Today's D Brief: POTUS45's COVID; Caucasus fight continues; RIP, Rapid Equipping Force; Can AI spot disinformation?; And a bit more.
All eyes are on the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where U.S. President Donald Trump is in his third day of treatment for COVID-19, the often-fatal disease triggered by a coronavirus infection — which the president announced in an early morning tweet Friday.
Trump could be released from Walter Reed as early as today, but there are still “signals that Mr. Trump’s condition remained serious,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning. That’s because “His blood-oxygen levels dropped as recently as Saturday and he was being treated with dexamethasone, a steroid that has been given to Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill.” Trump “is also just two days into a five-day course of an intravenous antiviral drug, remdesivir,” Reuters reports.
For the record, “THE PRESIDENT has no public events scheduled” for the day, the White House announced Sunday.
And so Trump has spent the morning tweeting heavily, “18 times before 8 a.m., most in all-caps, hitting on campaign themes such as gun rights, tax cuts and law and order,” the Journal’s Andrew Restuccia and Catherine Lucey write.
- Almost 210,000 Americans have died from the virus so far, according to Johns Hopkins University’s latest data, which puts the precise number at 209,734.
- And “About two-thirds of U.S. states reported an increase in new coronavirus cases in the past week,” the Washington Post reports, “indicating that colder temperatures in much of the country may be driving people indoors and helping to spread the virus.”
- BTW: The Senate is closed until Oct. 19 now that three Senate Republicans tested positive for the coronavirus, Reuters reports from Capitol Hill, where House lawmakers are trying to work out a new relief bill in the wake of the virus’s economic damage. More on that, here.
On Sunday, Trump stepped outside “while contagious to salute cheering supporters by motorcade in a move that disregarded precautions meant to contain the deadly virus,” the Associated Press reports. “The still-infectious president surprised supporters who had gathered outside the hospital, driving by in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret Service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.”
“Criticism of the ride was swift,” Reuters reports, “including from an attending physician at Walter Reed” named Dr. James Phillips, who called the SUV driveby “political theater” and “insanity” in a tweet Sunday evening.
Also on Sunday, Trump’s doc “admitted that he had misled the public about the president’s treatment,” the New York Times reports, adding Dr. Sean Conley “has lost credibility with some colleagues.”
“Misled” the public how? By “duck[ing] questions about whether Mr. Trump had been on oxygen, then reveal[ing] on Sunday that indeed, the president had been on oxygen,” the Times writes.
Big picture: “The public doesn’t need to know every detail, but they don’t deserve to be misled,” the NYT’s Editorial Board writes.
The Trump campaign’s goal now: “Reset,” with Vice President Mike Pence headed to Arizona, Utah (for the VP debates on Wednesday), and Nevada later this week. The president’s children — Don, Eric and Ivanka — all have campaign events planned for the week, too. More from the Journal, here.
For his part, Democratic challenger Joe Biden will “resume in-person campaigning on Monday in Florida, where opinion polls show a tight race,” Reuters writes.
From Defense One
Pentagon Downplays National Security Concerns From Trump’s Diagnosis // Katie Bo Williams: ...and some experts say they’re probably right.
US Army To Dissolve Rapid Equipping Force, Asymmetric Warfare Group // Patrick Tucker: It’s part of the service’s shift from counterinsurgency to near-peer fights, but some observers are concerned.
How An Amateur Planespotter Sparked Nuclear Dread // Marcus Weisgerber: The bogus Trump-COVID-E-6B connection reminds us to be wary of ascribing meaning to coincidence.
White House, EU Slap New Sanctions On Belarus Officials // Patrick Tucker: The penalties target individuals involved in election manipulation.
Can AI Detect Disinformation? A New Special Operations Program May Find Out // Patrick Tucker: Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command fund year-long effort to train a neural net to rank credibility and sort news from misinformation.
Now What? // Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: The president’s COVID-19 diagnosis raises a number of questions about when the president was infected and how many other people in the White House might be sick.
The US Should Remove Its Nukes from Europe // Mike Sweeney : There’s no prudent use case, and their non-stealthy fighter jets can’t deliver them anyway.
A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans // Mike Giglio, The Atlantic: An Atlantic investigation reveals who they are and what they might do on Election Day.
What Else Does the CIA Know About Trump and Russia? // Edward-Isaac Dovere, The Atlantic: In a new book, former CIA Director John Brennan traces how he came to believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. There’s still more about Russia that worries him.
Trump’s Ex–National Security Adviser on His Failure to Condemn White Supremacy // Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic: It “gives space to these groups that foment hatred and intolerance,” H. R. McMaster says.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson 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. On this day in 1986, former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu blew the lid on Tel Aviv’s nuclear weapons program when he spoke to British Sunday Times journalist Peter Hounam. Two days later, he was captured in Italy by Mossad agents who had lured him in a honey trap. Vanunu would spend the next 18 years in Israeli jails before his release in 2004.
Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict enters second week. NPR: “Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Ganja, came under attack Sunday, with government officials saying Armenia had launched missiles into residential areas. Armenia has denied the charges; the leader of the territory at the center of the dispute said his forces were responsible for the attack.”
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov: "Opening fire on the territory of Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia is clearly provocative and expands the zone of hostilities," Hasanov said in a statement. (AP)
SecDef Esper dropped by Kuwait on Sunday to offer his condolences on the recent death of Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. (More on that passing of a state leader from the BBC here, and from al-Jazeera here.) Esper met with the new Emir, Nawaf Al-Ahmad al-Sabah, during his trip Sunday, which occurred during a swing (AP) through North Africa and the region and made Esper the first U.S. defense secretary to visit Algeria since 2006.
Who also dropped by Kuwait on Sunday: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
What’s next for Kuwaiti leadership? Reuters has a short review of who could be named heir to the 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf, here.
Here’s Esper, via the Pentagon, speaking about the recently departed Emir: “Truly the Sheikh of diplomats, HH Amir Sheikh Sabah set Kuwait upon a prosperous path to sustained peace and safety in cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with whom he was a tireless mediator capable of bridging insurmountable divides in pursuit regional stability and security.”
For what it’s worth, Kuwait hosts somewhere around 13,000 uniformed U.S. troops, according to a January count from Axios.
By the way: The U.S. and Kuwait have a formal defense agreement in place that expires in 2022, the Times of Israel reports.
On Saturday, Esper swung through Qatar to visit Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Dr. Khalid bin Muhammad Al-Attiyah. While there, Esper thanked Al-Attiyah for "hosting 8,000 U.S. service members and DoD civilians in Qatar," the Pentagon said in a Sunday statement.
One more thing: On Friday, Esper signed a 10-year military cooperation deal with Morocco during that MENA swing, too. Tiny bit more to that, via Times of Israel, here; or via AP, here.
Esper took no on-the-record questions from reporters the entire trip, the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan reports. What’s more, adds Military.com’s Gina Harkins: “This is at least the fourth trip Defense Secretary Esper has taken over the last two months in which he refused to speak to reporters on the record.”
Afghanistan’s president is in Qatar today — but he’s not there to talk to the Taliban, Reuters reports from Doha. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in town to coax Qatar into pressuring the Taliban into a ceasefire. “[I]t is clear that Ghani will not meet the Taliban officials as there has been no reduction of violence and they continue to kill innocent civilians,” an unnamed official “overseeing the peace process” told Reuters.
About Afghan violence: It has not stopped, Afghan officials said today after “a suicide car bomber targeted the convoy of a provincial governor in eastern Afghanistan killing at least eight people and injuring 30, including children.”
ICYMI: NPR spoke to the top U.S. envoy in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Friday.
“We will not make the mistake that was made after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was to abandon Afghanistan,” he told Rachel Martin of “Morning Edition.” Catch that seven-minute conversation, here.
The U.S., Australian, Indian and Japanese foreign ministers are gathering in Tokyo, which is the first in-person meeting of those officials since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, AP reports in a preview.
There is no shortage of topics to cover, including COVID-19, the U.S. and Japanese economic plan known as Free and Open Indo-Pacific (or FIOP), "China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands," South China Sea freedom of navigation, and "tensions between China and India over their disputed Himalayan border." More here.
Lastly today: Trump is using the Defense Production Act to speed up the U.S. race for rare earth elements for everything from cell phones to windmills to F-35s, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The latest involves a $25 million investment announced today by Ireland-based TechMet Ltd. The money comes from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. "Miners and analysts have welcomed the moves, but caution it takes around 10 years to set up a mine and that the West also needs to develop the capability to process these resources into the materials used in final products.” More here.