Fdd's overnight brief

December 30, 2019

In The News


The U.S. military has launched strikes on five facilities in Iraq and Syria belonging to a militia considered to be backed by Iran, the Pentagon said Sunday, two days after an American contractor was killed in an attack. – Washington Post

The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia targeted by U.S. airstrikes on Sunday were among the Shiite groups that joined in the fight against Islamic State. But for nearly two decades it has also attacked American forces and helped stoke sectarian strife in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal

Now, a newly disclosed secret history from the offices of Mr. Rockefeller shows in vivid detail how Chase Manhattan Bank and its well-connected chairman worked behind the scenes to persuade the Carter administration to admit the shah, one of the bank’s most profitable clients. – New York Times

Russia, seeing prospects for multi-billion dollar deals, ruled out extending a United Nations-approved arms embargo on Iran that expires in October next year, despite U.S. warnings that lifting the restrictions will jeopardize global security. – Bloomberg

Iran summoned Kuwait’s envoy in Tehran on Saturday to protest about Kuwaiti officials meeting a representative of a “terrorist group” and hosting an “anti-Iranian” meeting, Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website. – Reuters

France summoned Iran’s ambassador on Friday to demand the release of two French citizens being held in Iranian jails after one of them, Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, began a hunger strike. – Reuters

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday slammed Iran for using “violence” and censorship to prevent memorials for those killed during the suppression of recent protests. – Agence France-Presse

The Iranian government has banned the families of protesters killed during anti-government unrest in November from organizing any kind of funeral service or memorial for their children or loved ones. – CNN

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran’s nuclear ambitions is evolving to include direct appeals to the Iranian people. But critics warn that the effort, in response to Tehran’s brutal crackdown on popular protests, will only encourage Tehran to strike out more aggressively, both against its own people and in the region. – The Hill

Iran could carry out “provocative actions” in the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere in that region in the future despite a period of relative calm, acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on Friday. – Reuters

An Australian academic jailed in Iran for espionage must serve out her sentence, Tehran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday, stressing it would not submit to “propaganda”. – Agence France-Presse

The new unit confronts the regime’s critics in the streets and follows a shoot to kill policy as its routine way of confronting dissent. Most of its personnel, including its founding commander Seyyed Mojtaba, came from the -now obsolete – Islamic Revolutionary Committee. – Radio Farda

Editorial: The strikes in Iraq and Syria carry risks, including a nationalist backlash in Iraq against the U.S. military presence. But Iraqis have been demonstrating in the streets for weeks against Iran’s meddling in Iraqi politics, and the small U.S. force is there at Iraqi invitation. U.S. officials need to make clear the strikes are defensive to protect Iraqi and American lives, and that the U.S. will respond again if the Iranian militia attacks continue. – Wall Street Journal

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Tehran targets academics because it views them as the soft underbelly of Western countries. It knows to take their universities seriously but also that Iran enjoys widespread sympathy among academics in the West, who generally view sanctions by the Trump administration as unacceptable. Iran lures academics to the country by pretending that it is a normal state. […]The Western governments usually don’t want domestic campaigns of public pressure because their diplomats want to be able to work well with Iran unencumbered by pressure from politicians over why the Islamic Republic can kidnap academics and not suffer any consequences. – Jerusalem Post


Over 250,000 people have fled from the Idlib region in northwestern Syria in just the past two weeks, according to the United Nations, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian forces, pushes forward with an all-out assault on the country’s last main rebel-held territory. – Washington Post

Civilians on Friday packed a road leading out of a flashpoint town in northwest Syria, where two weeks of heightened regime and Russian bombardment has displaced 235,000 people. – Agence France-Presse

Oula A. Alrifai writes: Assad is the reason radicals such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda flourished. And as long as Assad is in power, Washington’s wish to end “endless wars” will never end, at least not in Syria. – Washington Post


Hundreds of Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza-Israel border Friday, the last of the Hamas-backed demonstrations until March. – Agence France-Presse

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to deliver U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jordan Valley if his party secures a majority in national elections slated for March. – The Hill

Josh Hammer writes: Israel should lead a team of like-minded ­allies in to fight the ICC jackals, including by exposing Bensouda’s own checkered past and her (at a minimum) alleged tacit involvement in ­African human-rights violations. The Jewish, democratic and rule-of-law state of Israel doesn’t need a Gambian dictator’s lackey to lecture it on the ethics of war and peace. – New York Post

Dexter Van Zile writes: With the collapse of the March of Return movement, Hamas is learning that anti-Israel propaganda will only get you so far in the face of facts such as this. In the long run, mass ideologies only work when they explain the facts, not when they demand that people deny or ignore reality. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are revealing themselves as fundamentally indifferent to the welfare of the people whose destinies they currently control. As a result, the wheels are starting to come off the bus of their anti-Israel jihad, which is ultimately nothing more than a cover and a distraction for the corrupt habits and agenda of Palestinian elites. – Algemeiner


A U.S. contractor was killed and four U.S. troops were wounded when more than 30 rockets were fired Friday at an Iraqi military base, a U.S. defense official said. – Wall Street Journal

For weeks, Iraq’s Shiite heartland has turned against the central government in open revolt against a system it helped sustain — going from reliable backers of Baghdad’s ruling elite to a potentially powerful voice of opposition. – Washington Post

Protesters broke into Iraq’s southern Nassiriya oilfield on Saturday and forced employees to cut off electricity from its control station, taking the field offline until further notice, a security source and two oil sources said. – Reuters

Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah condemned on Monday U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria targeting the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, calling them a blatant attack on Iraqi sovereignty, security, and stability. – Reuters

Arabian Peninsula

A ballistic missile ripped through a military parade for a separatist group in southern Yemen backed by the United Arab Emirates, killing at least six troops and four children, a spokesman for the group said on Sunday. – Associated Press

Two Saudi men shot dead last week in the eastern city of Dammam were driving a car loaded with explosives and were planning an “imminent terrorist operation”, the SPA state news agency said on Sunday, citing security forces. – Reuters

The Iran-aligned Houthis said on Sunday six “sensitive” places in Saudi Arabia and three in the United Arab Emirates are on a list of military targets, suggesting the group remains prepared to fight on despite informal talks about a truce in Yemen’s war. – Reuters

A Saudi Arabian court sentenced a Yemeni man to death for stabbing three performers at a theater show in the capital last month in an attack ordered by al-Qaeda, state-run TV reported. – Bloomberg


Turkey’s involvement in Libya and its signing of maritime and security Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is being harshly criticized inside Libya by elements opposed to the GNA. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Turkey’s foreign minister warned that the Libyan conflict risks sliding into chaos and becoming the next Syria, as he sought to speed up legislation to allow it to send troops to the North African country. – Reuters

The speaker of Libya’s parliament on Saturday urged the international community to reject the legitimacy of the war-torn country’s UN-recognised government which is pursuing closer military ties with Turkey. – Agence France-Presse

Editorial: Russia has played a particularly malevolent role. Mr. Putin, who strenuously objected to the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, would like to restore Moscow’s influence in the country, much as he has in Syria.[…]Legislation in Congress would sanction Russia for its Libya meddling; if the Trump administration genuinely wants to force a diplomatic solution, it will need such tools. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Saturday named a university professor and former diplomat as prime minister as he builds a new government to handle political unrest and a looming economic challenge. – Reuters

In a December 28, 2019 article in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, ‘Abdallah Kan’an, secretary-general of Jordan’s Royal Committee for Jerusalem Affairs, wrote that the festival of Hanukkah is based on traditions relating to the “false” Jewish Temple, and therefore constitutes a direct threat to the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Lebanese authorities are trying to deny Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh permission to visit Lebanon in light of the ongoing protests and instability in the country, the Saudi-owned Elaph newspaper reported over the weekend, citing an unnamed senior source in the terror group. – Times of Israel

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over a weekend of policy meetings held by the ruling Workers’ Party, as Pyongyang mulls a shift in its approach with Washington amid a standstill in nuclear talks. – Wall Street Journal

After North Korea warned earlier this month of a “Christmas gift” for the U.S., defense officials across the Pacific prepared for the worst. – Wall Street Journal

National security adviser Robert O’Brien stopped short of detailing how the United States would respond to renewed missile tests from North Korea but said the administration wouldn’t let them go unanswered. – Washington Examiner

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned top ruling party officials of the “grave situation” facing the nuclear-armed state’s economy and called for urgent corrective measures. – Agence France-Presse

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is at a crucial crossroads when it comes to deciding his nation’s future. – Politico

U.N. Security Council members are due to meet informally on Monday for a second round of negotiations on a Russian and Chinese proposal to lift a raft of sanctions on North Korea, a move that some diplomats say has little support. – Reuters


China’s President Xi Jinping received lavish praise and a new leadership title from his top Communist Party lieutenants, the clearest signal yet that he retains a firm grip on power despite policy setbacks in the past year. – Wall Street Journal

An outspoken Christian leader was sentenced by a Chinese court to nine years in prison, an unusually harsh punishment for a religious leader, as President Xi Jinping tightens control of religion and curtails dissent. – Wall Street Journal

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats are planning to try to force President Trump to take a more active stand on human rights in China, preparing veto-proof legislation that would punish top Chinese officials for detaining more than one million Muslims in internment camps. – New York Times

As many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been sent to internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang over the past three years, an indiscriminate clampdown aimed at weakening the population’s devotion to Islam. Even as these mass detentions have provoked global outrage, though, the Chinese government is pressing ahead with a parallel effort targeting the region’s children. – New York Times

“Fear: Trump in the White House,” which Mr. Woodward wrote in 2018, is one of hundreds of American books held up by Chinese publishing regulators since the trade war intensified this year. Publishers inside and outside China say the release of American books has come to a virtual standstill, cutting them off from a big market of voracious readers. – New York Times

Editorial: If this view persists, it will fall upon the rest of the world to decide to what extent an authoritarian, at times draconian, China can and should be engaged. It will force uncomfortable reviews that seek to balance commercial imperatives against cherished national values such as freedom of speech and human rights. China should realise that public perceptions can be crucial to future policy in democratic countries. If it persists in trying to get its way through browbeating others, it may end up achieving the very opposite of its aims. – Financial Times

Gregory Daco writes: The limited benefits of this Christmas compact between the US and Chinese presidents means it may not, in reality, be quite the gift it may seem. The thaw in relations between these powers could easily prove shortlived, and give way at any time next year to a bleaker outcome. – Financial Times


The Taliban’s leadership council has agreed to a weeklong cease-fire, a step that could pave the way for an agreement with the U.S. as early as next month to draw down U.S. troops and start Afghan-to-Afghan talks on a comprehensive settlement of the 18-year Afghan war. – Wall Street Journal

Major U.S. and international contractors involved in Afghanistan reconstruction projects allegedly paid the Taliban for protection, providing the insurgency with money that was used to attack and kill U.S. troops, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Friday. – Wall Street Journal

Two larger, intertwined struggles to determine the country’s future have dominated the national conversation for months: on-and-off peace talks with Taliban insurgents and a contentious process to choose a new president. Now, both efforts have slowed to a near-halt, and analysts say it may be spring before either bears fruit. – Washington Post


Months of unrest have transformed the city beyond the tear gas, graffiti and disrupted commutes. There are deep changes in the lives of residents. […]The unpredictable revolt against city authorities and the rule of China’s Communist Party has residents asking: What’s next? Many fear for the future of their city, a fragile oasis of liberal life in China’s authoritarian regime. – Wall Street Journal

The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Friday strongly condemning human rights abuses against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, including arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and deaths in detention. – Associated Press

Citing a letter from a young Hong Konger appealing for people “not to believe the Communists”, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday the island’s democratic way of life was at risk from the danger China posed to Taiwan. – Reuters

Zoe Leung writes: The January election will have grave implications for cross-strait relations. Regardless of who gets elected, Taiwan’s governance will be intertwined with Beijing’s agenda in the coming years amid a global economic slowdown and the rise of nationalistic sentiments. With Hong Kong in defiance and Taiwan drifting further away, Beijing must address popular concerns expressed through casting a vote. If both elections in Hong Kong and Taiwan don’t bring about a shift in Beijing’s policy, nothing probably will. – The Hill


Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked President Trump by phone for the U.S. providing information that helped thwart potential terrorist attacks, the Kremlin said. – Wall Street Journal

The Russian military on Friday said it had deployed a hypersonic weapon that flies at superfast speeds and can easily evade American missile defense systems, potentially setting off a new chapter in the long arms race between the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers. – New York Times

Poland’s prime minister said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been lying in remarks blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II, and argued that Putin is doing it to deflect from recent Russian political failures. – Associated Press

Stephen Blank writes: But extending Putin’s power merely ensures that Europe will be an even greater cockpit for war because a Russian empire can only justify itself by creating the atmosphere of war in Eurasia. Lenin’s critics charged him with establishing a state of siege in Russian social democracy and then globalizing it. To maintain his power, Putin is emulating Lenin’s example. Belarus is his next target, and the drift towards cold war that only benefits Putin can and must be stopped now. – The Hill


German politicians have called on Europe to adopt protective measures against U.S. sanctions after Washington managed to halt completion of a new submarine gas pipeline linking Russia directly to Germany. – Wall Street Journal

Frode Berg, a trusting pensioner, willingly worked for Norwegian intelligence. Then, he says, they hung him out to dry. […]Mr. Berg was, by all appearances, a small-time player in a botched intelligence operation. But his tale embodies the tensions emerging as Western countries intensify their hunt for the Kremlin’s secrets. – New York Times

Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners on Sunday with Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east, the latest sign of a tenuous thaw in relations between Ukraine and Russia. – New York Times

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed a prisoner swap completed on Sunday between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, they said in a joint statement. – Reuters

Greece’s Prime Minister said in remarks published on Sunday that if Athens and Ankara cannot solve their dispute about maritime zones in the Mediterranean they should turn to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to settle the disagreement. – Reuters

Poland has inked deals for several big-ticket items from the U.S., and signed a pact with the U.S. to host 4,500 rotational United States military personnel. Also endearing it to Washington, Poland is one of seven NATO allies to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense. – Defense News

Though not a NATO member, Sweden is very much in the Western European sphere, as an active member of the European Union and a reliable military partner for the Pentagon. The nation expects to complete a new defense funding agreement in the coming year, which should set the tone for military modernization through 2025. – Defense News

The London Metropolitan Police said Sunday they are investigating what they describe as a racially-motivated hate crime after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on a synagogue and several store fronts in the Hampstead area. – The Hill

A group of former politicians from Britain’s opposition Labour Party have called for “fundamental change” within their party’s leadership. […]The group blamed Labour’s lack of popularity with voters on “nationalization and uncontrolled spending commitments,” as well as “cronyism at the top of our party” and a “repeated unwillingness to stand up to the stain of anti-Semitism.” – Times of Israel


The death toll from a massive weekend truck bomb during rush hour in Mogadishu was at 79 and expected to rise, marking one of the deadliest single attacks in Somalia’s decades of civil war and Islamist insurgency. – Wall Street Journal

An affiliate of the Islamic State in Nigeria has claimed responsibility for the execution of 11 people, saying the killings were in retaliation for the death of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in October. – New York Times

Beijing’s extensive investments in Djibouti are a microcosm of how China has rapidly gained a strategic foothold across the continent. Western countries, including Africa’s former colonizers, for decades have used hefty aid packages to leverage trade and security deals, but Chinese-financed projects have brought huge infrastructural development in less than a generation. – Washington Post

A Turkish military cargo plane landed in the Somali capital on Sunday to evacuate people badly wounded in a devastating truck bombing that killed at least 90 people including two Turkish nationals. – Reuters

Former Ivory Coast rebel leader Guillaume Soro dismissed an arrest warrant issued against him as baseless and said he would pursue his campaign as a presidential candidate from overseas, according to comments published in a French newspaper on Sunday. – Reuters

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Friday for an attack on a military outpost in Burkina Faso on Tuesday. – Reuters

United States

Members of the Congregation Netzach Yisroel were gathered at the home of their rabbi in this heavily orthodox New York City suburb to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah when they noticed a stranger in their midst. […]many noted the apparent anti-Semitic assault in this town 35 miles northwest of New York City was the latest recent attack targeting the Jewish community, including a shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, N.J., in December where three people were killed and deadly shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, Calif. – Wall Street Journal

Hours after a knife-wielding man barged into a Hanukkah party in a New York suburb, stabbing five people, top officials condemned the crime as part of a disturbing trend. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called it “domestic terrorism,” linking it to the recent spate of violence against Jewish people in New York. – Washington Post

President Trump and members of Congress on Sunday voiced outrage at the knife attack that injured five people at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in New York state, calling for unity in condemning anti-Semitism — even as some Democrats urgently pressed Trump to take a stronger public stand on the issue. – Washington Post

Israeli leaders responded with outrage on Sunday following the brutal antisemitic stabbing attack on a Hasidic rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York on Saturday night. Five people were wounded in the attack on a Hanukkah celebration, two of them critically. A suspect has been taken into custody. – Algemeiner

A woman accused of slapping three people in one of a series of apparently anti-Semitic attacks reported throughout New York during Hanukkah was charged Saturday with attempted assault as a hate crime, court records show. – Associated Press

According to the recently released US FBI hate crime statistics for 2018, Jews were the victims in nearly three-fifths of the offenses committed against people due to their religion. Furthermore, there was a 105% increase in physical assaults on Jews over the previous year, the worst of which was the October 27 massacre of 11 worshipers by a white supremacist at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. – Jerusalem Post

Batya Ungar-Sargon writes: Almost as horrifying as the attacks themselves is the seeming inability of those whose job it is to protect the vulnerable to figure out what is causing them, or how to stop it from happening over and over. […]And therein lies the trouble with talking about the violent attacks against Orthodox Jews: At a time when ideology seems to rein supreme in the chattering and political classes, the return of pogroms to Jewish life on American soil transcends ideology. – Forward

Benjamin Wittes writes: We should all be suspicious of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who purport to raise their voices about anti-Semitism but do not talk candidly about the anti-Semitism within their ranks. People who are more interested in how they can use the problem of anti-Semitism as a weapon than in the problem itself will always be a little too willing to avert their gaze when the wrong sort of people get killed by the wrong sort of killers for the wrong sort of reasons. – The Atlantic

David Horovitz writes: It is not — not yet — the blighted anti-Semitic hotspots of Europe today, where the authorities are proving incapable of providing protection. But as 2019 becomes 2020, one can no longer blithely say that in America, unlike parts of Europe, all Jews can confidently lead proudly public Jewish lives. The tide of hatred is rising. It can yet, and it must, be turned back. – Times of Israel

Deborah Lipstadt writes: So why has the news that a synagogue in the Netherlands stopped posting the time of services upset me above all? Because it is vivid proof that anti-Semitism is driving Jews underground in the West. […]No healthy democracy can afford to tolerate anti-Semitism in its midst. It is one of the long-term signs of rot in that democracy. If you care about democracy, you should care about the Jews among you, and the anti-Semites too. – The Atlantic

Latin America

Since the Trump administration began implementing its Migrant Protection Protocols program at the start of 2019—widely known as Remain in Mexico—some 54,000 migrants, mostly from Central America, have been sent back to northern Mexico to wait while their asylum claims are processed. Mexico’s government is helping implement it. […]There have been 636 reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture and other violent crimes against migrants returned to Mexico under Remain in Mexico, according to Human Rights First, which interviews victims in border cities and advocates for migrants’ due process rights. – Wall Street Journal

The international call came in September 2018, after months of rising tension between the United States and Venezuela, a key strategic player in South America. […]Both were part of a shadow diplomatic effort, backed in part by private interests, aimed at engineering a negotiated exit to ease President Nicolás Maduro from power and reopen resource-rich Venezuela to business, according to people familiar with the endeavor. – Washington Post

The discovery that Cuxum Alvarado had been living openly in the middle-class town of Waltham, Mass., underscored a troubling challenge in Guatemala’s search for justice: Many of the war’s greatest alleged offenders have found impunity for decades in the United States. – Washington Post

Venezuela on Saturday asked Brazil to hand over five military “deserters” who are suspected of involvement in a raid on a remote military outpost in southern Venezuela last weekend, officials said. – Reuters

Mexico should stay out of Bolivian domestic affairs after the collapse last month of former leader Evo Morales’s Socialist government, Bolivia’s acting foreign minister Karen Longaric was quoted saying in an interview published on Saturday. – Reuters

Mexico’s government said Bolivian police had impeded the departure of Spanish officials visiting the Mexican ambassador in La Paz on Friday, widening a spat over Bolivia’s surveillance of its diplomatic facilities that has rumbled on for days. –Reuters

Bolivia on Saturday accused Spain of an abortive attempt to extract a wanted former government aide from Mexico’s embassy in La Paz, prompting a sharp denial from Madrid. – Agence France-Presse

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes: It is true that the Obama administration, eager to play ball with the regime, gave licenses to American Airlines and Carnival to operate in Cuba. But there is a difference between being cleared by Treasury to conduct business in Cuba and using expropriated assets to sustain those businesses. In a U.S. court of law that may turn out to be no small distinction. – Wall Street Journal


The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Friday that will start the process of drafting a new international treaty to combat cybercrime over objections from the European Union, the United States and other countries. – Associated Press

The public comment period on the draft vulnerability disclosure program for federal agencies published by the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency has been extended until Jan. 10, 2020. – Fifth Domain

This scenario is a drill, a 24-hour exercise meant to test the ability of the 618th’s operations center to respond to degraded communications that could arise from situations ranging from a power outage to a coordinated cyber attack by an adversary nation. (Defense News, which embedded with members of the 618th to observe the Dec. 11 exercise, was not permitted to disclose the exact nature of the scenario for security reasons.) – C4ISRNET


A Chinese man was arrested Thursday while taking photos at a U.S. Navy base in the Florida Keys, authorities said. – Associated Press

How the Marine Corps will shift back its naval roots, as outlined in the new commandant’s planning guidance begins this year. And a key piece of that initiative, laid out by Gen. David Berger, is naval integration. – Marine Times

A sweeping series of proposed cuts to the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding programs and force structure could herald a new strategy for a slimmed-down fleet, or could fizzle out in the budgetary process. But the fact that such a proposal is on the table in the first place shows the pressures the Defense Department is working under with an anticipated flat budget and a stack of modernization bills to pay, experts say. – Defense News

David Axe writes: Despite the clarion call from experts and Russia and China’s continuing successes waging a new kind of warfare, don’t expect much of a reaction in Washington, D.C. Not until some cataclysmic event shakes Americans from their belief that the United States wins wars because wars mean tanks shooting at tanks and Americans are good at that sort of thing. – The Daily Beast

Brendon Hong writes: Nearly a year and a half after Donald J. Trump ordered the Pentagon to establish the U.S. Space Force—a whole new sixth branch of the American armed forces—he signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20. At least on paper, the U.S. Space Force is now a reality. But the United States is late to this game. The Russians have been organizing and reorganizing space force variants since the 1990s. And more importantly, the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army has had such an organization up and running for the last four years. – The Daily Beast

Long War

The 17-year federal prison term given to an Islamic State devotee who tried to kill an FBI agent searching his New York City home is “a shockingly low sentence” and must be amended, an appellate court said in a decision published Friday. – Washington Post

But Othman’s survival, and ultimately his fate, had become tangled up in a much larger issue: how the world has confronted the legacy of the Islamic State. The defeat of its caliphate early this year left some 10,000 suspected Islamic State fighters in detention in Syria — more than 2,000 of them foreign — and governments around the world have struggled with questions of whether and how to bring them home. – Washington Post

The father of a British citizen who fought with Kurdish forces in northern Syria has been arrested on suspicion of financing terrorism, in a rare action taken against a relative of a European citizen who joined the Kurdish ranks. – New York Times

Turkey detained 70 suspected Islamic State militants in four provinces, ahead of new year celebrations. – Bloomberg

Al-Bara Shishani, the former commander of the so-called Islamic State and deputy head of its intelligence operations, was detained on the outskirts of Kyiv.  […]In fact, this country torn by a Russian-backed separatist war has become a kind of Twilight Zone for terrorists of many stripes who have found ways to cross its borders and take advantage of a deeply divided society where law and order have been undermined by official corruption and public confusion. – The Daily Beast

Trump Administration

The Democratic-led inquiry into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine this spring and summer established that the president was actively involved in parallel efforts — both secretive and highly unusual — to bring pressure on a country he viewed with suspicion, if not disdain. One campaign, spearheaded by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, aimed to force Ukraine to conduct investigations that could help Mr. Trump politically, including one focused on a potential Democratic 2020 rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. – New York Times

In the weeks leading up to their impeachment trial, senators on Capitol Hill are actively avoiding meeting with President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—partly because they fear he might try to pass off Russian conspiracy theories as fact, according to interviews with more than half a dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides. – The Daily Beast

President Donald Trump starts the new year knee-deep in daunting foreign policy challenges at the same time he’ll have to deal with a likely impeachment trial in the Senate and the demands of a reelection campaign. – Associated Press