Ukraine summary memo released; Dems vow impeachment; Trump’s nationalist speech; US bombs Libyan ISIS; And a bit more.
Democrats vow impeachment proceedings, sort of. In the wake of Monday reporting that Donald Trump blocked military aid to Ukraine before asking its president to investigate the son of a potential 2020 rival, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered her caucus behind closed doors on Tuesday — then emerged to declare that Democrats would move forward with “an official impeachment inquiry.”
It’s not clear what comes next. “It’s hard to say” whether Pelosi’s announcement will actually change anything that the House is doing about impeaching Trump, one Democratic lawmaker told Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams. “Only time will tell.” Read on, here.
Pelosi to reporters: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
That followed an already-eventful day in which:
- Trump gave the most nationalist of his three addresses to the UN General Assembly.
- He promised to release “a transcript” of his July 25 phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- The Senate passed — by unanimous, bipartisan consent — a resolution pressing his administration to release a whistleblower report connected to Trump’s Ukraine dealings.
Understanding what happened in Ukraine. Several organizations have assembled timelines to help, including the Washington Post (focused on diplomatic events), Lawfare (focused on how Trump’s team and right-wing media pushed alternate versions of events), and Just Security (currently the most comprehensive).
So why did he withhold the aid? Trump has offered at least two explanations at odds with each other, as shown in a short CNN video. On Monday, he said he was trying to prevent corruption; on Tuesday, he said it was because other countries were not giving enough aid to Ukraine.
BREAKING: Summary memo, released: On Wednesday morning, the White House released what it calls a transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky. More precisely, the document is a "summary memorandum"; as the doc itself says, "CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation.· (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion." The Washington Post explains why, here. (Note: this president and his administration have a long track record of doctoring the truth.)
Later today: Trump is to hold a long-planned meeting with the Ukrainian leader in New York City, on the UN General Assembly sidelines.
Beyond that? Unclear. Pelosi released neither a timeline, a bill of charges, or even hints about what existing or new House committee might handle impeachment proceedings. The New York Times has an overview of how impeachment generally works.
A taxonomy of impeachment charges. Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes describe the various kinds of things Trump might plausibly be charged with, including “abuse of the president’s foreign policy authorities and misuse of congressionally appropriated money to induce a foreign head of state to violate the civil liberties of U.S. persons and interfere in a presidential election.”
Their recommendations: steer clear of things that have other remedies than impeachment. On emoluments, for example, they note that Congress could pass a law to prevent foreign money from flowing to Trump via hotel stays. Read on, here.
From Defense One
House Democrats Announce Formal Impeachment Probe — Sort Of // Katie Bo Williams: It’s far from clear whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s go-slow strategy has changed.
Trump's Transactional. And Estonia's President Is Cool With It. // Uri Friedman and Yara Bayoumy, The Atlantic: Thinking back historically, when everybody else said it nicely, we didn’t react,” Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid told us.
Trump Delivers Populist Message to the UN — and US Voters // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The president put 2020 politics front and center in his third address to the General Assembly.
America Is Abandoning the International Systems that Made It Great // Alex Pascal, The Atlantic: Though Trump has accelerated its decline, the crisis of multilateralism has much deeper roots.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston (above) and Ben Watson (below). If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1780, American Continental Army Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold defected to the Brits.
The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on alleged ISIS fighters in Libya on Tuesday, and that’s U.S. Africa Command’s second Libyan air strike targeting ISIS in five days. It also happened in pretty much the same spot: “in the vicinity of Murzuq, Libya.” Indications of Tuesday’s strike first emerged on social media in the late afternoon east coast time. Find that, and the suspected strike location, here.
Reminder: AFRICOM’s previous airstrike last Thursday happened on the same day America’s Ambassador to Libya met with Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar — the man whose personal army has had a difficult time since April trying to kill forces from the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
And speaking of Haftar: More than 100 Russian mercenaries from Wagner are in Libya, and some have already been killed fighting alongside Haftar’s men, Bloomberg reports today. The Russian contractors reportedly brought artillery with them “arrived at a forward base in Libya in the first week of September to support eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar’s assault on the capital Tripoli,” unnamed sources tell Bloomberg. That base is believed to be in central Libya’s Jufra district.
A word on Wagner’s timing: “Their arrival this month coincided with an escalation in airstrikes in support of Haftar, who’s pushing for decisive gains on the battlefield to strengthen his hand before an international peace conference expected next month. His forces have been bogged down at Tripoli’s outskirts since early April.”
And here’s a candidate for understatement of the year: “Libya has been under a poorly enforced UN arms embargo since 2011,” Bloomberg writes, “with Turkey, Russia, the U.A.E., Egypt, France and others supporting either side — or in some cases — both sides of the civil war. For the most part, Washington, with more pressing priorities elsewhere, has watched as other powers battle each other for dominance in the OPEC state.” Read on, here.
Did you know: 95 countries now own military drones? In 2010, that number was 60, according to a new open-source analysis (PDF) from the Center for the Study of the Drone at New York’s Bard College. And along with more countries in the business comes “an expanding infrastructure of military bases, test sites and training academies to support the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles,” the Wall Street Journal reports today.
And that old edge the U.S. had when it comes to armed drones? It’s gone. In fact, “At least 10 countries, including Azerbaijan and Nigeria, have conducted strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles,” the Journal writes. The full list also includes Israel, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, UAE, U.K., and U.S. And 58 countries already have drone units (268 to date) of some kind in their militaries.
This study found more than 170 different types of drones in use worldwide, and another 34 have been phased out over the past decade. The global total is believed to be somewhere near 30,000 drones in active inventories. (Not included in that estimate: China or Iranian drone stocks.)
Nineteen countries export drones today, with most from China, Israel and the U.S. And on that note, “Thirty-two countries operate at least one drone made in China, 39 countries operate at least one from Israel, and 49 operate at least one from the U.S.”
Seven countries maintain drone bases outside their own borders: France, Germany, Italy, Russia, UAE, U.K., and the U.S. And the U.S. bases drones in at least 13 different countries. Much more in Bard’s report, which you can find here.
ICYMI: A leading European drone-policy activist notes that Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities was “a dramatic development in the scale and sophistication of drone attacks even in a year that has seen a substantial escalation in their use.” Wim Zwijnenburg argues that it’s time to harden international rules and norms on drone use, here.
Here’s a powerful read on Afghanistan at a pivotal moment from the New York Times’ man in Kabul, Mujib Mashal. The Times’ tease: “The Taliban bombing in Kabul [on September 5] that was cited as a reason to end peace talks was caught on camera, along with a man’s desperate scramble to evade death… Though violent deaths are appallingly common in this country, Afghans have been seized with fascination and dread by the clip’s reminder of how little separates life from death.”
How Mashal sets it up, on Twitter: “Last week, we wrote the story of a man, a moment that I — and pretty much anyone who saw this video & couldn't stop replaying over and over and over — haven't been able to stop thinking about. At the rate of loss — 74 a day last month, according to [the] BBC — death is common. What's heartbreaking is this: how quickly and violently lives disappear (sometimes no trace left), and how quickly the trace left is cleaned in just hours — as if no lives were lost on that spot…”
And this will resonate with anyone who has deployed since 9/11: “Usually the sheer force of such bombings gives one no time. You are gone, like that. What fascinated people about the couple seconds of this CCTV video that spread far was the rare moment of someone spotting the bomber — someone taking four steps to try to cling to life. Finding who that man was could have been a difficult task. It's a process of elimination. Friends at security forces helped confirm it wasn't an NDS guard but a pedestrian. I put out a social media request asking if anyone knew him — and I got lucky. Clues started coming in.” Read the story of Akbar Fazelyar in full, here.
Coming today: A discussion all about Afghanistan with an author who has made 10 trips to the country since 2004. Kevin Maurer joins us for episode 56 of Defense One Radio. Maurer visited the country this year and spent about a week with Afghan war commander, Gen. Scott Miller. He wrote about that trip and many of the others this month for the Washington Post Magazine.
Maurer tells us how this trip was different, and how, at the same time, it really wasn’t that much different, either. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or Spotify.
ICYMI: A federal judge on Friday gave the White House 30 days to fix problems with “visa applications for thousands of Afghans and Iraqis who worked for American troops and diplomats,” NBC’s Dan De Luce reported.
The quick read: “U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., said the government offered no convincing explanation why it has failed to abide by 2013 legislation requiring authorities to deliver a decision on visa applications for Afghans and Iraqis within nine months.”
Background: "The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was set up to help Iraqis and Afghans who worked for U.S. troops or diplomats to resettle in the U.S. But the program has been plagued by delays in both Republican and Democratic administrations… The ruling against the administration came as the White House weighs how many refugees — including former Iraqi interpreters — to admit to the U.S. in the next fiscal year starting in October.” More here.
China is turning to its private sector to finance its military, according to a new report from the nonprofit organization, C4ADS, which the WSJ writes “does data-driven analysis on security issues, and is known for its work detailing how North Korea evades sanctions.”
An example: “privately held Beijing Highlander Digital Technology used a series of deals across Europe and Canada to build up China’s military, including by contributing technology to the country’s first aircraft carrier,” the Journal reports.
This private sector effort isn’t unexpected, as CNAS’s Elsa Kania has been writing about for years with regard to China’s military. What’s slightly newer, however, is the risk that “foreign companies and researchers [could] inadvertently help the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, acquire the technology and expertise it needs to enhance its already rapidly expanding capabilities,” the Journal reports.
Worth noting: Chinese leader Xi Jinping's "vision for a more efficient defense industry is based largely on the American model." But, "Unlike U.S. defense contractors, Chinese firms don’t have the option to spurn government overtures," according to Christopher Ashley Ford, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation. Read on (PDF), here.
And finally today: That Marine Corps reserve unit that wanted to party at Mar-a-Lago has been ordered to “find another venue” since a Trump property “might be seen as taking a political stance and enriching the commander in chief,” the Miami Herald updated Tuesday, six days after the story first broke. Read the latest in that saga that’s turning into a nightmare of event coordination, here.