000 troops in Europe — which is actually the drawdown from Cold War levels ordered by Donald Rumsfeld. “All in all, it isn't a large footprint.”   

ICYMI: Trump sends it in a letter. The president quietly sent letters to several NATO leaders pressing them to spend more on defense, warning the U.S. shouldn’t have to pay up so much when security threats and European economies grow, the New York Times reported. “This is no longer sustainable for us,” he wrote. But isn’t it?

Washington’s big NATO bluff: This ask isn’t new. Several previous defense secretaries and Joint Chiefs chairmen have asked Europe to spend more, over and over. And Europe is inching up, but Trump also exposes America’s options: either Europe spends more to reach a level of security Washington wants, OR Washington keeps filling the the gaps itself, OR Washington accepts the lesser version of military defense that Europeans seems comfortable with. We’ll be watching for NATO ally reactions to the letter and Trump’s demands before they even arrive in Brussels.

From Defense One

Happy 50th Birthday to the NPT Nuclear Treaty // Joe Cirincione: There's good reason to celebrate the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. We're all still here, aren't we? But the NPT regime's protections are being tested more profoundly than ever.

For America, More War in Syria Is All Risk, No Reward // Bonnie Kristian: The recklessness of keeping U.S. soldiers in harm's way is compounded by the fact that there are no vital American interests at stake.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Kevin Baron and Ben Watson. We are off for July 4th and wish you a safe and fireworks-filled Independence Day. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. #OTD in 2017, North Korea prepared for what would be its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which launched in the early morning of July 4.

Trump administration stands aside as five opposition-held cities in Syria’s southwest have surrendered to Assad and Russian forces, The Wall Street Journal reports as the death toll mounts (200 and rising) near the city of Daraa and the neighboring province of Qunietra during the past two weeks.
The significance of Daraa: “For the opposition, which has suffered significant territorial losses over the past two years, a defeat in Daraa—where the antigovernment uprising first began in 2011—would also mark a symbolic loss,” the Journal writes. “The area had been protected by a yearlong cease-fire deal brokered by Russia, the U.S. and Jordan, but that is now in shambles as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeks to make good on a vow to retake every inch of Syria.” Continue reading (paywall alert), here.

White House cautiously agrees to disagree with Russia over Crimea, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday, exactly two weeks from President Trump and Putin’s planned summit in Helsinki.
In her own words: “We do not recognize Russia's attempt to annex Crimea.  We agree to disagree with Russia on that front.  And our Crimea sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Russia returns the peninsula to the Ukraine,” Sanders said. When asked if “recognizing the annexation [would] be on the table” during those July 16 talks, Sanders declined to say anything further. Read that exchange in full, here.

The White House wants to label Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “terrorist” organization, CNN reports. An internal WH debate on the topic has so far failed to reach a consensus.
The benefit: “allow[ing] the White House to freeze IRGC assets, impose travel bans and levy criminal penalties on top of pre-existing economic sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.”
The problem: “labeling an official state military as a terror group, particularly a group with the reach and force of the IRGC, would be unprecedented and could expose US diplomatic and military officials to additional hazards,” CNN writes. At this point, “The US will have to consider its allies in Europe if it takes the step of designating the IRGC.” Read on, here.

SecState Pompeo packs for Pyongyang — then to four other countries on the way to the NATO Summit, WSJ reports.  
The quick read out of that: “Mr. Pompeo will travel to Pyongyang from July 5-7 and then visit Japan, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said. He will then attend the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels before returning to Washington.” That short hit, here. (SecDef Jim Mattis also will attend the NATO Summit but will not be giving any interviews, according the Pentagon press secretary Dana White.)

The more you know: Gangs at the border edition. According to Customs and Border Protection data for FY19, 310,531 people were detained "who were in the U.S. illegally, but only 0.09 percent of them belonged to the gangs operating in Central America." That comes via the Associated Press, reporting this morning from San Salvador where a “mom, her wrists and ankles in chains, was flown with about 100 other would-be migrants back to El Salvador.”
Mexicans now the minority: “In 2000, U.S. border patrol agents caught 1.6 million immigrants on the southwest border. Of those immigrants, 98 percent were Mexican, and only about 29,000 came from other countries. Contrast that with 2017, when nearly 163,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were caught on the border — and roughly 128,000 Mexicans.” Writes AP, “it’s often people fleeing gangs who are trying to get into the United States.” More here.

New Ospreys (and goodbye to an old friend): Bell-Boeing ink $4.2 billion deal to produce 78 Ospreys for fiscal years 2018 through 2022, SeaPower Magazine reports off some deals signed late last week.  
Involved: “the manufacture and delivery of 39 CMV-22B aircraft for the Navy, 34 MV-22B aircraft for the Marine Corps, one CV-22B for the Air Force and four MV-22B aircraft for the government of Japan.”
In case you were curious, “there are more than 70 different configurations of MV-22B in Marine Corps inventory.” A bit more, here.
So long C-2? “The Navy will use the Osprey to fly people and supplies to its aircraft carriers. It will replace the C-2 Greyhound” tweets Defense One’s resident aviation encyclopedia, Marcus Weisgerber.

Greenpeace flew a drone with a Superman cape into a nuclear plant to show just how easy that is, AP reports from Paris. Read how — plus a photo — here.

And finally today: the sanguine sounds of a city no longer at war. This story comes to us from Iraq’s devastated city of Mosul. There on Friday, a crowd gathered to hear sounds of “peace and coexistence” from one man’s cello, Agence France-Presse reported this weekend from the former ISIS stronghold.
Hear Iraqi cellist, Karim Wasfi, perform and then explain a bit about why in a clip over on YouTube you can find here.