Fdd's overnight brief

January 17, 2020

In The News


An ambitious hard-line cleric who is seen as close to Iran’s supreme leader will lead the judiciary as it investigates one of the country’s most revered and feared institutions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its role in the downing of a passenger airliner last week. – Wall Street Journal

Two men have been sentenced to prison on charges in connection with working on behalf of the government of Iran to monitor a Jewish center in Chicago and Americans who are members of an exiled Iranian opposition group. – Washington Post 

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Twitter feed released a short video extolling Iran’s “rich history of human rights from the time of Cyrus up until the 1979 revolution.” [..]There’s no accurate polling regarding the Pahlavi family’s popularity in Iran today. But analysts said that, despite the occasional chants in favor of the shah at anti-government protests, the former crown prince has no political prospects within Iran. – Washington Post 

Since 2017, the Trump administration has placed layers of tough sanctions on Iran in an effort to deprive the regime of financial resources and to force it to negotiate a new nuclear deal. […]But over the past four decades, Iran has had a lot of experience with sanctions and has learned to withstand their impact, he says. And it’s no different this time. – NPR 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he wants to avoid war after Tehran and Washington appeared on the brink of direct military confrontation in early January for the second time in less than a year. – Agence France-Presse

The U.S. Treasury Department said on Thursday it will allow for a 90-day period to wind down transactions in certain sectors of Iran’s economy hit with fresh U.S. sanctions last week. – Reuters 

Iran’s foreign minister is accusing three European heads of state of appeasing President Trump, whom he called a “high school bully,” by invoking a dispute-resolution provision of the 2015 nuclear deal the U.S. withdrew from in 2018. – The Hill

Australia’s foreign minister said on Friday she had raised with her Iranian counterpart the fate of an imprisoned Australian-British academic, who has gone on hunger strikes and urged the Australian government to do more to free her. – Associated Press 

All countries involved in the Ukrainian airliner crash in Iran should avoid turning it into a political issue, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday. – Reuters 

Iran is enriching more uranium per day now than before the country signed a nuclear deal with major world powers, President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday. – CNN 

Many cybersecurity experts expect a new cyberattack campaign from Iran in retaliation for the drone-based killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in early January. – Washington Examiner 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The Europeans seem to have persuaded themselves that Iran’s actions were a natural, perhaps even justifiable, reaction to Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal the previous year. In their anxiety to keep the deal alive, and give their companies access to business deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the Europeans lost sight of the JCPOA’s purpose: to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threat. – Bloomberg 

Jason M. Brodsky writes: In the end, Soleimani was a singular figure in the Islamic Republic. In recent days, we’ve seen Ghaani appear publicly at the side of Iran’s supreme leader, suggesting a seamless transition, but while Ghaani will fill Soleimani’s shoes in theory, in practice Soleimani’s departure has the potential to scramble the internal dynamics of the regime. – The Hill

Cynthia Ayers writes: President Trump — by deciding to attack Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at a relatively unguarded moment during the general’s trip to Iraq to plan terrorist operations against U.S. interests — successfully managed to find and exploit such an “unexpected route.” The future of U.S.-Iranian interaction is, at this point, unknown, but as Sun Tzu also noted, “Good warriors … do not overlook conditions that make an opponent prone to defeat.” – The Hill

Mehdi Khalaji writes: Khamenei’s Friday sermon could address all of these pressing concerns at once: namely, by emphasizing the “enemy’s threat,” the absolute primacy of security, and the IRGC’s vital significance in protecting against this danger; by railing against the “unfair” international media campaign against the nation’s guardians; by warning of U.S. plots and sabotage; by reiterating his refusal to negotiate in light of America’s untrustworthiness; and by encouraging people to participate in the election. In contrast, he seems quite unlikely to make any gesture of humility or compromise toward his domestic or foreign adversaries. – Washington Institute

Maiya Clark and Brayden Helwig write: In general, Iranian ballistic missiles simply aren’t that accurate. Those fired at the bases could have landed on parking lots, warehouses, or even outside the facility entirely. Four of the 16 missiles fired failed to even hit their targets. […] American forces must remain ready at all times to defend our nation’s interests, to defend themselves from attack, to counter enemy actions, and to support our allies and partners. By investing appropriately in defense capabilities, the U.S. can deter further bad behavior, Iranian or otherwise. – Daily Signal

Tom Mctague writes: While it is clearly too early to judge the long-term ramifications of the president’s decision to order the killing (my colleague Uri Friedman has set out the dangers of accidental escalation), the initial assessment among many in the foreign-policy establishment here in London is not quite what you might expect. The attack—in the view of analysts and British officials I spoke with (the latter of whom requested anonymity to discuss government discussions)—has, at a stroke, reasserted American military dominance and revealed the constraints of Iranian power. – The Atlantic


Around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled a renewed Russian-backed offensive in the opposition-held Idlib province since early December, and have sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Turkey announced on Thursday it was beginning “settlement construction” in areas occupied illegally in northern Syria. [….]Turkey wants to settle mostly Arab Syrian refugees in Kurdish areas of Syria, rather than in areas around Jarabulus which Turkey also occupied. – Jerusalem Post 

Some of Syria’s leading figures met in secret this week in Berlin to overcome the sectarian divides that are tearing their country apart. – BBC 

In Syria’s civil war, girls as young as nine have been raped and forced into sexual slavery. […]Those gruesome facts have been the focus of a new report by U.N.-backed investigators into the Syrian war, which for the first time looks solely on the plight of the children caught up in the conflict. – Associated Press

Russia’s Ministry of Defence on Thursday denied media reports that it had bombed civilian targets in the de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there had been no military flights since a ceasefire was introduced on Jan.9, RIA reported. – Reuters 

Three Turkish soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack while carrying out roadside checks on vehicles in northeast Syria on Thursday, security sources said. – Reuters 


Israeli authorities demolished homes in Palestinian areas of east Jerusalem at a significantly higher rate in 2019 than the previous year, according to an Israeli advocacy group. – Associated Press

An Israeli court on Thursday ordered closed-door hearings in Amnesty International’s legal bid to stop NSO Group exporting surveillance software, which rights groups say is used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: It’s a specific challenge to Israel because Iran is well aware of Israel’s red line. Were Iran to escalate its uranium enrichment to high levels determinant of weapons-grade material, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would order the destruction of Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu is less of a hawk than commonly presumed, but he must be taken at his word on this matter. – Washington Examiner

Amos Harel Writes: From Soleimani’s assassination until this past Tuesday, there had been no reports of Israeli strikes in Syria or Iraq – which was interpreted as stemming from an Israeli decision to await developments, in the wake of the surprising blow delivered by the Americans. However, on Tuesday night, the Syrian air force’s T-4 base, near Homs, was bombed. If Israel was behind the attack, it can be assumed that a need arose to take advantage of a narrow window of opportunity and to scuttle a specific arms-smuggling operation. – Haaretz

Ehud Olmert writes: If anyone had the notion that American restraint can be exploited, or the recent presidential decision to withdraw US Army forces from the region means America lost its ability to carry out violence without much talk, they were proven to be rash and irresponsible. […]Our own Israeli fight against Iran must go on. Iranian forces stationed in Syria are something Israel cannot put up with. Such a presence must be blocked, reduced and forced to pull out. Yet I do not suggest arrogant actions that might lead an already humiliated Iran, grieving over Soleimani, to pick up arms against us. – Jerusalem Post 


The Pentagon has revealed that 11 U.S. service members received treatment for concussions from an Iranian missile strike on Jan. 8. – Washington Examination 

Germany’s defense chief has made a surprise visit to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi military leaders amid uncertainty over the status of foreign troops in the country. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

Widespread demonstrations in Iraq (also known as the Tishreen Revolution or Iraqi Intifada) have been taking place for months against governmental corruption and incompetence and gradually escalated into calls to overthrow the Iraqi political system in place since the ouster of Saddam Hussein and end Iranian interference in the country. […]However, according to a Rudaw report on Thursday, many Iraqis are refusing to join demonstrations calling for the expulsion of US forces, understanding that the presence of US forces in the country are necessary for their safety. – Arutz Sheva 

Dlawer Ala’Aldeen writes: Yet it is not inconceivable for Trump to adopt a different outlook and offer a new opportunity for a mutually agreeable deal after re-election. […]But given the pressures surrounding both sides, such a scenario is unlikely to have the ability to unfold without public pressures getting in the way. This is unfortunate, as a genuine multi-lateral dialogue is both the ideal and possibly most desired scenario by the international community for 2020. As part of a mutual lack of trust, the two pending elections are unlikely to create the right environment for such a dialogue. – Washington Institute


Lebanon is on the brink of forming a new government, caretaker finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Thursday, as pressure mounts to put forward an economic rescue plan to pull the country out of a deep financial crisis. – Reuters 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Nasrallah now positions himself as leading a resistance against the US in the region, taking the mantle of Muhandis and Soleimani. […]Nasrallah hasn’t seen a front line in decades. He’s not a commander. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous, but it means that whatever regional role he is casting for must be carefully staged to meet his actual abilities and those of Hezbollah. – Jerusalem Post 

David Rosenberg writes: Lebanon’s deep problem is a government that basically serves as a spoils system for the country’s leaders. That has been the source for the anger that has led to months of protests and, just as importantly, why the government has refused to give in. […]That kind of Lebanon will make Beirut more like the Damascus than the Paris of the Middle East it was once famous for being. Hezbollah and Iran might find that attractive, but for the Lebanese people, it’s a dead end. – Haaretz 

Saudi Arabia

U.S. training for more than 800 Saudi Arabian military students could be restarted “in the coming days,” the Pentagon said Thursday, nearly six weeks after a shooting by one Saudi trainee killed three sailors at a Florida base. – Associated Press 

The U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top commander showed Tehran that it can’t get away with its provocations, but won’t stop the country from continuing with its agenda, a former chief of Saudi intelligence told CNBC. – CNBC 

Saudi Arabia has paid the US approximately $500 million to begin to cover the cost of US troops operating in the country, according to a US official. – CNN

A.J. Caschetta writes: Saudi Arabia is at best an unreliable ally in a sometimes hot and sometimes cold war against Iran, and at worst an enemy that has skillfully concealed itself and earned the trust of U.S. policymakers. […]The U.S. no longer needs Saudi oil or Saudi intelligence on al Qaeda. In fact, they need us more than we need them. It’s time to start acting that way. – The Hill 

Shimon Arad writes: The release of the F-35 to the Arab countries will also undermine America’s historical commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge. […]Saudi Arabia has more than enough airpower to deter or defeat Iran. In a crisis, it would hardly go it alone against Tehran without American or Israeli participation. With the F-35 in its possession, Riyadh may be tempted to become more emboldened and entangle the United States in its conflicts. – War on the Rocks


War-battered Yemen could face the threat of famine again because of the rapid depreciation of its currency and disruptions to salary payments, a senior U.N. humanitarian official warned the Security Council on Thursday. – Associated Press 

Yemeni separatists and forces loyal to the country’s U.N.-recognized government whose deadly infighting erupted last summer in the war-torn Arab country are pulling back from a key southern city, military officials said Thursday. – Associated Press

Katherine Zimmerman writes: Even rolling back Iran’s expeditionary activities in the region does not eliminate the capabilities Iran and its proxies have transferred to the al Houthis. The al Houthis can strike maritime traffic in the Red Sea or Gulf aviation and oil infrastructure. Reversing this threat requires a nuanced approach to splinter the al Houthis from the Iranian network and engaging with the Yemen conflict in its own right, rather than a subset of US counterterrorism or counter-Iranian strategy. – American Enterprise Institute


A Libyan military commander waging an offensive to capture the capital Tripoli is committed to a ceasefire, Germany said on Thursday, in an apparent advance for efforts to end a near-decade of turmoil in the North African country. – Reuters 

Greece will block any European peace deal on Libya unless an agreement between the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli and Turkey on maritime borders is scrapped, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned Thursday. – Associated Press

Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar will hold talks in Athens on Friday, days ahead of a peace conference in Berlin which he and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj are expected to attend. – Agence France-Presse

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Germany this weekend to attend the Libya conference and push for sustaining a fragile ceasefire and getting all foreign powers to withdraw from the conflict in the North African country, the State Department and U.S. officials said on Thursday. – Reuters

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt’s public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday it had ordered the release of five people detained following a raid on Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency office in Cairo, and the company confirmed one employee had been freed. – Reuters 

Turkey lifted its more than two-and-a-half year block on Wikipedia on Thursday, after the country’s top constitutional court ruled the ban unconstitutional. The ruling comes as a win for free speech advocates in a country whose government is widely accused of increasingly eroding citizens’ democratic rights. – CNBC 

Turkey will issue new exploration licenses in the eastern Mediterranean now that it’s set a maritime border with Libya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, a step liable to exacerbate strains with Greece and the European Union. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

At a time of growing unease in the alliance between the United States and South Korea, a hairy diplomatic issue has surfaced: the American ambassador’s mustache, which has become an object of ridicule and resentment among many South Koreans. – New York Times 

Leading U.S. and Chinese officials on Wednesday discussed negotiations with North Korea as well as United Nations sanctions intended to limit North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, according to the State Department. – Reuters 

Sec. Michael R. Pompeo and Sec. Mark T. Esper write: Right now the two countries are again engaged in tough negotiations. The U.S. remains firmly committed to reaching a mutually beneficial and equitable agreement that will strengthen the alliance and combined defense far into the future. South Korea’s taking on a greater share of the load will ensure the alliance remains the linchpin of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia—and across the world. – Wall Street Journal


The phase-one deal between the U.S. and China could upend the way trade disputes are settled globally, giving the U.S. an edge over competitors and weakening international institutions. – Wall Street Journal

Democratic governments should wise up to — and try to thwart — China’s attempts to shape the global narrative about its actions at home and abroad, Freedom House said in a report published Wednesday that warns of the campaign’s corrosive effects on public debate. – Washington Post 

Negotiations on an investment agreement between the European Union and China are progressing and have entered a “critical stage” after six years of talks, a senior EU official said on Friday. – Reuters 

The European Union said the preliminary U.S.-China trade agreement could violate World Trade Organization rules and held out the prospect of a legal challenge. – Bloomberg


Taliban and American negotiators are meeting in Qatar for what a Taliban spokesman called “fruitful discussions” that are expected to continue for “several days.” – Washington Post 

The Taliban have offered a brief ceasefire to the US, two insurgent sources said Thursday, a move which could allow for the resumption of talks seeking a deal for Washington to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. – Agence France-Presse  

James Hasson writes: In sum, the political and moral cowardice of our elected officials and senior military brass is inflicting severe military and human costs on the small communities they are using to avoid difficult decisions about our strategy in Afghanistan. A republic that chooses to go to war owes the citizens it sends on its behalf a purpose for risking their lives, a plan for their success, and honesty about both. The special operators we send overseas year after year deserve at least that much. – Washington Examiner 


A Pakistani court has sentenced 86 members of a radical Islamist party to 55-year prison terms each for taking part in violent rallies in 2018 over the acquittal of a Christian woman in a blasphemy case, a party official said Friday. – Associated Press 

Pakistan’s foreign minister said during his visit to Washington that the United States should remain engaged in Afghanistan even if it eventually pulls its troops out of the war-torn country. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

The Afghan Taliban has shown “willingness” to reduce violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s foreign minister has said, calling it a “step toward” a peace deal between the militant group and the United States. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty 

According to an Urdu-language daily, Shi’ite and Sunni Islamic scholars of Pakistan, while calling to prevent war, have criticized American threats against Iran in the wake of the assassination of Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. – Middle East Media Research Institute

South Asia

As Chinese leader Xi Jinping landed in Myanmar on Friday — almost 20 years since his government’s last state visit there — he hoped to send a clear signal that his country is back in the driver’s seat. Having backed Myanmar, also known as Burma, while Western nations recoiled at its atrocities against the Rohingya, Xi is poised to cash in by reviving stalled strategic projects — notably a Chinese port and special economic zone — that would deepen Beijing’s reach into the Indian Ocean. – Washington Post 

A Bangladeshi island regularly submerged by monsoon rains is ready to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees, but no date has been announced to relocate people from the crowded and squalid camps where they’ve lived for years, officials said Thursday. – Associated Press

Azeem Ibrahim writes: ung San Suu Kyi proves that you can have a democratically sanctioned genocide. Indeed, some have speculated that her defense of the genocide before the ICJ is likely to improve her standing in this year’s federal elections in Myanmar. And this lesson has not been lost on other world leaders such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in neighboring India, who is also now constructing mass internment camps for Muslims. It seems Daw Suu’s legacy may extend beyond her own borders after all. – Foreign Policy


In late December, several Chinese coast guard ships escorted more than three dozen Chinese fishing boats into the waters off Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. […]The incident provides a window into how countries in the region are navigating confrontations with China’s fishing boats, law-enforcement ships and other vessels on the front lines of Beijing’s efforts to assert its claims over most of the South China Sea. – Wall Street Journal

The U.S., Japan and South Korea are keen to invest in Indonesia’s Natuna Islands as President Joko Widodo steps up efforts to rebuff Chinese claims over the resource-rich waters in the South China Sea. – Bloomberg

A U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, after President Donald Trump signed a trade deal with China and Taiwan re-elected a leader seeking greater American military support to counter a threat from Beijing. – Bloomberg

China’s military closely followed and monitored a U.S. warship that sailed through the Taiwan Strait, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday. – Reuters 

A court in Kazakhstan has ruled that an ethnic-Kazakh man from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang who is on trial for illegally crossing the border will not be deported to China. […]Those conditions have prompted many ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang to cross the border illegally in fear of staying in China. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 16 held talks with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov in Tashkent. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

The Army is looking to make good on its promise to align its Security Force Assistance Brigades to geographic combatant commands, the service secretary confirmed this week. As early as the end of this year, SFAB advisers will be available to go to Asia to support local militaries and court new partners— a cornerstone of the strategy in the region. – Army Times

Three non-governmental organizations are urging Azerbaijan to lift a travel ban against investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and allow her to travel to Britain to give evidence in the trial of a journalist who is being sued for defamation by an Azerbaijani lawmaker. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

Lee Edwards writes: Tsai and her colleagues are to be congratulated for trusting the people of Taiwan to reject Mao Zedong’s axiom that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and to put their faith in the ballot box and the democratic process. – Daily Signal


The United States and Russia on Thursday held a new round of talks focused on arms control and reducing misunderstandings on critical security issues. – Associated Press

U.S. refiners are scooping up cheap high-sulfur fuel oil for processing from Russia and the Baltic states as they take advantage of new shipping rules that have cut demand for the dirtier marine fuel, according to oil traders and shipping data. – Reuters 

Robyn Dixon and Isabelle Khurshudyan write: On Wednesday, Putin nominated a competent, little-known tax official named Mikhail Mishustin as prime minister. But unlike Yeltsin, Putin will not relinquish control when his term expires in 2024 or risk what he sees as his legacy — a strong authoritarian state carving out a growing role on the global stage.[…]But he has signaled his determination to continue to wield power, especially on the significant matters of Russia’s global role, security and foreign policy. – Washington Post 

Ivana Stradner writes: Beyond violations regarding human rights and the use of force, Russia has routinely violated international trade law. […]It’s true that numerous other countries — including France, the US, Egypt, and Thailand, among others — subordinate international to domestic law in some instances. Yet in Russia, the legal language is merely a technicality: international law has long applied only when Russia has wanted it to. Under Putin, that’s how it’s been and will continue to be. No amount of constitutional tinkering can change that. – American Enterprise Institute

Leon Aron writes: Having saddled the tiger of militarized patriotism, Putin at least remains more popular than the rest of his government. Yet he will find it very hard to dismount. The Nazarbayev option was worth a shot. But if Putin’s stab at Problem-24 hurts his approval ratings, his neighbors should watch out. Another jolt of patriotic hysteria, even another Crimea, is still very much on the table. – The Atlantic


Ukrainian authorities opened a criminal probe into whether the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was put under surveillance by American citizens, as text messages made public this week suggest, before she was removed from her post last year. – Wall Street Journal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an interview with the Financial Times, described her rocky relationship with President Trump as having “structural causes” sparked by the greater separation between the U.S. and Europe.   – The Hill

Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs on Thursday announced that the country’s cyber police had started “criminal proceedings” around the recent hacking of gas company Burisma, and noted that authorities were seeking the assistance of the FBI in pursuing the case. – The Hill

News of an investigation into a former senior EU diplomat suspected of spying for China is sending shockwaves through Brussels’ closely interlinked circles of lobbyists, officials and politicians. – Politico

European Union trade commissioner Phil Hogan said his meetings with senior U.S. officials marked a “good start” to resetting trade ties with Washington, but there was more work to do. – Reuters 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is suing his Kosovar counterpart for alleged defamation over comments concerning a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia. – Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty

The European Union is considering banning facial recognition technology in public areas for up to five years, to give it time to work out how to prevent abuses, according to proposals seen by Reuters. – Reuters 

David Whineray writes: Unfortunately, few of these steps currently look likely. Until that changes, Europeans should stop deluding themselves that transatlantic tensions will just magically disappear after Trump. Without action, the Atlantic may get wider, not smaller, over the next decade — whatever the electoral outcome in November. – The Hill

Przemysław Osiewicz writes: The best option would be for EU officials and other European leaders to try to identify convergent interests with the U.S. in the Middle East and do their best to focus on substance rather than wasting time commenting on Trump’s tweets. They could also try to bring Iranian and American diplomats to the negotiation table before another crisis arises — and before the Russians or the Chinese do it first. – Middle East Institute


Less than a week after an attack by the militant group al-Shabaab on a Kenyan airfield killed a U.S. soldier and two American contractors, the Defense Department has conducted a deadly airstrike on militants in neighboring Somalia. – Military.com 

South Sudan’s government and the opposition agreed to form a unified administration by Feb. 22 and to work on unresolved issues thereafter, according to mediator South African Deputy President David Mabuza. […]The U.S. said in November that it was re-evaluating its relationship with South Sudan over what it said was the inability of President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to achieve a “basic demonstration of political will” for their people.  – Bloomberg

Soldiers deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane in Africa’s Sahel region have conducted a number of joint operations with local forces against armed terrorist groups, the French Armed Forces Ministry said on Thursday. – Defense Post

The Americas

At least 1,300 people have entered Guatemala in a new U.S.-bound caravan from Honduras, authorities said on Thursday, putting pressure on the region to satisfy Trump administration demands to contain northbound illegal immigration. – Reuters 

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a revamp of the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement that includes tougher rules on labor and automotive content but leaves $1.2 trillion in annual U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade flows largely unchanged. – Reuters 

United States officials are crediting tough measures taken over the past year and cooperation from regional governments for sharply reducing the number of Central American migrants who responded to a call for a new caravan. – Associated Press

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said he is unconcerned about a caravan of several hundred people moving through Central America to the southern border of the United States. – Washington Examiner

Hal Brands writes: The latest U.S.-Iran crisis has brought a hoary issue back to the center of the foreign policy debate: the question of credibility. […]It is no exaggeration to say that American global influence and the stability of the international system rest on the credibility of U.S. threats and promises. – Bloomberg

Latin America

The tug of war over Venezuela’s National Assembly intensified Wednesday as pro-government thugs attacked lawmakers allied with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, preventing them from holding a session in the legislative palace. The socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro has been trying to take over the legislature, the last democratic institution in this increasingly authoritarian, economically moribund nation. – Washington Post 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has considered sending Brazilian migrants crossing the border from Mexico back there to await their U.S. court hearings, according to a U.S. official and a Mexican official familiar with the discussions. – Reuters 

Brazil has decided to suspend its participation in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a leftist regional body established by Venezuela, due to its failure to protect democracy, Brazil’s foreign minister said on Thursday. – Reuters 


Chemical companies in the United States were put on notice by the federal government late Wednesday and told to boost cyber and physical security because of fears Iran could target them. – Washington Examiner 

The FBI on Thursday announced a new policy intended to “clarify and guide timely” notification of state and local election officials of any cyber intrusions, marking a major shift three years after Russian intrusions during the 2016 elections. – The Hill

As Army Cyber Command looks to focus on the information warfare environment, the Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence in Georgia has started training cyber and electronic warfare personnel on the specifics of information operations. – Fifth Domain


The U.S. Army is taking a step back on its effort to replace its Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle after receiving only one bid in its competitive prototyping program, but this does not mean the end of the road for the future optionally manned fighting vehicle, service leaders told reporters Jan. 16 at the Pentagon. – Defense News

Days after China’s navy commissioned its biggest and most advanced surface warship yet, on a path to an estimated 420 ships by 2035, key experts told Congress the U.S. must form a new and creative strategy to deter China, beyond nuclear weapons. – Defense News

The latest U.S. Navy “budget salvo” that demands a larger share of the defense budget for the Navy requires some tough scrutiny – Defense News

The Space Development Agency wants its satellites to be able to easily talk to each other and is considering using optical intersatellite links for communications within its future low earth orbit space architecture. – C4ISRNET

Just a day after officially swearing in as the U.S. Space Force’s first member, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond sat down with President Donald Trump on Wednesday to brief him on the new service’s progress, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday. – Defense News

Human-created fixed-wing aircraft have, for over a century, relied on rigid control surfaces and distinct flaps to steer in flight. A new wing, tested on a drone by the Air Force Research Laboratory, wants to change that, offering flapless flight to future fliers. – Defense News

Paul Birch, Ray Reeves and Brad Dewees write: With such a big set of problems ahead, it is reasonable for the military to start with what it knows. In a world of scarce resources, however, each sensible step the military takes is also a step it doesn’t take. Ingrained habit and organizational power suggest the first step will be from the top. Prudence suggests the weight of effort should be on the bottom. – War on the Rocks

Ethan Bueno De Mesquita, Liam Collins, Kristen G. Decaires and Jacob N. Shapiro write: The United States should reform its defense education system to prepare leaders to understand common conceptual errors, ask the critical questions, and retain the healthy level of skepticism necessary to use evidence effectively to make better decisions. […]We are at a pivotal point in history. It is vital that our leaders’ education keeps pace with innovation. – War on the Rocks

Kathleen H. Hicks and Joseph Federici write: The permutations of defense restraint thinking extend beyond the seven approaches. As the international environment and Americans’ preferences for the U.S. role within it change, the frameworks for restraint will also shift. Older philosophies can become dated, at least in their details. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Long War

The FBI has arrested three alleged members of a white-supremacist group on federal gun and alien-harboring charges amid growing concerns about safety surrounding planned gun rights protests in Virginia’s capital next week. – Washington Post 

Global terrorism claimed less lives in 2018, but its economic and social impact remains widespread, according to the latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI) from the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). – CNBC 

Federal prosecutors announced murder charges Thursday against a Malian man accused of playing a central role in two 2016 terror attacks in West Africa, including an al-Qaida shooting in Burkina Faso that killed an American missionary and 29 other people. – Associated Press

Trump Administration

The Senate impeachment trial on whether to remove U.S. President Donald Trump from office formally began on Thursday even as a congressional watchdog found that the White House broke the law by withholding security aid for Ukraine approved by Congress. – Reuters 

The Trump administration’s decision to freeze the release of security assistance to Ukraine violated the law, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report. – The Hill

A federal judge on Thursday postponed sentencing for former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he moved to withdraw his guilty plea for charges of lying to the FBI. – The Hill

Two separate hearings at the US Congress this week have examined potential measures that legislators can take in response to the recent rise in antisemitic rhetoric and attacks across America. – Algemeiner