Today’s D Brief: DNC rolls out natsec leaders; Mali coup; China crackdown meets US universities; Berlin terrorist attack; $1 billion for one base’s clean up; And a bit more.
Joe Biden was officially nominated as the Democratic presidential challenger in this year’s U.S. general election. Night No. 2 of 2020’s extraordinary coronavirus-altered Zoom session of a Democratic National Convention brought Biden the formal nomination.
Here’s how the Associated Press framed the evening’s developments: “Instead of a Milwaukee convention hall as initially planned, the roll call of convention delegates played out in a combination of live and recorded video feeds from American landmarks packed with meaning: Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a Puerto Rican community still recovering from a hurricane and Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
The evening featured remarks from notable national security names like President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Colin Powell, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain. (Those last three all being among a lineup of notable Republicans supporting Biden, as well.) The speakers stayed on message with a common theme: Biden will work with allies and return the U.S. to global leadership, implying or arguing those are things Trump has not done.
- ICYMI: Defense One covered Biden’s intentions in a four-part series, here.
Night two, in review: AP summarizes the main takeaways from Tuesday evening at the DNC, here; the Wall Street Journal isolated four of its own takeaways, here; and the New York Times rolled up its four takeaways (in the form of a dialogue between two reporters), here. Reuters has more straightforward coverage of Tuesday’s night’s “pandemic convention,” here.
Two apparent U.S. Army soldiers are under fire today for appearing in Tuesday night's video “roll call” of states’ delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention while standing behind two Democratic delegates from American Samoa. Military Times’ Leo Shane was among many who flagged the scene, which would seem to violate Defense Department regulations against political appearances by uniformed members of the military.
DOD not pleased. “All members of the Armed Forces ... are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events," said DOD, in a statement Tuesday evening. That’s a stock statement and would be par for the course. Except that President Trump has used troops repeatedly as backdrops for extremely partisan political speeches and appearances. Some have appeared in MAGA campaign hats which Trump has signed, etc.
“It is unclear what Army unit the soldiers belong to as American Samoa does not really have an active duty Army presence,” ABC News reports, “nor does it have a National Guard. Still, there is a small Army Reserve Center that manages several hundred Army reservists on American Samoa.”
What role for the military in politics, then? Defense One has an extensive collection of commentaries and reporting on the topic for many years, even before the 2016 campaign and its controversial retired generals-on-stage. We encourage you to search our pages for a wide variety of opinions and ideas. Start here.
From Defense One
Six Scenarios for Military Intervention After January 20 // Thomas Crosbie: We have to be able to talk about the military's political influence.
Stone Knew About Wikileaks; Manafort Dished to Russian Intel, Senate Finds // Patrick Tucker: After the Senate Intelligence Committee's fifth and final report, Democrats still say collusion. Republicans still say no.
Video: The Tech That Will Power the Planes of Tomorrow // Defense One Staff: What's ahead in aircraft technology? Watch our explainer video
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Kevin Baron and Ben Watson. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1812, the American frigate USS Constitution earned its nickname, "Old Ironsides," in a sea battle with the British frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Mali's president was detained by soldiers Tuesday in a coup d'etat, the country’s second coup in eight years. And today those soldiers are promising new elections and that they will restore stability to the troubled West African nation of 19 million people, Reuters reports from the capital city of Bamako.
What’s going on: “President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned and dissolved parliament late on Tuesday, hours after the coup leaders detained him at gunpoint, plunging a country already facing an armed movement against it as well as mass protests deeper into crisis,” Al-Jazeera adds.
Said a spokesman for the soldiers taking over, a man named Colonel-Major Ismael Wague: “Social and political tension has undermined the proper functioning of the country for quite a while. Mali descends into chaos day by day [with] anarchy and insecurity because of the fault of the people in charge of its destiny. Real democracy doesn't go with complacency, nor weakness of the state authority, which must guarantee freedom and security of the people.”
A couple of other things worth noting:
- No one was reportedly hurt during the coup;
- “The National Committee for the Salvation of the People” is the name of the soldiers orchestrating the coup;
- And “The French government has not publicly commented since [President Ibrahim Boubacar] Keita's resignation,” AJ reports. And today, a closed-door briefing is scheduled for the UN Security Council “at the request of France and Niger.” Read on, here. Or read AP’s latest coverage, here.
An ISIS affiliate claimed Tuesday’s mortar attack on Kabul’s Green Zone on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, AP reports. Ten civilians were wounded in what officials said was 14 different mortars (ISIS claimed 16) fired from two different vehicles staged to the north and east of the embassy district.
More importantly, the final Kabul-Taliban prisoner swap is still on hold. Kabul officials said Monday they “would not release the last 320 Taliban prisoners it holds until the insurgents free more captured Afghan soldiers,” which “is likely to further delay intra-Afghan peace talks sought by the United States.” A bit more, here.
BTW: France and Australia don’t want those last Taliban released from prison either, Reuters reported Monday. America’s top Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, pitched a plan to put the final 320 Taliban under “house arrest,” but no decision has (reportedly) been reached so far.
Six people were injured in a suspected terror attack on a highway bisecting Berlin on Tuesday evening. Authorities believe the motorist may have had an “Islamist motive,” ABC News reports. “Witnesses reported that the car deliberately rammed other cars, two motorcycles and a scooter. Up to 300 people were affected by long traffic jams, with the highway closed down in the aftermath of the incident.”
“Based on what we know so far, we are assuming this was an Islamist attack,” Berlin state interior minister Andreas Geisel said. The suspect apprehended is reportedly a 30-year-old man of Iraqi descent. “When personal problems collide with religiously motivated views, it can lead to uncontrollable acts.” More from AP, here.
Reminder about car attacks: It was a tactic first put to widespread use by Hamas, before — more recently — it seems to have migrated to the U.S. this summer, particularly by far-right extremists. More on that history and trend from terrorism scholar Mia Bloom writing in Just Security back in July, here.
China’s new national security law for Hong Kong is rippling across America’s Ivy League schools, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Classes at some elite universities will carry a warning label this fall: This course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China. And schools are weighing measures to try to shield students and faculty from prosecution by Chinese authorities.” Those measures include giving code names to students of Chinese political science.
Bigger picture: "Concerns about China’s influence on academics around the world have grown over the past two decades, as some educational institutions set up campuses in China and many increasingly rely on fees paid by Chinese students, who account for more foreign students in the U.S. than any other country." But now, "With remote learning changing teaching methods, academics are discussing how to handle students living under other authoritarian regimes. China’s new law and the large number of Chinese students studying at U.S. colleges have made it a more urgent priority." Read on, here.
China still holding Canadian hostages, remember: Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. This summer China has tried to demand the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in a bid for “hostage diplomacy” but Justin Trudeau has resisted. In June, China indicted the pair for spying. Read about it at the New York Times.
And finally today: Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base needs another billion dollars or so to recover from the March 2019 storm that caused $654 million in known damages, Air Force Magazine reported late last week.
To recap: “Rapidly melted snow and more than six inches of rain breached river levees near the base in March 2019, displacing more than 3,200 personnel. Water submerged about one-third of the base and nearly one-quarter of the 12,000-foot runway. The flood affected 1.2 million square feet of workspace and 118,000 square feet of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility space used to discuss classified intelligence.”
At this point, AFM writes off input from Offutt’s rebuilding management office director, “It will be a long time before personnel can move back into safe facilities, as overhauling the base is expected to take another six years.” Continue reading, here.