1M COVID dead, worldwide; Debate guide; Nuclear posturing; FBI on hacking hoaxes; Swiss jets; and a bit more...

One million dead. The world reached that ignoble milestone on Monday, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage every corner of the globe. “More than H.I.V. More than dysentery. More than malaria, influenza, cholera and measles — combined,” leads the New York Times.

How bad is it? “It may already have overtaken tuberculosis and hepatitis as the world’s deadliest infectious disease, and unlike all the other contenders, it is still growing fast.”

Here’s the map, from Johns Hopkins University, if you haven’t taken a look lately. 

“False sense of security” is fueling a surge in deaths outside the major cities first hit by the pandemic, reports Time. “Medium- and small-sized cities and rural areas accounted for around 30% of U.S. deaths at their peak in late April, but in September they have been responsible for about half of COVID-19 deaths in the country.” Mask up, Real America, for us all. 

More airstrikes on ISIS, which still isn’t defeated. “For the first time in over two years, carrier-launched U.S. aircraft conducted an airstrike against Islamic State targets,” in Syria, reports Stars and Stripes. It happened last week, actually, but was confirmed Monday. Two Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets off the USS Nimitz did the job.

But Trump just told the UN that “We obliterated the ISIS caliphate 100 percent,” in his UN General Assembly speech last week (delivered virtually to virtually zero fanfare). 

Debate prep: The U.S. presidential candidates will face off for the first time on Tuesday night. Fox’s Chris Wallace last week released a list of topics he plans to ask about, and the only one related to foreign policy or national security was election security, which could include Russian interference. 

The list: Trump and Biden’s records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and “the Integrity of the Election.” 

What we expect: Talk about Russia, China (meaning: who’s tougher-on-China), “endless wars,” and just generic rhetoric about U.S. leadership of the world and global security. Biden has built a career in foreign policy; we can’t imagine he won’t try to remind voters that Trump is none too popular and promise to “restore” American leadership and sound presidential. Trump may mention that he is racing the clock to pull as many troops (and diplomats) out of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan — even Germany — as he can before Nov. 3. We also expect a question about Trump’s taxes, in light of the NYTimesongoing multipart expose on that topic.

What’s missing: the climate crisis. (The latest ominous feedback loop: the ocean is apparently becoming less able to subsume the warm, energy-filled water on its surface.)

Key stat: Biden is holding about a 10-point lead over Trump among likely voters in Pennsylvania, according to two recent polls revealed in the last two days from the Washington Post-ABC News and NYTimes/Siena College. 

Why is that important? “The president has virtually no path to a second term without Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes,” writes NYT.

From Defense One

DOD Pours Millions of Dollars into Print-on-Demand Drugs // Patrick Tucker: Four years after DARPA sought a better way to bring medicine to the battlefield, the technology may assuage broader concerns about foreign supply chains.

Washington’s Arms Control Delusions and Bluffs // Steven Pifer: The Trump administration’s stances on nuclear negotiations don’t even make sense as a starting point.

Isolationism Is Not a Dirty Word // Charles A. Kupchan, The Atlantic: Americans have lost touch with a crucial strain of their foreign-policy tradition.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Kevin Baron with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.

Trump: Ready the nuclear bombs. “The Trump administration has asked the military to assess how quickly it could pull nuclear weapons out of storage and load them onto bombers and submarines if an arms control treaty with Russia is allowed to expire in February, according to three people familiar with the discussions.” That, from Politico

Art of the nuclear deal? Don’t panic, says one of the anonymous people “familiar with the discussions” quoted by Politico: POTUS is just asking his military about nuclear bombs (and making it known publicly) because he’s “trying to create an incentive, and it’s a real incentive, for the Russians to sit down and actually negotiate” for a new New START treaty, which expires Feb. 5. The White House thinks Putin is waiting them out so he can deal with Biden. 

Counterpoint: “This is delusion and bluff,” argues Steven Pifer, a William Perry Fellow at Stanford. “If the administration does not change course, New START will lapse and, for the first time in decades, U.S. and Russian nuclear forces will be under no constraints.” Read at Defense One, here.

FBI: Don’t fall for fake election “hack” reports. “During the 2020 election season, foreign actors and cyber criminals are spreading false and inconsistent information through various online platforms in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions,” they write in a new public service alert issued Monday, here, with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Some erroneous reports of late have alleged that Russian actors broke into U.S. election systems to steal voter rolls (which some Republicans allege validates Trump’s claims of election fraud.) Turns out, that information is publicly available already, the Feds say.

It’s a hoax. “The FBI and CISA have no information suggesting any cyberattack on U.S. election infrastructure has prevented an election from occurring, compromised the accuracy of voter registration information, prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, or compromised the integrity of any ballots cast.” If you do suspect shenanigans, seek better sources or let them know on the tip line.

China is starting to feel like North Korea, writes the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield, in a parting dispatch after 10 years in Asia. “Not just in Xinjiang but across China, it has become extremely difficult to have conversations with ordinary folk. People are afraid to speak at all, critically or otherwise.”

Worth a read. Xi Jinping has minders and checkpoints blocking western journalists more than usual. In her attempt to report on Uighur life in Xinjiang, Fifiled describes harassment at the airport, cars tailing them, and Keystone Kop minders “who would jump behind bushes or pretend to talk on their phones while obviously following us.”

A reporter’s parting dispatch: “Walking around, I was overcome by the same sense of sadness mixed with rage that I felt when reporting in Pyongyang. I knew it was a kind of ‘Truman Show,’ but I couldn't see the edges of the set. I could see a blankness in people's eyes and feel a palpable heaviness in the air.”

“China, like North Korea, is increasingly taking foreign hostages and using journalists as pawns in its political and diplomatic disputes with the United States and its allies.” Fifield is returning home to New Zealand. 

Want to be an astronaut for Halloween? NASA announced on Monday they’re moving back the next manned space launch to Oct. 31. You can dress like, but not fly like, the three Americans and one Japanese spaceman who will lift off in a Space X Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. “The launch will be the first time an international crew will fly aboard a NASA-certified, commercially-owned and operated American rocket and spacecraft from American soil.” NASA and Space X have scheduled a press briefing for Tuesday to discuss.


Anti-Trump sentiment in Switzerland’s vote to buy jets. Out of 3,202,730 votes cast, just 50.1 percent chose to spend $6.5 billion on 30 to 40 new fighter jets. That’s a margin of just 8,760 votes. The Swiss are considering four options: “the Eurofighter, the Rafale, the F-18 Super Hornet and the F-35A.” Why so close…?

Boeing, Lockheed... and Trump. “The Swiss opposition was energized in part by voters' views about the government of U.S. President Donald Trump, according to local media reports,” write Defense News

And finally, viva the Officers’ Club. What goes on — or what used to go on — inside the U.S. military’s officers’ clubs around the world is the stuff of legend. Thanks to this summer’s COVID-related ban on U.S. troops going to off-base bars, the O Club at Yokota Air Base in Japan is making a little comeback, with a 50-person capacity limit, and some folks are glad. “You have to balance safety with maintaining people’s sanity, and I think the O Club is a good balance,” said Air Force Maj. Julian Mapp, 35, of U.S. Forces-Japan. Still, it ain’t like it used to be, retiree Jack Higbee told Stars and Stripes. “The clubs used to be rowdier,” Higbee, 72, said of on-base facilities he’s patronized over four decades working as a civilian on bases in Japan, the Philippines, and Bahrain. “In the old days, alcohol wasn’t frowned on as much as it is now.” The bar was built in 1975 on the site of a 1930s-era Imperial Japanese Army officers’ club. Cheers to the good ol’ days.