SOTU & national security; 4,000 Syrian fighters now in Libya; Coronavirus latest; ‘Batsuit’ research; And a bit more.
In his final State of the Union speech before the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump boasted about Pentagon spending and repeated as-yet unfulfilled promises from the 2016 election to end U.S. wars in the Middle East, Defense One's Katie Bo Williams reported late Tuesday evening.
“I am not looking to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, many of them totally innocent,” Trump said. “It is also not our function to serve other nations as a law enforcement agencies.” However, Williams writes, Trump did not offer an alternative policy direction to the current South Asia strategy or Afghanistan war effort that might speed the effort to “bring home” U.S. troops.
“Our country is thriving and highly respected again,” Trump said. “America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise, and America’s future is blazing bright.”
And in one of the most dramatic moments of the speech, Trump announced the surprise return of a deployed service-member, who was reunited with his wife and two children in the gallery of the House to chants of “USA” from lawmakers. Granted the moment received applause from Democratic lawmakers, Williams reports, some critics blasted the White House for making made-for-TV use of military personnel and families as political props during the speech.
A “re-election pitch” is how ABC News described the president’s speech.
But from the moment Trump entered the House chamber, "Washington’s deep partisanship was on full display," the Wall Street Journal writes. "During the speech, Republicans repeatedly jumped to their feet and cheered, and Democrats sat stone-faced, standing rarely. A few Democrats walked out of the State of the Union speech early. At the end of the address, Mrs. Pelosi tore her copy of the president’s speech in half."
Read the rest of Williams’ post-speech review, including both truthful and exaggerated claims from the president about Afghanistan, NATO, U.S. defense spending and more, here.
From Defense One
Stunts, Stagecraft and National Security in Trump’s State of the Union // Katie Bo Williams: Sounding like a campaign kick-off, the president leaned into one of his as-yet unfulfilled promises from the 2016 election: ending America’s “endless wars.”
One Step Closer to a Batsuit for Soldiers // Patrick Tucker: Researchers announce new military funding in search for body armor skin that could be 300 times stronger than anything we’ve seen before.
Trump's Ban on Nigerian Immigrants Will Hurt His Defense Strategy // John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations: Expanding immigration bans while seeking closer economic ties with Africa to counter Russian and Chinese influence indicates policy incoherence.
Spotted: Ransomware That Targets Industrial Controls // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: EKANS is the first known malware made to freeze the systems that run electrical utilities and the like, says cyber firm Dragos, adding that there's no apparent link to Iran.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1917, amid a wave of nativism and xenophobia, the U.S. Senate overrode a presidential veto to pass the Immigration Act of 1917. The law imposed a literacy test and restricted the entry of "idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, criminals, beggars, any person suffering attacks of insanity, those with tuberculosis, and those who have any form of dangerous contagious disease," as well as "polygamists and anarchists." The U.S. would enter WWI two months later, on April 6, 1917.
POTUS acquittal expected. The GOP-controlled Senate is expected this afternoon to vote to acquit President Trump of 1) using his public office for private gain by withholding Congressionally mandated military aid to coerce campaign help from the Ukranian government and 2) obstructing Congress’ investigation into it.
Evidence includes witness testimony, documents, and Trump’s own words. The New York Times limns it all here.
Say what? On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul “read aloud the name of the alleged whistleblower who first raised alarms about President Donald Trump's conduct toward Ukraine,” Politico reported from Capitol Hill. The catch: “Most Republicans didn’t seem to care.”
Also happening today: U.S. Navy and Marine Corps readiness in the Pacific is the theme of a joint hearing before House lawmakers this afternoon. (The hearing’s full title is “Update on Navy and Marine Corps Readiness in the Pacific in the Aftermath of Recent Mishaps.”) The Navy’s Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who commands Naval Surface Forces for U.S. Pacific Fleet; and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, will testify before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces and the Subcommittee on Readiness at 2:30 p.m. ET today. Catch the livestream here.
Read up on some of the deadly events that spurred the hearing, as reported by ProPublica, here.
Coronavirus latest: The toll is up to 495 deaths, all but one in China, according to a dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins.
Here in the states: DoD officials say they are “prepared to receive two Department of State chartered evacuation flights from Wuhan, China currently scheduled to arrive on February 5th. The initial flights have departed China for [California’s] Travis Air Force Base with approximately 350 passengers on board. One of the aircraft will refuel at Travis and continue on to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station,” which is also in California.
These ~350 people “will be subject to a CDC-managed 14-day quarantine,” said the statement, released near midnight on Tuesday. And in the meantime, “DOD will work closely with our interagency partners and continue to provide support to the situation as requested.”
Looking toward the work and plans of other countries, AP reports today that quarantining folks is actually quite hard. That story, here.
With America’s mid- and long-term role in Iraq uncertain, the head of U.S. Central Command dropped by Baghdad on Tuesday, AP’s Lita Baldor reported traveling with Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie. He also dropped by al-Asad Air base, where Iran fired ballistic missiles on Jan. 8 in response to the U.S. killing Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad five days earlier.
The bigger concern today is “heightened anti-American sentiment that has fueled violent protests, rocket attacks on the embassy and a vote by the Iraqi parliament pushing for withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country,” Baldor writes.
McKenzie’s visit was “the highest-level visit to Iraq by a U.S. military leader since an American airstrike there killed [Soleimani] and plunged U.S.-Iraqi relations into crisis,” writes the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan, who is also traveling with the four-star general. His audience in Baghdad included outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, President Barham Salih and parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi. One key person he did not visit: Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the incoming prime minister.
Part of McKenzie’s mission: convince Iraq officials to let him “put Patriot missile batteries in Iraq to better protect coalition forces,” AP writes. He also wants the U.S. to be able to stay in Iraq, of course, despite the vote in the Iraqi parliament mere days after the Soleimani strike. More at WaPo, here; or AP, here.
BTW: Greece announced Tuesday that it’s sending Patriot batteries “to Saudi Arabia under a program involving the US, Britain and France,” AFP reported. The deployment is reportedly being paid for by Riyadh, and involves sending some 130 personnel to the country, as well. “The announcement came as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was on a Middle East tour for investment talks with the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He visited Riyadh on Monday and is in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.” A bit more, here.
Related reading, from Reuters today: “Iran's president says America is a terrorist and commits terrorist acts”
From the region: The U.S. has “halted a secretive military intelligence cooperation program with Turkey that for years helped Ankara target Kurdish PKK militants,” Reuters reports today. The reason for stopping the work? Turkey’s October 2019 invasion into northern Syria. Story, here.
Out of the region: Turkey has airlifted 4,000 militants to Libya from Syria, and now they’re making local militia leaders very nervous, AP reports today.
In global tech news, “Huawei plays star role in new China-Russia AI partnership,” the Nikkei Asian Review reported Tuesday from Moscow. Underneath it all: “mutual suspicion of the U.S. and shared concerns about being frozen out of advanced technology.”
See also: “China, Russia Deepen Technological Ties” written in October by Samuel Bendett and Elsa Kania, two of the sharpest observers of the countries’ AI and related efforts.
Nominee for a top Pentagon personnel post withdraws. J. David Patterson, tapped on Jan. 9 to be principal deputy defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, withdrew after an oped he wrote in 2017 for The Federalist came to light, Politico reports, citing “three sources close to the matter.” Patterson argued that “one explanation” for domestic terrorism was immigrants’ “failure to assimilate.”
In fact: Attacks by right-wing extremists accounted for 73 percent of terror-related deaths in the United States from 2009 through 2018; attacks by Islamists, 23 percent; by left-wing extremists, 3 percent, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In 2018 itself, all but one of the 50 terror-related deaths came at the hands of white supremacists.
Vacancies at the top: More than one-quarter of the Defense Department’s Senate-confirmed jobs are vacant or filled only in an acting capacity.
Lastly today: Batsuit begins? A research team led by Florida Atlantic University, or FAU, are “using advanced polymers and carbon nanotubes to engineer a new type of body fabric that could prove 300 times as strong as today’s state of the art, but just as light.” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has the story.