Fdd's overnight brief

March 20, 2020

In The News


The Trump administration this week sent a stark message to Iran in three new rounds of sanctions: The U.S. won’t ease its economic pressure campaign even as the coronavirus pandemic batters the country. – Wall Street Journal 

The Trump administration on Thursday announced the release of two Americans imprisoned overseas and said it had intensified demands for a third, amid global fears that the coronavirus could quickly spread among detainees and result in deaths. – New York Times 

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on five United Arab Emirates-based companies, accusing them of having collectively purchased in 2019 hundreds of thousands of metric tons of petroleum products from Iran. – Reuters 

Greeting the coming Iranian New Year the Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has released a video message saying the lesson he has learned from fighting the deadly coronavirus outbreak calls for the need to “reconstruct the system of governance” and to engage in “capacity building” for non-governmental organizations (NGOs.) – Radio Farda 

But unlike his usual fiery speeches, the anti-U.S. hardliner Khamenei refrained from attacking Iran’s longtime foe in his remarks. “Iran benefited from America’s sanctions. It made us self-sufficient in all areas,” said Khamenei. – Reuters

As Iran marked the beginning of a new calendar year on Friday, the country’s leaders pledged to improve the economy and domestic production in the face of crippling U.S. sanctions and a devastating pandemic. – Bloomberg 

US President Donald Trump reportedly backed off a large-scale response against Iran following a deadly rocket attack in Iraq, over fears that doing so in the midst of the coronavirus crisis would harm his administration’s image. – Times of Israel

As Iran experienced its worst death toll from the coronavirus pandemic this week, panicking Tehran regime officials sought to blame the United States and the European Union for the crisis.  – Algemeiner

US Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Wednesday called for the US sanctions on Iran to be lifted, citing the high death toll in the Islamic Republic from the novel coronavirus. – Arutz Sheva

Iran starts a new year Friday morning March 20, as it leaves behind one of its worst years ever. Iranians on social media have already coined names for the unbelievably destructive year and the opponents of the Islamic regime like to say the end is near. – Radio Farda 

The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy. – Reuters 

The Islamic Republic Foreign Ministry summoned Hungary’s Ambassador to Tehran to protest what it described as “mistreatment of fifteen Iranian students by the police and medical personnel in a hospital. Fifteen Iranian students infected with coronavirus were in isolation in Szent László Hospital in Budapest before being expelled from Hungary. – Radio Farda 

Jason Rezaian writes: The government appears to be sidetracked once more by internal squabbles, diverting attention from a crisis that could prove many times costlier than any temporary cessation of commercial activity. Yet again, we see Iranian officials putting their own political survival ahead of the health and well-being of the public. – Washington Post 

Kasra Aarabi writes: This has dire consequences even outside Iran. As the international community, including the World Health Organization, looks to engage with Iran as an epicenter of the pandemic and help slow the spread of the virus, the IRGC’s singular focus on propaganda and shoring up the regime will severely limit the ability to work with Tehran. […]The real priority driving Tehran is sustaining the regime and its Islamist ideology—not the health and welfare of the Iranian people. – Foreign Policy

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran still wants to avenge the U.S. killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, and Iran claims the “countdown” to U.S. withdrawal from Iraq has begun. One way for Iran to distract from its mishandling of the coronavirus at home, and push its “biological warfare” narrative against the U.S., is to continue provoking the U.S. in Iraq and across the Middle East. The virus may make the regime lash out, rather than heed the lessons of the past year and be cautious. – The Hill 

Alex Vatanka writes: To become a member in good standing of international organizations, such as the FATF or the IMF, is a two-way process that requires both give and take. […]If nothing else, hopefully this crisis will push the Islamic Republic toward a less schizophrenic approach to the outside world. After all, the notion that the Islamic Republic can be both a “normal” state and a “militant revolutionary” one at the same time has already been debunked. – Middle East Institute 


In northwestern Syria, where a million people who have fled the civil war are sheltering in muddy tent camps and abandoned buildings, the spread of the coronavirus could wreak untold disaster on a devastated region. […]Mr. Assad’s forces and their Russian allies began a final push to retake the area last spring, and a renewed offensive in early December drove nearly a million people from their homes. – New York Times 

Two Turkish soldiers were killed Thursday in a rocket attack in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said. A ministry statement said a third soldier was wounded in the attack, which it said was carried out by “radical groups.” – Associated Press 

President Donald Trump said Thursday the U.S. is working with Syria to secure the release of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who has been held there since he was kidnapped while on assignment in 2012. – Bloomberg 

In its March 4, 2020 editorial, the Iranian regime mouthpiece Kayhan, which is affiliated with Iran’s ideological circles, criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s expansionist aspirations in northern Syria. The criticism comes against the backdrop of the Turkish army’s attack in early March 2020 in Idlib, Syria on Syrian targets, an Iranian outpost, and a Hizbullah outpost. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Michael Rubin writes: At the time, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) had already successfully driven out the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. That was the first battle, however, in what would become with the rise of the Islamic State, a much wider war.[…]They are caught between a rock and a hard place as the Turkish invasion and theft of many of their resources have undercut their ability to provide services at a time when they are most needed. – The National Interest  



Palestinians on Thursday defied their government’s call to cease work in Israeli settlements over coronavirus concerns, saying bringing money home to their families came first – Reuters

The sight of a world locking itself down seems to have unleashed a wellspring of emotions in Gaza, from sardonic political commentary to schadenfreude, emerging from Palestinian denizens of the tiny coastal enclave that has for years lived with enforced isolation and confinement. – Reuters

Newly declassified CIA information reveals the story of Oscar Seborer, who gave the Soviets vital secrets to help them develop their own atomic bomb, and whose parents are buried in Gan Yavne Haaretz


Troops from the U.S.-led coalition pulled out from a base in western Iraq on Thursday as part of a planned drawdown, Iraqi and coalition officials said, while training activities by the coalition were suspended amid concerns about the coronavirus. – Associated Press 

The economic fallout from the coronavirus coupled with a sudden drop in oil prices is threatening to catapult Iraq into an unprecedented crisis. […]Iraqi officials fear Beijing’s falling demand for crude in light of the coronavirus might also impact state revenues. – Associated Press 

Iran’s network of influence in Iraq has taken a beating over the past two days as four major Shi’ite factions announced their withdrawal from the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), citing internal differences and regional influence as reasons for their decision. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Bobby Ghosh writes: But he also has a great deal going against him, beyond the opposition of the pro-Iran groups. As a member of the political establishment, he is unlikely to win favor with the popular protest movement that has wracked Iraq. […]One possible reason: The crises facing Iraq when Allawi was failing his bid have, with the start of the Saudi-Russian oil war and the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, metastasized into a calamity. – Bloomberg 

Ethan Sheinker writes: The reason we are at a crossroads of Iraqi history is because we don’t know the answer to the question: How long will the PMUs’ loyalty last for the Iranian leadership without the aforementioned support? Even though the US strategy in the Middle East has changed from an economic game of attrition to direct armed confrontation, that doesn’t change the fact that the sanctions are still crippling the Iranian economy. – Jerusalem Post 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s elderly monarch made a rare public appearance Thursday, addressing a period of unprecedented turmoil for the kingdom and the royal family and telling citizens that his administration was doing everything it could to confront the coronavirus pandemic. – Bloomberg 

Saudi Arabia announced 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion) in budget spending cuts after the crash in oil prices and the coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc on its public finances. – Bloomberg 

Frank Verrastro, lbert Helmig and Larry Goldstein write: Further, to the extent that countries use the combination of this price war and COVID-19 to further attempt to insulate themselves from global trade and foreign investment, we may all be the worse for the change. A decided lack of needed foreign investment could be particularly damaging for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious reform and economic expansion agenda. – Center for Strategic and International Studies  

Middle East & North Africa

The documents shed light on Russia’s apparent efforts to build influence in the oil-rich North African state at a time of U.S. disengagement. […]The Kremlin had long thought about how it could maneuver its way back into Libya. Qaddafi’s downfall sidelined Moscow, leaving Italy, France and regional powers seeking the spoils while rival Libyan factions fought one civil war after another. – Bloomberg 

Hundreds of Bahraini pilgrims are stranded in Iran, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, as Bahrain struggles to evacuate its citizens from a country with which it has no diplomatic ties. – Reuters

Locals took video of a US Air Force Bell V-22 Osprey landing at the US Embassy in Beirut on Thursday and lifting off minutes later. Tony Badran, an expert on Hezbollah and Lebanon, wrote on Twitter that Fakhoury was picked up by the helicopter after being taken “hostage” last year. […]Others in Lebanon, including Hezbollah supporters, are now tweeting condemnation of the move.- Jerusalem Post

A pair of lawmakers on Thursday introduced bicameral legislation to send coronavirus testing kits to U.S. troops in the Middle East. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan, both Wisconsin Democrats, introduced the bill after the Pentagon said testing for troops in Afghanistan is being completed at labs in Germany. – The Hill 

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: There are a number of reasons why Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. One underappreciated aspect of this is the way Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AST) messaging primed members of the group and others in society that were exposed to, attended, or followed online AST activities and events. […]Therefore, understanding these pre-histories is important for tracking the evolution and symmetry within the jihadi movement writ large. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan will hold a video conference on Friday to discuss cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic, Seoul’s foreign ministry said, amid growing concerns about a global spread and imported cases. […]Historical and territorial tensions between the three countries have often overshadowed their diplomatic and economic cooperation. – Reuters 

The first shipments of international medical aid are due to arrive at North Korea’s borders this week to shore up its defenses against the coronavirus, but strict border controls could mean the stream of supplies remains a trickle. Some aid organizations had to get emergency sanction exemptions from the United Nations to clear the way for the shipments and are now navigating North Korea’s border controls imposed in a bid to shut out the virus. – Reuters 

John Dale Grover writes: The U.S. also cannot foresee or stop every rival power, every single time, from doing things Washington does not like or that violate international law. But it would be an error to assume this pandemic will prevent other states from acting aggressively to secure their interests. It is also a mistake to be caught off guard just because Washington wasn’t paying attention. Governments like to use crises to their advantage — and COVID-19 is no different. America should keep an eye on Pyongyang and Moscow as this pandemic unfolds. – Washington Examiner


In the three months since the virus began its deadly spread, China, Europe and the United States have all set off at a sprint to become the first to produce a vaccine. But while there is cooperation on many levels — including among companies that are ordinarily fierce competitors — hanging over the effort is the shadow of a nationalistic approach that could give the winner the chance to favor its own population and potentially gain the upper hand in dealing with the economic and geostrategic fallout from the crisis. – New York Times

The death rate from the new coronavirus may have been lower than previously believed in the city in China where it originated, according to a new study, offering a hopeful sign for other parts of the world. – Wall Street Journal

China has exonerated a doctor who was officially reprimanded for warning about the coronavirus outbreak and later died of the disease, a startling admission of error by the ruling Communist Party that generally bodes no challenges to its authority. […]In death, Li became the face of simmering anger at the ruling Communist Party’s controls over information and complaints that officials lie about or hide disease outbreaks, industrial accidents, natural disasters and financial frauds, while punishing whistleblowers and independent journalists. – Associated Press 

President Trump is blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic threatening lives and the economy in the United States, further testing a relationship with Beijing already stressed by a trade war. – The Hill 

The following is the March 18, 2020 Congressional Research Service, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. – USNI News 

Josh Rogin writes: Have we learned nothing from the Russian interference in 2016? We must not aid and abet the CCP’s efforts to stoke internal divisions and spread disinformation. Have we learned nothing from the post-9/11 demonization of Muslims? Chinese and Chinese Americans need our support during this crisis and bring great strength to our response. […]Let’s stop saying “Chinese virus” — not because everyone who uses it is racist, but because it needlessly plays into the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to divide us and deflect our attention from their bad actions. Let’s just call it the “CCP virus.” That’s more accurate and offends only those who deserve it. – Washington Post

Joseph Bosco writes: Xi might well have asked his colleagues: Who will rid me of this troublesome president? Suddenly, thanks to the export of China’s virus, Trump’s reelection prospects seem considerably less favorable than they did just a few months ago. And a return to a more accommodating U.S. China policy with a new president seems disturbingly more likely. – The Hill 

Tom Rogan writes: All this said, the most exigent rationale for our resolve against China is the most basic: the regime’s nature, most clearly demonstrated in how Beijing lied and let its innocent citizens die, in how it forces others into slavery because they are Muslims, and in all the aforementioned things. […]That is why, for example, it has shown such ferocity to Hongkongers marching for the basic rights they were promised when Beijing took over Hong Kong. The regime knows it cannot give an inch or it will show the world the weakness — really, the evil — of the ideas that underpin it. – Washington Examiner

Morten Soendergaard Larsen and Robbie Gramer write: Vucic’s words amounted to a stinging rebuke of how the European Union has handled its response to the coronavirus outside its borders. But it also served as a warning sign to Western leaders that China is on the soft power offensive, scrambling to refurbish its image after botching the initial coronavirus response. – Foreign Policy

Rep. Michael Jonathan Cloud writes: Many other promising alternatives for new trade relationships exist in Asia, Latin America and throughout the developing world. While developing these alternative markets, we should ramp up pressure on the World Trade Organization to hold China accountable for its unethical trade practices and human rights violations. […] While none of these steps will be simple, diminishing  China’s global influence will improve both our national security and economic stability and foster an environment where freedom can continue to expand around the world. – Fox News

Shahi Ahmed writes: After the crisis, whenever after is, the relationship with China cannot and should not go back to normal. Nothing, in any case, will go back to normal after the sheer scale of destruction becomes clear. Of course, the rest of the world will have to live with the Chinese leadership as long as it remains in power. But this pandemic should, finally, disabuse us of any remaining hope that the Chinese regime could be a responsible global actor. It is not, and it will not become one.  – The Atlantic

Bonnie Kristian writes: Esper’s argument is compelling because it includes a bit of truth: China is a rising power and our economic rival. It is growing in military strength, and it does engage in illicit business practices, including hacking and theft of trade secrets. […]None of this is in dispute, except perhaps by Beijing’s propagandists. But none of it remotely justifies twisting great power competition into a shooting war. – Defense News 


After 19 years of halting gains after the collapse of Taliban rule, a Feb. 29 agreement between the United States and the insurgents has filled many Afghan women with dread. The agreement does not mention women’s rights but does envision a return of the Taliban to a future Afghan government after American troops withdraw. – New York Times

Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid says the Taliban should commit to a truce as a means of helping both sides battle the spread of the coronavirus, which he called a “plague” on the war-ravaged country. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The coronavirus pandemic, chaos in the Kabul government and continuing attacks by the Taliban have thrown U.S. and NATO plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan into confusion. […]The coronavirus crisis has already impacted troops who have returned to the U.S. under the withdrawal plan. – Military.com 

Al Pessin writes: All three approaches boil down to, “It’s their problem, unless and until it becomes our problem again.” And if that’s the position across the political spectrum, it must reflect the views of the American people, to the extent that they think about Afghanistan any more at all. So, perhaps this agreement for a possibly graceful exit from Afghanistan is the only thing we can do. It’s not peace. It’s certainly not victory. At best, like in a novel, it’s just “The End” — at least for now. – Defense One 


Former Kazakh state nuclear company head Mukhtar Dzhakishev, whose conviction on corruption charges in 2010 was criticized by many as politically motivated, has been released from prison. […]Dzhakishev’s supporters and international human rights organizations have urged Kazakh authorities to release him since his arrest in 2009. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Azerbaijan to free at least five journalists and bloggers who it says have been imprisoned on politically motivated charges. The New York-based human rights watchdog made the call on March 18, the day after Azerbaijani authorities released investigative reporter Afqan Muxtarli from prison. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs writes: Contrast China’s patterns of abuse, cover-ups, inhumane treatment of the Chinese people, and blatant disregard for infecting others to the effective and humane work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. […]Media and U.S. government officials must be careful to eschew any kind of praise of the Chinese government for anything it’s doing related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Xi’s CCP is the reason this global virus is as bad as it is. Let’s highlight the good work of the people handling it responsibly, humanely, and cooperatively. – Hudson Institute 


The Trump administration is considering intervening in the Saudi-Russian oil-price war, and Texas regulators are weighing whether to curtail crude production for the first time in decades, as U.S. producers suffer from a historic crash in prices. – Wall Street Journal 

Russian President Vladimir Putin will refuse to submit to what the Kremlin sees as oil blackmail from Saudi Arabia, signaling the price war that’s roiling global energy markets will continue. […]Putin’s government has spent years building reserves for this kind of crisis. While Russia didn’t expect the Saudis to trigger a price war, the people said, the Kremlin so far is confident that it can hold out longer than Riyadh. – Bloomberg 

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien will travel to Moscow to attend Russia’s World War Two Victory Day celebrations in May, U.S. ambassador John Sullivan said on Thursday. – Reuters

The trial of a former U.S. Marine who is being held in a Moscow prison on espionage charges will start on March 23, his lawyers say. […]He was charged with espionage, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Whelan denies the charges and says he was framed. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty  

The T-72 is one of the most-built tanks in the post- Second World War world, a testament to their effectiveness and affordability. Quite a few companies — mostly former Soviet, Eastern European countries offer an extensive range of upgrade kits that will continue to prolong the T-72 series’ life for many years to come. – The National Interest 

Anton Troianovski writes: As the Russian president has consolidated power, the police and security services have spent years upgrading their capabilities, from facial-recognition tools to crowd-control methods. Now, the spread of the virus provides a sudden test for those capabilities — and a high-stakes opportunity for Mr. Putin to win support for his hard-line measures. – New York Times


No deal can happen without agreement on some kind of special self-governing status for the regions, but some fear that is just what Moscow wants — an opportunity to retain influence and try to destabilize Ukraine. Zelensky, meanwhile, struggles to navigate critical relations with the United States — seeking more military aid from the Trump administration but trying to steer clear of the political fallout from President Trump’s impeachment in the House and later Senate acquittal. – Washington Post

So how is it that the new disease, Covid-19, has hit harder in Europe, which had weeks of warning that the epidemic was coming, than in China, where the virus originated and where there are twice as many people? To some extent, experts say, Europeans are paying a price for living in open, affluent democracies, where people are used to free movement, easy travel and independent decision-making, and where governments worry about public opinion. Governments aren’t used to giving harsh orders, and citizens aren’t used to following them. – New York Times

The European Union on Thursday agreed to relax the bloc’s rules on state aid to companies until December so that governments can mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus on business. – Wall Street Journal 

The German government on Thursday banned two clubs linked to an anti-Semitic movement that refuses to recognize the modern German state, with the Interior Ministry ordering raids on the homes of the groups’ leaders in 10 states as part of a crackdown on Germany’s far right. – New York Times

Deep into the global coronavirus pandemic, NATO is taking an unconventional approach to its daily operations: packing senior leadership into conference rooms to push on with some of its business as usual. – Washington Post

Former British national security adviser Peter Ricketts has urged the government to put the brakes on its plan to complete an integrated review of defense, security, foreign policy and development by July. The new coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame, he said. – Defense News 

It was always going to be a challenge for Britain and the European Union to meet an end-of-year deadline to agree on their post-Brexit relationship.But the coronavirus has just made it even harder, and calls for an extension to the deadline are gaining traction in mainland Europe as parts of the continent go into lockdown. – Reuters

NATO is scaling down military exercises in Europe to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but alliance missions are continuing, including the drawdown of the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan following a peace agreement last month. – Reuters

A worsening coronavirus pandemic has driven European leaders to revive border controls within the European Union after three decades of efforts to abolish internal borders within the continent. – Washington Examiner

The coronavirus crisis will have severe consequences on government budgets, but also reinforces the critical need to continue investment in defense and security, the head of NATO said during the release of the alliance’s 2019 annual report. – Defense News 

Desmond Lachman writes: In 2010, the Greek sovereign debt crisis sent shudders through the world economy. How much more so would be the case in the event of an Italian debt crisis considering that Italy’s economy is around ten times the size of that of Greece? Madame Lagarde might want to keep reminding her G-7 counterparts of this fact in an effort to get them to join her in building international support for an Italian economic stabilization program. –  The National Interest 


The coronavirus is now moving into parts of the world that may be the least prepared. Some countries in Africa and Latin America lack the equipment or even trained health workers to respond. […]The nation’s healthcare system has been crippled by years of economic contraction, political chaos and a humanitarian crisis, with rising infant mortality rates and critical shortages of water and medicine. – New York Times 

Armed men attacked a Malian army camp in the Gao region in the north, killing at least 29 soldiers, the army said Thursday. […]This is the biggest attack on Mali’s army in 2020. Though responsibility for the attack has not yet been claimed, it bears the marks of al-Qaida-linked groups in the region. – Associated Press 

In the sand and the rocky, mountainous terrain of the expansive Sahara Desert, it’s not just terrorist groups that roam, plotting surprise attacks on military installations and imagining distant overseas targets. In southern Morocco this week, thousands of Moroccan, Senegalese, and Tunisian troops were scheduled to unite alongside U.S. soldiers for joint exercises. – Washington Examiner

United States

President Trump has claimed credit for slowing the spread of Covid-19 in the United States by imposing a ban in late January on some travelers who had recently been to China. […]But several experts say the experience of Ms. Mundus shows the limited effectiveness of the administration’s travel restrictions, which followed outbreaks in affected countries by days or weeks. – New York Times 

The White House, under the guise of its coronavirus response, is quietly advancing policies that President Trump has long advocated, from tougher border controls to an assault on organized labor to the stonewalling of congressional oversight. – New York Times 

The State Department on Thursday issued a level four travel advisory applying to all countries, instructing Americans not to travel internationally and urging U.S. citizens abroad to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic. – The Hill 

President Donald Trump will hold this June’s Group of Seven meeting by video conference rather than hosting world leaders at Camp David as world leaders grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, the White House said Thursday. – Bloomberg 

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned a small group of well-connected constituents three weeks ago to prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR. – NPR 

Americans taken hostage in the 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy in Iran sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. over David Rockefeller’s role in persuading the U.S. to allow the deposed Iranian leader into the country. – Bloomberg 

Khadar bin Muhammad (also known as Abu Mahmoud bin Muhammad and Abu Mahmoud Khadr Ameen Al-Qoobi) is the Imam of Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah in Syracuse, NY and is affiliated with the Warrior Scholar Institute, an Islamic youth education center. […]He said that this should serve as a reminder to Muslims in the U.S. that they are living in a land of infidels and that Allah may punish them by such means as COVID-19 for “just chilling” while they are surrounded by evil sins like fornication, homosexuality, and alcohol consumption. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Ryan Sitton writes: With other governments manipulating oil markets, it’s fair to ask: Why shouldn’t our government step in to try to reinstate a more market-based approach? […]We are facing some of the most uncertain times in decades, perhaps generations. We will face them together. Perhaps it is time for the world leader in energy markets to once again be the United States. – Bloomberg 

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Carisa Nietsche write: Addressing these fundamental challenges will be key to the long-term resilience of democracy; in the short term, liberal actors must also consider the recommendations identified in this report. […]Today’s populist players have managed to turn the tides and create conditions that are conducive to their illiberal ideas and agendas. Liberal democrats must now reclaim the initiative. – Center for a New American Security 

Latin America

The Trump administration is asking Venezuela to release six imprisoned oil executives on humanitarian grounds, as the nation’s health-care crisis worsens amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. – Washington Post

As the government of President Nicolás Maduro tries to roll out a historic response to a global challenge it is ill-equipped to confront, Venezuela’s neighbors increasingly fear that the country will become a petri dish for the novel coronavirus, hemorrhaging infected migrants and spreading the virus across hard-to-control borders. – Washington Post

A few months earlier, the idea that Mr. Jiménez would be called before the tyrant who ruled Venezuela would have been unimaginable. Mr. Jiménez was just 27, ran a tiny start-up, and had spent years protesting the dictator. Mr. Maduro had not just mismanaged his country into financial crisis — he had detained, tortured and murdered those who challenged his power. – New York Times

President Trump on Thursday said the military is helping to get Americans stuck in Peru back to the U.S., as more than 1,400 U.S. citizens remain stuck in the country under a strict quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. – The Hill 

For the former president of Peru, there may be a silver lining in the coronavirus. Alejandro Toledo convinced a U.S. judge Thursday that it’s too risky for him to remain in jail in California while he awaits extradition to Peru to face corruption charges. – Bloomberg 

Editorial: These lax policies provided President Trump with some justification for his decision this week to curtail movement across the U.S.-Mexican border, including by asylum seekers. But Mr. Trump missed an opportunity to exert influence on Mr. Bolsonaro when he was asked Thursday about the latter’s dismissive approach to the epidemic. – Washington Post

Ryan Berg writes: The double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse in oil prices have managed to create in two short weeks what a concerted American sanctions campaign could not achieve, which is a potential knockout blow to the Venezuelan legal economy. […]he United States must stay vigilant against the regime and trust that external conditions improve its chances of success. Under these conditions, if the American government fails to achieve its foreign policy goals of deposing Maduro and imposing democratic elections, it might never achieve them. – The Hill 


The program has sparked a clash of imperatives — taking every measure to control a pandemic vs. maintaining civil liberties in a democracy. Late Thursday, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction, allowing only those who test positive to be tracked, and ruled that a parliamentary committee would have to endorse the initiative by Tuesday or it must be shut down.  – Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency on Thursday issued guidelines defining critical workers who the Trump administration is encouraging to maintain a “normal working schedule” during the coronavirus pandemic. – The Hill 

The Army postponed its planned industry day for its much-anticipated cyber training contract as a result of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the service announced March 17. – Fifth Domain 

Claims about U.S. tank deployments to Europe by Russia’s Sputnik News led the U.S. Army’s Europe Command to create a new team in spring 2017 to fight the spread of fake news from adversaries, a senior Army official said. […]The Army is relying more on groups such as the Digital Forensic Research Lab, NATO’s Strategic Command Center of Excellence and StopFake.org to collaborate and engage the growing threat from adversaries. – C4ISRNET 


The acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center is retiring in the latest Trump administration shakeup. […]He made his decision known to Richard Grenell, Maguire’s replacement as acting spy chief, who denied a report citing former officials who said Travers and his deputy were fired. – Washington Examiner

While health officials have encouraged Americans to work from home if possible as the coronavirus spreads through the United States, Pentagon and intelligence community officials have sent mixed signals about what their own staffers should do, according to three national security officials and a top senator who oversees the intelligence community – Politico

The ever-escalating global spread of the coronavirus is taking lives, shattering economies, decimating health-care systems and ratcheting up panic at unprecedented levels. But with such attention fixated on the ever-complex, ever-unknown public health impasse touching every corner of the world, what drastic implications does this have on the U.S. national security apparatus? – Fox News 

The Navy plans to test next year whether it can push new software — not just patches but new algorithms and battle-management aids — to its fleet without the assistance of in-person installation teams. – Defense News 

Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) was a hub of activity Thursday, as it took on a crew of civilian mariners and supplies ahead of deploying to assist West Coast civilian medical facilities hammered by COVID-19 cases. – USNI News 

The following is the March 19, 2020 message from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on measures the Navy is taking in regards to the COVID-19 global pandemic. – USNI News 

It’s realistic for the U.S. Army to wait and see how the new coronavirus might affect its ambitious plans to modernize the force, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told Defense News in a March 18 interview. – Defense News 

The Defense Department’s mandatory and voluntary work-from-home push this week to protect the workforce from the COVID-19 virus is straining IT systems, even as the government is asking employees to make modifications to limit their consumption of network resources. – USNI News 

130 members of the House of Representatives are asking key defense committees in Congress to increase the number of F-35 joint strike fighters by 24 percent over the number requested by the Pentagon in fiscal 2021. – Defense News 

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak that has now infected more than 50 service members and thousands of Americans, military officials have assured that the young, healthy, robust troops are at a relatively low risk for complications associated with the respiratory disease. But at the same time, public health officials have stressed that symptom-less people could be unknowingly carrying the virus and passing it to others. – Military Times 

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly, the congressional delegation from Maine has requested quicker payments and relief from contractual obligations for the defense industrial base, including local shipyards, impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. – Defense News 

As the Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) community’s capability grows in both sophistication and in quantity, a community leader says they’re being served well by their creed to remain hardware-agnostic. – USNI News 

The Pentagon has sent proposed legislation to Capitol Hill that would help clarify the role of the Space Force and fill in some details on how the new service will be organized. – Defense News 

Jerry McGinn writes: COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving threat to our nation’s economic and national security. The Defense Production Act is an important tool and exactly what we need as we seek to develop additional short- and medium-term responses to this unprecedented impact on our domestic industrial base. Depending on how the Trump administration utilizes the DPA, this could be a big step forward in combatting the pandemic. – The Hill