Fdd's overnight brief

December 9, 2020

In The News


The mysterious July explosion that destroyed a centrifuge assembly hall at Iran’s main nuclear fuel enrichment facility in Natanz was deemed by the Iranian authorities to be enemy sabotage, and provoked a defiant response: The wrecked building would be rebuilt in “the heart of the mountains,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said. – New York Times

Amnesty International has hailed a letter sent by UN experts to the Iranian government pressing for accountability over notorious prison massacres of dissidents in 1988. – Radio Farda

The United States imposed terrorism sanctions on Iran’s envoy to the Houthis on Tuesday, a step possibly aimed at pressuring the group to reach an accord to end the five-year war in Yemen. – Reuters

Some of those involved in the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last month have been arrested, an adviser to the Iranian parliament speaker said on Tuesday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA. – Reuters

Banks that process payments for humanitarian aid to Iran will not be penalised under U.S. sanctions, the U.S. Treasury has said, following a European appeal for leniency. – Reuters

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging Iran to address concerns raised about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and return to “full implementation” of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. – Associated Press

As the Pentagon pulls troops out of the Middle East in the coming weeks, under orders from President Donald Trump, U.S. military leaders are working to find other ways to deter potential attacks by Iran and its proxies, and to counter arguments that America is abandoning the region. – Associated Press

The Iranian government on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of renegotiating its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). – Arutz Sheva

A senior Iranian International Judicial Council member is demanding that Germany cooperate and assist the Tehran regime in removing the veil of ambiguity from the assassination of Quds Force commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Suleimani. – Arutz Sheva

The assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a massive blow to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, says a former White House National Security Council expert on Iran. – Arutz Sheva

Iran’s commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hossein Salami, addressed the assassination of Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Israel Hayom reported. In his response, Salami instead spoke about Iran’s sworn enemies, though did not mention Israel specifically. – Jerusalem Post

Iran is the only issue in the Middle East that is likely to make it onto US President-elect Joe Biden’s priority list, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said Tuesday at the Arava Institute’s annual conference. – Jerusalem Post

An Israeli flag and an English sign reading “Thank you, Mossad” were placed over a billboard in Iran on Monday, following the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist last month, allegedly by Israel. – Times of Israel

Alex Fishman writes: Israel for its part, must decide on its own red lines regarding Iran’s resumption of its military-nuclear project. Would assassinations or direct attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities be effective or is there no escape from more drastic military action? Is the IDF capable of pulling off such military action? Because in 2011 it certainly did not believe it could. – Ynet


Turkey urged the European Union on Tuesday to use “common sense” to end a row over natural gas exploration that has fanned territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean and drawn a threat of sanctions from EU leaders. – Reuters

Turkey on Tuesday condemned the interception of one of its ships by eastern-based Libyan forces in the Mediterranean, saying it must be allowed to resume its journey to western Libya and warning of possible reprisal. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that any sanctions imposed by the European Union on Turkey will not have a great impact, adding that the bloc had never acted honestly or kept its promises. – Reuters


Israel destabilizes the Middle East more than Iran, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Zurich Capital, a large holding and financing company in Dubai, and Israeli holding company Levant Group 107 signed an agreement to promote Levant’s innovative trading system, after a marathon of meetings was held between the two bodies in Dubai last week. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has added Slovenia to the list of European Union states that can vote in Israel’s favor in Brussels, he hinted in remarks at the start of the meeting with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post

Palestinians on Tuesday marked the 33rd anniversary of the outbreak of the First Intifada and vowed to pursue the “struggle” against Israel until the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. – Jerusalem Post

The head of a Dubai’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said the United Arab Emirates has no issue with importing Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank, as it will help boost the Palestinian economy via workers employed in the factories. – Times of Israel

Foreign Ministry representatives visited Bahraini capital Manama this week to look for potential locations to set up an Israeli embassy. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The Trump administration has sought to patch up the Gulf dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The US has bases in Qatar and also in the UAE and Bahrain. In addition, the current US National Defense Strategy is interested in confronting China and Russia and conducting less anti-terror operations. US President Donald Trump, for instance, is pulling US troops out of Somalia. Austin would need to balance these relationships and decide on a forceful global posture. Being familiar with Israel is a major asset – and is important for a new defense secretary. – Jerusalem Post


Two oil wells were bombed inside a small oilfield on Wednesday and firefighters are working to put out the flames, oil officials and security sources said. – Reuters

Anan Yasoun rebuilt her home with yellow cement slabs amid the rubble of Mosul, a brightly colored manifestation of resilience in a city that for many remains synonymous with the Islamic State group’s reign of terror. – Associated Press

Iraq is poised to sign a multibillion-dollar contract with China ZhenHua Oil Co., a bailout from Beijing for the cash-strapped government which will receive money upfront in exchange for long-term oil supplies. – Bloomberg

Anna Borshchevskaya writes: Iraq need not be a top foreign policy priority, but an investment in Iraqi security, its unity, and democracy, will show true statesmanship. As the tide of authoritarianism in the region continues to grow, engagement would also help ensure key American security and geopolitical interests that will reverberate far beyond Iraq. – The National Interest

Arabian Peninsula

A court in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday sentenced Walid Fitaihi, a doctor who holds dual American and Saudi nationality, to six years in prison on charges that included illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship, a person close to his family said. The sentencing came despite the Trump administration’s repeated appeals to the Saudi government to release Fitaihi, who founded a prominent hospital in the kingdom. – Washington Post

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday, Sudan’s state-run news agency reported, the first visit by the kingdom’s top diplomat since Sudan’s military overthrew former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir last year. – Associated Press

Suspected al-Qaida militants targeted a checkpoint in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, killing at least six Yemeni troops, officials said Tuesday. – Associated Press

The Saudi-led coalition reports it has intercepted and destroyed a UAV launched by the Yemen-based pro-Iran Houthi militia. A coalition spokesman said the drone was carrying an explosive device. – Arutz Sheva

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday renewed the kingdom’s stance that the Palestinian cause is a fundamental Arab issue. – Arutz Sheva

At home he remains popular, but internationally he has been unable to shake off the veil of suspicion for his alleged role in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And now a new US administration is preparing to move into the White House and President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear he will be taking a much tougher stance than his predecessor on certain Saudi positions. – BBC

David Pollock writes: Amidst American and Israeli press reports—and official Saudi denials—of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Neom, Saudi Arabia, a reliable new public opinion poll commissioned by the Washington Institute shows that the Saudi public is divided but increasingly open to contacts with Israel. – Washington Institute

Gulf States

An Abu Dhabi businessman and member of the Emirati royal family has become a 50 percent owner of an Israeli professional soccer club known for its anti-Arab fan base and reluctance to field Muslim players, an early example of the new kind of investment driven by thawing relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. – Washington Post

The United Arab Emirates appreciates efforts by Kuwait and the United States to strengthen Gulf Arab unity, a senior Emirati official said on Tuesday in a reference to a row with Qatar that Washington says hampers a united Gulf front against Iran. – Reuters

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah reappointed Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as prime minister on Tuesday following parliamentary polls in the Gulf Arab state, which faces its worst economic crisis in decades. – Reuters

Initial bilateral trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could be worth $5 billion, an Emirati shipping leader said Monday at an event with Israeli businesspeople in Dubai. – Times of Israel

The Trump Administration has been engaged in a final effort to solve the Gulf crisis before it leaves office on January 20. Last month, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the US president, visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar and met with both countries’ leaders as part of this push. – Jerusalem Post

A lingering question is whether the incoming Biden administration would seek to derail the deal—possibly as a way to bring Iran back to the bargaining table. President-Elect Joe Biden has publically said he could reenter the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. However, a top arms sale official told Defense News that it is still “possible” that the UAE could sign the contract to purchase the F-35 before President Donald Trump leaves office. – The National Interest

The Donald Trump‘s proposed sale of F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates is taking flak from another close US ally in the Middle East. Even as Israel now says that it’s “very comfortable” with the proposed $10 billion sale of 50 of the advanced stealth fighters to the Gulf Arab state, UAE rival Qatar has been raising concerns behind the scenes. – Foreign Lobby 

The Trump administration is working to rally support in the Senate for its controversial high-dollar arms sale to the United Arab Emirates ahead of a vote to block that transfer. – CNN

Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE’s Ambassador in Washington, addressed the arms sales deal to provide his country advanced F-35 jets and said that the opposition to the deal is politically motivated. – Jerusalem Post

Jordan Cope writes: As promising as reconciliation would be, the Quartet must refuse any deal that excludes Qatar’s unequivocal promise to cease its profligate terrorism financing. While Qatar’s ties to Iran might be tolerated, given its geographic realities, its financial support for terrorist organizations and Islamist insurrections cannot be accepted. – Newsweek

Middle East & North Africa

A United Nations analysis of photos of four anti-tank guided missiles in Libya found that one “had characteristics consistent with the Iranian-produced Dehlavieh” missile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported to the Security Council. – Reuters

Forces of a Libyan commander who rules the eastern half of the country and who was behind a year-long military attempt to capture the capital, Tripoli, have seized a Turkish vessel heading to the western town of Misrata. – Associated Press

Egypt’s top diplomat hailed steps toward potentially resolving a three-year dispute that’s seen Qatar at odds with its Gulf Arab neighbors as well as his own country. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

The U.S. on Tuesday blacklisted several Chinese companies for allegedly helping North Korea export its coal, part of a renewed effort by the Trump administration to stem critical revenue sources for Kim Jong Un’s regime. – Wall Street Journal

Japan plans to develop its own missiles capable of reaching North Korea, part of a defense buildup that would give Tokyo the ability to strike if it anticipates an attack. – Wall Street Journal

A senior U.S. envoy on Wednesday said the trust and alliance between Washington and Seoul will remain firm regardless of the upcoming change in administrations, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. – Reuters

Washington’s top North Korea envoy arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for what is expected to be his last visit, with little prospect for restarting talks with Pyongyang before incoming U.S. President Joe Biden takes office next month. – Reuters

The U.S. should focus on the short-term aim of freezing and capping North Korea’s nuclear program before pursuing the bigger target of dismantling facilities, a senior advisor at a think tank said this week. – CNBC

Joseph Bosco writes: As the Trump administration’s experience has shown, the Biden team will have effective tools available to address both the North Korea and China challenges. Less Draconian measures should suffice to align American and South Korean strategies. – The Hill 


The Trump administration’s sanctioning of 14 senior Chinese leaders is the heaviest in a series of blows aimed at Beijing in response to its crackdown on Hong Kong. If earlier measures are a guide, the effect will be mostly symbolic. – Wall Street Journal

China is seeking to invest its economic growth into equaling American military capabilities by 2035 and aims to be able to defeat the U.S. in an armed conflict by midcentury, the top U.S. military commander said. – Wall Street Journal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who this week unveiled sanctions over China’s actions in Hong Kong, warned business leaders that the U.S. will treat the city, a global trade and financial center, the same way as mainland China. – Wall Street Journal

China said on Wednesday that it will take measures to uphold the rights of Chinese companies, in response to the United States blacklisting companies and ships accused of breaking sanctions on North Korea. – Reuters

Two Canadian men who have been detained by China for more than two years, in what Canada sees as retribution for its arrest of a Chinese executive, are in good mental and physical condition, Ottawa’s ambassador to Beijing said on Tuesday. – Reuters

China summoned the acting top U.S. diplomat in Beijing on Tuesday to protest U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong, and vowed to take “reciprocal” retaliation. – Reuters

President-elect Joe Biden is considering a high-profile ambassadorship for Pete Buttigieg, possibly sending him to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios. – Axios

China appears to be breaching its trade deal with Australia by taking a series of “disruptive and restrictive measures” against Australian exports, the Morrison government has said. – The Guardian

Rep. Eric Swalwell was one of several politicians involved in an expansive Chinese spying operation and even after he was briefed on the foreign interference he experienced first-hand, he kept his focus publicly on Russia during the Trump presidency. – Fox News

Huawei, together with one of China’s biggest artificial intelligence (AI) firms Megvii, tested a facial recognition system that could be used to detect members of a minority Muslim group and send alerts to authorities, a new report claims. – CNBC

China’s apparent “recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic could spell good news for American businesses, according to a top Trump administration official who nevertheless characterized Beijing as a major “military” threat. – Washington Examiner

China is detaining its Uighur Muslim citizens for reasons including being younger than 40 years old or appearing untrustworthy, leaked documents show. – Business Insider

Marc A. Thiessen writes: It is the Chinese regime’s lies and incompetence that are responsible for the most devastating and costly pandemic in American history. […]Will the Biden administration let the Chinese regime get away with this? Does China get a free pass because Trump blamed Beijing — and we must always reflexively do the opposite of whatever Trump does? Or does Trump’s defeat mean that we can all now finally agree to hold the Chinese regime to account for the devastation it has wreaked on this country? – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: Before the Trump administration, there was a lax attitude toward foreign money in Washington. Congress and the U.S. national security community now regard opaque foreign funding as a systemic issue and regard China as the most significant abuser of gaps in the system. Fixing that system is a challenge for the Biden administration and all U.S. institutions that are taking money from foreign governments and their proxies. – Washington Post

Kris Osborn writes: Essentially, the Chinese-government backed Global Times newspaper says the U.S. demo did not approximate a “real-battle” scenario and went on to claim that both Russia and China have mobile launchers. The thrust of the argument advanced in the story was simply that Russia and China are now developing more “advanced missiles, including hypersonic ones.”  […]While referred to by the Chinese paper as a “mock target,” the ICBM was a Northrop-built trainer missile designed to very closely replicate an actual ICBM. It was in effect described as simply an “unarmed” ICBM. – The National Interest

Sebastien Roblin writes: The Great Wall actually proved reasonably effective for a defensive obstacle built six centuries earlier, and Chinese soldiers showed courage and adaptability in employing the antiquated weapons at their disposal. But static defenses and sheer courage by themselves could not prevail in the new age of mobile warfare that would soon consume the world. – The National Interest


As the Taliban and the United States were finalizing their February deal, Taliban leaders were in frequent communication with al-Qaeda, consulting with their counterparts on the terms of the agreement and assuring them that they would not be betrayed, according to U.N. monitors. – Washington Post

The U.S.-led coalition seized land for hundreds of military bases, most now held by the Afghan military. Villagers have fought for years to collect compensation and to get their property back. – New York Times

A U.S.-based institute warned on Tuesday that there has been a dramatic increase in airstrikes conducted by Afghan government forces from July to September this year, attacks that have led to a sharp rise in civilian casualties. – Associated Press

Hanif Sufizada writes: A peace agreement in Afghanistan would allow the government to redirect its scarce resources. The government might also see substantial new revenue flow in from legal sectors now dominated by the Taliban, such as mining. Stability is additionally expected to attract foreign investment in the country, helping the government end its dependence on donors like the United States and the European Union. There are many reasons to root for peace in war-scarred Afghanistan. Its financial health is one of them. – The National Interest


Coming alongside daily arrests of democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, Hui’s flight demonstrated the stark choice now confronting those who have fought for freedoms here: Go abroad or go to jail. – Washington Post

Australian police arrested on Wednesday an 18-year man who had allegedly expressed interest in committing a mass causality attack, motivated by right-wing ideology. – Reuters

Opposition demonstrators blocked streets in Armenia’s capital on Tuesday to mark the start of a protest campaign after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ignored their call to step down over a ceasefire deal struck with Azerbaijan. – Reuters

Russia banned tomatoes from Azerbaijan, targeting its Caspian neighbor’s biggest export after hydrocarbons, following a 44-day war waged by the South Caucasus state against Moscow ally Armenia. – Bloomberg

Taiwan faces military threats on a daily basis from “authoritarian forces”, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, as the United States announced a new $280 million arms sale package to the Chinese-claimed island, the sixth this year. – Reuters

The U.S. defense chief announced Tuesday the delivery of nearly $30 million worth of weapons to the Philippines, which faces threats from Islamic State group-linked militants. – Associated Press

Australia on Wednesday ordered an inquiry into combating violent extremism, after a concerted push for the government to ensure it is equipped to face a growing threat from the far-right. – Agence France-Presse

Kris Osborn writes: The F-35 jet’s drone-like surveillance capability, which includes the technical capacity to detect enemy assets at long distances before it is seen itself, would certainly offer Japanese forces vastly improved defensive opportunities. A Japanese military armed with F-35 aircraft and less restricted might also function as an even more credible deterrent or counterbalance against Chinese provocations in the region. – The National Interest


President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Tuesday allowing Russia’s national legislation precedence over international treaties and rulings from international bodies in cases when they conflict with the Russian constitution. – Reuters

Russia’s embassy in Denmark said on Wednesday that it considered espionage charges brought by Copenhagen against a Russian national to be a “mistake” and that it expected him to be acquitted. – Reuters

Russian state media—a reliable barometer of the mood at the Kremlin—remains fixated on election-related events in America. Affectionately referring to Donald Trump as “our Donald,” “Trumpusha” and “Comrade Trump,” Russian lawmakers, experts and pundits repeatedly have expressed their concerns about the future of Moscow’s all-time favorite U.S. president. – The Daily Beast

The multi-turret land battleship proved to be a blind alley in tank development—there was nothing one oversized and over-gunned tank could do that several, much cheaper armored vehicles couldn’t do better. Still, the T-35 amounted to an impressive icon of Soviet might—just not a successful war machine. – The National Interest

Caleb Larson writes: How long Admiral Kuznetsov will remain afloat is anybody’s guess. As Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the large ship is an important symbol of national pride and international prestige, affording Russia access to the exclusive club of countries with aircraft carriers, though its combat effectiveness is doubtful. The repairs Tass mentions seem too extensive for a mere five-year service life extension—watch this topic closely for further updates on the Admiral Kuznetsov. – The National Interest

Kris Osborn writes: A Russian research institute is working to patent a new drone “net” designed to detect, track and capture enemy drones as a way to disable them from attacking or conducting surveillance missions[…]. This drone-firing net could also offer new defensive opportunities given that existing drone data links are being increasingly hardened, a circumstance making drone jamming or drone take-overs more challenging. – The National Interest


Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “significant differences” remained after a conversation between them Monday evening. But a Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Johnson would travel to Brussels, the E.U. capital, later this week to try to close a deal. – Washington Post 

Hungary and Poland’s decision to block a $2.2 trillion European Union spending package, including emergency pandemic financial aid, is deepening an existential crisis in the 27-member bloc over the fundamental liberal democratic values it is supposed to represent. – Washington Post

France’s next-generation aircraft carrier will be nuclear-powered and replace the national fleet’s flagship warship, the Charles de Gaulle, in 2038, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. – Reuters

Britain said on Tuesday it would drop clauses in draft domestic legislation that breached the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement after it clinched a deal with the European Union over how to manage the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. – Reuters

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a congressional committee on December 8 that corruption is “crippling” the Western Balkans and urged Washington to devote more attention to the strategically important region to counter Russian and Chinese influence. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty


Russia has signed an agreement with Sudan to establish a navy base in the African nation for at least a quarter century, part of Moscow’s efforts to expand its global reach. – Associated Press

A United Nations team visiting refugees in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region had failed to stop at two checkpoints when it was shot at over the weekend, the government said on Tuesday, proclaiming it did not need a “baby-sitter”. – Reuters

The United States believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia to help Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government battle a rebellious northern force, despite denials from both nations, a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats said. – Reuters

Latin America

Mexico’s president is expected to congratulate U.S. President-elect Joe Biden next week on his victory once it is certified, three officials told Reuters, after weeks of waiting that have upset allies of the incoming U.S. leader. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump sought contacts with Venezuelan officials early in his term, President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday, adding that he hopes to establish dialogue with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden team has said it will not recognize the new National Assembly, but it will have to formulate a longer-term strategy that accepts the likelihood that the Maduro regime may endure for some time. Sanctions, such as the oil embargo, that were meant to bring about change in the short term should be reconsidered; pressure should be better focused on the regime and its foreign enablers, and better coordinated with allies. – Washington Post

Francisco Toro writes: Today, Maduro’s dictatorship is thoroughly consolidated. Our moral revulsion at this fact does nothing to make it less of a fact. Having spent all of my adult life fighting any way I could find against the imposition of dictatorship in Venezuela, it hurts almost physically to write this. But facts are facts, and little good can come from denying them. President-elect Joe Biden would do well to build a Venezuela policy based on a cold assessment of this intolerable fact, and not on the self-defeating fantasies the Trump administration has put at the center of its approach. – Washington Post

United States

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions at a record-shattering pace of about three times a day during the president’s time in office: a slew of measures targeting companies, individuals and even oil tankers tied to Iran, North Korea, China, Venezuela and Russia. President-elect Joe Biden’s team is promising a top-to-bottom review of sanctions operations, but don’t expect a significant slowdown on his watch. – Bloomberg

The Trump administration on Monday named China, Nigeria and Iran to the list of countries that engage in violating or allowing violations of religious freedom within their borders — part of U.S. efforts to end religious persecution around the world. – Fox News

Danielle Pletka writes: Donald Trump bequeathed Joe Biden a gift of leverage and newfound influence that could serve the president-elect well as he steers the United States back into the welcoming arms of international polite society. […]The smart call for the new administration would be to bank the leverage provided by Trump and use it to ensure—dare we say it?—the best deals for America going forward. – The Dispatch


For years, the cybersecurity firm FireEye has been the first call for government agencies and companies around the world who have been hacked by the most sophisticated attackers, or fear they might be. Now it looks like the hackers — in this case, evidence points to Russia’s intelligence agencies — may be exacting their revenge. – New York Times

The U.S. cybersecurity official who was fired last month by President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday over threatening remarks by a lawyer for the president that prompted a wave of death threats against him. – Associated Press

Adam Myers, William Szymanski, Daniel Jackson, Ellen Wynkoop, Pete Heine, Tyler Hoffman, and Bri Mostoller write: As long as the U.S. dollar remains the global reserve currency, Washington will play an outsized role in protecting the integrity of the international financial system while it protects its national interests. A balanced approach will allow everyday people to enjoy the benefits of cryptocurrency technology while stopping potential abuse by terrorists and proliferation networks. – War on the Rocks


The House approved final passage of a $740.5 billion annual defense-policy bill by a vote of 335-78, far exceeding the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto threatened by President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary signals the incoming administration’s intent to dictate national security policy from the White House and avoid the foreign policy battles of the Obama administration by placing at the helm of the Pentagon a former officer who has shunned Washington’s political wars. – Washington Post

The Senate must confirm all Cabinet nominees. But in Austin’s case, he also must obtain from both the Senate and the House a waiver from a law that bars retired military officers from becoming Defense secretary within seven years of leaving the service. He would be the second man within four years to require that waiver and the third in history. – Roll Call

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the readiness levels of Navy and Air Force aircraft had nothing good to say about either service’s efforts to keep their fighter aircraft combat-ready. – The National Interest

President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday will formally introduce his pick for defense secretary, retired Army General Lloyd Austin, amid concern from some in Congress that the Pentagon should be led by a civilian rather than a career officer. – Reuters

Editorial: Blame for the Middle Eastern failures of these years sits primarily with Mr. Obama and his team, including Mr. Biden. But Gen. Austin’s role warrants more scrutiny during confirmation hearings. As a general, he was known for his reticence in command circles. We worry whether Gen. Austin (and the Pentagon) would be sidelined in policy debates among the Biden confidants who will run the National Security Council and State Department. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Making the Pentagon wait on politics to get going on projects also inevitably results in the delays and inefficiencies that Mr. Trump has rightly criticized. The larger risk of failure now is that come January Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi will remake the outline in ways that weaken the nation’s defenses. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Like most other career officers, however, Mr. Austin lacks experience in managing some of the most important issues that face a defense secretary, including the development of weapons systems and long-range budgets, and the management of a sprawling civilian bureaucracy. He is deeply versed in the Middle East but not in Asia, where the rise of China is the most critical threat to U.S. national security. Moreover, his weaknesses as a senior officer — including a noted reluctance to communicate with the media and public, and sometimes bumpy relations with Congress — would be considerably more debilitating if carried over to the secretary’s post. – Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: Here’s what this choice suggests about Biden and the military: Biden was a skeptic of the United States’ deepening involvement in the Middle East during the Obama years. This reticence may explain the Austin nomination. Sometimes it takes a retired general to say no to other generals, and that may be just what Biden wants. – Washington Post

Max Boot writes: The United States was a pioneer in this field — it first used an armed drone in Afghanistan in 2001 — but it is now struggling to transform its armed forces to incorporate advances in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, directed energy and quantum computing. We need a defense secretary who can drive innovation in ways that a recently retired general such as Lloyd Austin — President-elect Joe Biden’s reported choice — is unlikely to do. – Washington Post

Joe Biden writes: Lloyd Austin, as part of our diverse national-security leadership team that reflects the lived experiences of all Americans, will be an essential part of this work. He shares my profound belief that the United States is strongest when we lead not only with the example of our power, but with the power of our example. He knows what is at stake, and he knows how much work lies ahead. And I know that, under his leadership, the Department of Defense will never fail to advance the security of the American people in ways that honor our highest values and ideals. – The Atlantic

James Jay Carafano writes: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, in his brief tenure before President Trump fired him in November, delivered some real results. […]If confirmed, Austin would have to prove he is up to the Washington way of war. Few are. Many have demonstrated that. Having worn stars alone is no particular prerequisite for success. – Fox News

Long War

The Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi may have trained and fought with Islamist militia in Libya, an inquiry into the attack has been told. – The Guardian

The Egyptian military on Tuesday said forces have killed at least 40 militants over the past three months in raids and airstrikes against an Islamic insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, in clashes that also left at least six casualties among its troops. – Associated Press

Elaine McCusker writes: The new administration and Congress should reject the bureaucratic inertia that has stalled a cost-effective solution to provide a find, fix and finish capability to general-purpose and special operations forces. U.S. forces need Congress and the Defense Department to work together to aggressively acquire this effective and affordable approach to the counterterrorism mission. – Defense News