Lawmakers go to bat for New START; Influence ops evolve; US mulls 28% cut to embassy; US, Seoul can’t agree on payment; and just a bit more...

Lawmakers press Trump to extend New START. Bipartisan groups in both the House and Senate are prepping three similar bills “demanding intelligence assessments on the costs of allowing the New START treaty to lapse,” Reuters reports

Why the lean? Because “There’s little public indication that the Trump administration is thinking about several things that will happen if the last strategic arms agreement is allowed to expire,” as nuclear analysts Vincent Manzo and Madison Estes put it in a Defense One oped in June. Read: If New START Dies, These Questions Will Need Answers

The treaty is the last remaining thread of a decades-old arms-control fabric otherwise shredded by the administration, which says it may let this 2010 pact lapse in order to pursue a new agreement with Russia and China. Both have indicated zero interest in such discussions, though Moscow says it wants to extend the current agreement by five years. March: New New START a Nonstarter, Says Russian Ambassador. April: Amb. Anatoly Antonov explained why in his op-ed: “America, You’re Not Listening to Us."

From Defense One

The Trump Administration’s ‘Denuclearization’ Is A Road to Nowhere // Daniel DePetris: U.S. policy will remain stuck as long as the administration continues to convince itself that the North’s nuclear dismantlement can be achieved on Washington’s timeline.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 61: The future of influence operations // Defense One Staff: In 2016, Moscow sowed division with fake news. Today, Russian agents simply reflect the things Americans say about each other.

Under Trump, the US Has Become a Leading Source of Global Instability // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: The country is now a known unknown, increasing the risk of crises from the Middle East to East Asia to Central America, a new survey suggests.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Russia // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: American conservatives who find themselves identifying with Putin’s regime refuse to see the country for what it actually is.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here.

Proposal: shrink America’s sizeable embassy in Baghdad. The Trump administration wants to slash its diplomatic corps in Iraq by one-quarter, reducing it from 486 people to 349 by June. That’s according to documents sent this month to the Senate and obtained by Foreign Policy. 

The State Department would see the deepest cuts; Defense and USAID contingents would also be reduced, FP reports

Context: “The Trump administration is slashing the size of the U.S. Embassy at a time of political upheaval in Iraq amid anti-government protests and as it works to fend off Iranian influence in the country. After over 15 years of military involvement in the country, the United States still has about 6,000 troops in Iraq following the military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, and it poured about $1.5 billion of aid into the country in 2018.” Read on, here.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats failed this week to agree on how much money Seoul should contribute toward hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops. 

It seems Trump’s $5 billion demand is no longer being pressed by the Americans, Reuters reports

Free advice, FWIW: Authors from the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies offer some advice for the White House’s negotiation team in this Los Angeles Times piece. “Alliances are not valued in dollars and cents, and American service members are not mercenaries. Excessive U.S. monetary demands degrade alliances based on shared principles and goals into mere transactional relationships.”

SIGAR objects to (some of) the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers.” John Sopko, who is the Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, objects to several of the newspaper’s characterizations of his agency’s work and interactions. 

Not a “secret” history. Sopko writes in a letter to the editor that the Post’s project is “an important contribution to public discourse about the war in Afghanistan. But it is not a ‘secret’ history. SIGAR has written about these issues for years, including in seven Lessons Learned reports and more than 300 audits and other products.” Read those, and stay tuned for more, at SIGAR’s website.

Hamid Karzai has thoughts as well. Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban leader, hand-picked by U.S. officials and then ejected amid rampant corruption, tells the Post that “A lot of effort was made to hide the facts, especially on civilian casualties.” The Post’s Pamela Constable writes that the project “has partly vindicated Karzai’s arguments, even as it portrays his past government as a dysfunctional ‘kleptocracy’ that was unprepared for modern governance.” Read on, here.

And David Petraeus offered some objections via LinkedIn: I generally agree with the article below. Yes, there were many mistakes made.  Yes, Afghan corruption, political infighting, and ineptitude were maddening. And, certainly, it is hard to help establish the rule of law in a country whose major export crop is illegal. But most of us tried to be as accurate and as measured as possible…” Read, here.

Poll: Trump’s approval slips among some troops. A recent survey of Military Times subscribers found that half of the active-duty military personnel who responded held an unfavorable view of the commander in chief, “showing a continued decline in his approval rating since he was elected in 2016. Trump’s 42 percent approval in the latest poll, conducted from Oct. 23 to Dec. 2, sets his lowest mark in the survey since being elected president,” Military Times reports. “But the latest numbers still leave Trump with a higher approval rating than former President Barack Obama when he left office in January 2017.” Read on, here.

Finally today: Finland is offering “a civics course in AI” to help EU citizens understand artificial intelligence and its impact on jobs. Reuters: “The tech-savvy Nordic nation, led by the 34-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin, is marking the end of its rotating presidency of the EU at the end of the year with a highly ambitious goal.” Working with Helsinki University, the Finnish government “has opted to give practical understanding of AI to 1% of EU citizens, or about 5 million people, through a basic online course by the end of 2021.” Read on, here.