Today's D Brief: US COVID deaths hit 250,000; DoD’s shifting tech priorities; UK to boost defense budget; Green Beret spied for Russia; And a bit more.
Two hundred and fifty thousand people have died of COVID and its complications in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic has killed more Americans than all of America’s conflicts large (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea, e.g.) and small (Panama, Grenada, e.g.) going back to the Second World War — two and a half times over. Nearly 1,250 Americans are currently dying of the disease every day, a rate five times faster than combat deaths in WWII.
This week across the U.S., “Hospitals have converted parking garages, chapels, cafeterias and waiting rooms into patient rooms,” the Associated Press reports while “fatigue is setting in among a beleaguered workforce of medical workers” from Tennessee to Texas, New York to New Mexico and every state in between. “In some cases, nurses and doctors in Kansas have been spending up to eight hours looking for a large hospital with an opening in cities as far away as Denver, Omaha or Kansas City.”
Who gets a COVID-19 vaccine first? Vandenberg Air Force Base personnel are atop the list, the base commander said Wednesday. More at Stars and Stripes.
For a quick review of how America got to this point, Defense One's Bradley Peniston offers three chief considerations:
- President Trump ignored the warnings, not just in January after China reported the appearance of a new and unusually virulent coronavirus, but the pleadings of public-health experts going back years. The New York Times has this inside look (from April and updated in October) at why the president failed to take early and effective action.
- The U.S. failed to “use measures that other nations did, to great effect: close nonessential businesses and spaces that allow crowds to congregate indoors; improve ventilation; encourage mask use; test widely to identify contagious people; trace their contacts; help them isolate themselves; and provide a social safety net so that people can protect others without sacrificing their livelihood,” The Atlantic’s Ed Yong wrote in September.
- The country is largely still making the same mistakes. “As the U.S. heads toward the winter, the country is going round in circles, making the same conceptual errors that have plagued it since spring,” Yong wrote. “They prevented citizens from grasping the scope of the crisis and pushed leaders toward bad policies. And instead of overriding misleading intuitions with calm and considered communication, those leaders intensified them” — by, among other things, lying about the pandemic and by failing to lead by example. (E.g., this largely maskless NSC meeting on Wednesday.)
From Defense One
Pentagon Risks ‘Paralyzing Ourselves’ as Tech Priorities Keep Shifting // Patrick Tucker: That’s what the outgoing HASC ranking member says, and he’s not alone.
A Better Way to Fight the Forever War // Capt. Matt Fiorelli: Why leaving a residual force in Afghanistan may be the only way to both end and win the war.
CBP Proposes to Expand Biometric Data Collection at Border // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: A proposed rule would allow the program to expand beyond pilot sites and collect more data from more people.
The World Is Never Going Back to Normal // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: Other countries are learning to live without America. Biden can’t restore the pre-Trump status quo.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber 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 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered perhaps his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, in which he pledged “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The U.S. state of Georgia is expected to certify its election results today, Reuters reports. And that’s useful news for advocates of democracy and political strategists anticipating the state’s two senate runoff races scheduled for January. Those runoffs could change the GOP’s control of the U.S. Senate, or affirm it for at least another two years, as the New York Times reports in a preview. But the anticipated certification from Georgia, where Biden is believed to have pulled off a surprise victory, is likely to be unwelcome news for outgoing President Trump and his team of loyalists and lawyers, most of whom continue to insist publicly — against all available evidence — that Trump did not in fact lose this year’s presidential election. For the record so far:
- More than 79 million Americans voted for Joe Biden, who has so far neted 290 electoral college votes, according to the latest count from AP and elaborated in graphics at the Guardian. However, AP notes, “if Biden’s lead [in Georgia] holds he will win the Electoral College on [a] 306-232 vote — the identical margin Trump won in 2016.”
- More than 73 million voted for Trump, who notched 232 electoral college votes.
One big takeaway, in terms of political power: The “gap between the popular vote and the Electoral College tallies is growing as Democratic voters cluster on the coasts and outside of battleground states,” AP writes of election trends with 2020 data now included. “That dynamic could make it difficult for Democrats to win congressional races, creating a lasting disadvantage when it comes to advancing policies.”
The latest election ruckus from Trump: He claimed on Twitter this morning that there will be an “Important News Conference today by lawyers on a very clear and viable path to victory.” He did not elaborate on that path other than to claim unspecified “Pieces are very nicely falling into place,” and to watch the Republican National Committee at noon ET for more.
By the way: Arizona’s top election official is facing violent threats that she thinks would probably recede if Trump and leading Republicans would accept the results of the 2020 election. Read that open letter from Democrat Katie Hobbs, released Wednesday on Twitter, here.
Did the chairman of the Senate Armed Services’ seapower subcommittee profit from his position? It looks that way, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday off 2019 financial disclosures from Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue.
In review: One month before taking over the subcommittee, “Perdue did something unusual: he acquired up to $190,000 worth of stock in BWX Technologies, a company he had never invested in before." But then, "From February to July, as he was shaping the [National Defense Authorization Act] and working for that submarine funding, Perdue reported selling off all his shares of BWX—reaping a healthy profit in the process," which totaled somewhere between $15,000 and $50,000.
Said Perdue’s office to TDB: “Senator Perdue doesn’t manage his trades, they are handled by outside financial advisors without his prior input or approval,” said a Perdue spokesperson. “No amount of lies from liberal media outlets or Democratic political groups will change that fact.”
Worth noting: “Perdue is defending his seat in a runoff election set for January 5, which will help decide control of the Senate,” TDB writes. More (behind the Beast’s paywall), here.
The Brits just increased their defense spending by the largest amount in 30 years. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest plan raises the country’s current £41.5bn budget by £16.5 billion, which is a roughly $22 billion increase, according to CNN.
"I have done this in the teeth of the pandemic, amid every other demand on our resources,” said Johnson, “because the defense of the realm, and the safety of the British people, must come first."
Where’s the extra money going? Some of it will go toward "a new agency dedicated to Artificial Intelligence," the Defense Ministry said in a statement; other money will help stand up "a National Cyber Force" as well as a "Space Command" that's "capable of launching our first rocket in 2022." The UK will also "invest further in the Future Combat Air System," and toss some money toward “autonomous vehicles and aviation.”
The U.S. military’s acting chief welcomed the news in a statement to reporters overnight. “The UK is our most stalwart and capable ally, and this increase in spending is indicative of their commitment to NATO and our shared security,” wrote Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller. “Their commitment to increased defense funding should be a message to all free nations that the most capable among us can — and must — do more to counter emerging threats to our shared freedoms and security.”
Check-in with the PacAF commander. The American military is watching North Korea with a careful eye, especially during the power transfer from Donald Trump to Joe Biden here in the states, a top U.S. general stationed in the Pacific said Wednesday.
“We will keep a close eye. They do have a history of testing new administrations,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, told reporters during a Defense Writers Group roundtable discussion on Wednesday. Wilsbach said he hasn’t “seen any indication” that North Korea is preparing for a missile test or military activities, but he told his staff in Hawaii this week, “Don’t be surprised if you’re surprised.”
“If you look back on their history, they go through cycles of charm and provocation,” Wilsbach said. “Lately, it’s been relatively charming, I would say. We haven’t seen the bellicose rhetoric. We haven’t seen the missile shots. We haven’t seen any provocation in awhile. But they can generate those very quickly. I’ve got my staff expecting that it could happen.” The U.S. isn’t exactly staying “extra alert” to Pyongyang during this time, but Wilsbach said U.S. forces based in South Korea are “very ready” and “basically always on the alert.”
From now to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, “We’re seeing what’s going to happen,” Wilsbach said. “We hope it doesn’t because the way things have been going lately, there’s a marked change in really the stress on the peninsula, which is good because we’re not faced with perhaps a conflict that would start very quickly. But you never know with North Korea because they are unpredictable.”
The U.S. Navy says it will put a hypersonic weapon of some kind on its submarines by 2025, the head of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs said Tuesday. More at USNI News.
The Israeli military is still carrying out airstrikes against Iranian elements inside Syria. The IDF released its latest video Wednesday; it purports to show Israeli missiles hitting alleged Iranian facilities at the Damascus airport.
And lastly: This week in federal court, a former Green Beret admitted to conspiring with Russian intelligence agents in what he alleges was a plan to save Russia from its current leadership. The Justice Department reviewed his charges in a public release Wednesday. The Washington Post unpacked all the known-knowns on Wednesday, here.