Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Obama tries to wrestle control of Ebola response; In the Middle East, the seesaw battle for Kobani continues; Israel and the Untied States at Odds on Iran; and much more.

By David Francis President Obama objected to state quarantines while trying to get control of the fractured response to the Ebola virus, which is becoming increasingly political and disconnected from sound science. Speaking on the White House lawn Tuesday afternoon, President Obama attempted to provide some structure to the Ebola response. Yet it’s clear that ...

By David Francis

President Obama objected to state quarantines while trying to get control of the fractured response to the Ebola virus, which is becoming increasingly political and disconnected from sound science. Speaking on the White House lawn Tuesday afternoon, President Obama attempted to provide some structure to the Ebola response. Yet it’s clear that concerns about his management of the response disease will follow Democrats to the polls next week. Meanwhile, additional DOD service members have been quarantined in Europe, a reminder that Americans are putting their lives on the line to stop its spread in West Africa. 

From FP’s Francis: "Speaking on the White House lawn, Obama reminded the American public that only two people — Dallas health-care workers who treated a Liberian man who later died of the disease — have been infected on U.S. soil. He said that the key to stopping the virus is attacking it in its West African epicenters of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia…Obama suggested that some lawmakers are playing politics with the issue, telling reporters that his administration’s response is based in ‘science, not fear.’" More here. 

Obama’s comments did little to quell the political tide rising against the president and his Ebola response. Within hours of Obama’s comments, I received an unsolicited reminder that Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Co.), who is up for reelection next week, will be holding an Ebola information meeting in Colorado Springs. This reminder came despite the fact that, according to scientists, there is an extraordinarily slim chance that the Ebola virus would affect Coloradans. This event shows that Republicans aren’t likely to let Ebola drop before Nov. 4.

 From Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev: Campaign "ads invoking Ebola ran 734 times between Oct. 21-25, compared with a total of 484 tracked … in months prior." More here.  

Meanwhile, from the BBC: Kaci Hickox, the nurse quarantined in New Jersey, plans to challenge her confinement in federal courts. Via The New York Times, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is unapologetic.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has eased quarantine restrictions. More from The New York Times, here.

Gregg Gonslaves, writing in FP, argues that politics need to be removed from the Ebola response immediately. "Despite the fact that the size of the West African Ebola epidemic made it virtually certain a few cases would emerge in the United States, the infections in Dallas and now in New York City have unleashed a panic unprecedented in recent American history. Even the AIDS epidemic didn’t send so many Americans into paroxysms of fear the way Ebola has over the past few weeks… In times of crisis, people need sound guidance about what to do, how to react. U.S. public health and medical institutions, with their deep expertise and experience, are the agencies that must take the lead in disease outbreaks of this kind. Namely, it is critical to rely on the CDC and the National Institutes of Health… Yet there is currently a fracturing of national consensus on public health that goes beyond the usual Capitol Hill second-guessing and political posturing, and that may endure for a long time to come." More here.

In West Africa, there are signs that the outbreak could be slowing down. From Josh Keating in Slate, here.

However, Jina Moore, reporting from Liberia for Buzzfeed, notes that it’s difficult to determine whether the tide has turned against the disease because there is no accurate figure on how many cases there were to start. More here.

In an interview with FP’s Drennan, Blackwater founder Erik Prince has some radical ideas about how private contractors could take part in efforts in West Africa. "Prince thinks that by using a large supply vessel floating off the coast of Ebola-ravaged West Africa, private contractors could quickly deliver crucial medical assistance to where it’s needed — an old idea of his in a new context. ‘We could carry 250 vehicles, couple of helicopters, couple of landing craft, and everything else — so that’s all your mobility equipment," he told Foreign Policy… "Everything else was containerized: food, medicine, field hospitals, tents, water purification, generators, fuel — everything you’d need for a humanitarian disaster.’" More here.

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, is worried about a lack of volunteers willing to go to West Africa: "Right now, I’m very much worried about where we will find those health-care workers. With the fear factor going out of control in so many places, I hope health-care professionals will understand that when they took their oath to become a health-care worker it was precisely for moments like this." More from FP’s Francis here.

Kim added that 5,000 additional medial workers are needed. More from the Associated Press, here.

And finally on Ebola, a reminder that American lives are on the line: CNN reports that 30 additional soldiers returning from their mission in West Africa are now in quarantine. More from CNN here.

In the Middle East, the seesaw battle for Kobani continues. Despite U.S. air support, the Islamic State’s siege of the Turkish border town continued Tuesday. Now, Iraqi Peshmerga fighters are on their way to the city, which has become a bellwether of the success of the fight against the Islamic State.

From Isabel Coles and Dasha Afanasieva for Reuters: "The Islamic State (IS) has threatened to massacre Kobani’s defenders in an assault which has sent almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing to Turkey, and triggered a call to arms from Kurds across the region." More here.

From the Telegraph, Colin Freeman on Turkey setting conditions for helping the West in Kobani crisis in Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey would help only if Syrian rebel groups were armed, not Kurdish fighters belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. More here. 

Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam asked the German government for more financial assistance to deal with 619,000 Syrian refugees. Germany has committed half a billion euros to Syrian refugee relief. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wouldn’t commit to spending more without proof that the money was being spent "effectively and more sustainably." More here.

Also from Germany, this time from der Spiegel: An interview with an Islamic State recruiter. "We are following Allah’s word. We believe that humanity’s only duty is to honor Allah and his prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We are implementing what is written in the Koran." More here.

Yesterday, I referred to the Iraqi Yazidi population as Christian. I apologize for this mischaracterization; their religion combines elements of Christianity along with many other sets of beliefs. Thanks for keeping me honest, and please keep the feedback coming.

As the November 24 deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West looms, numerous factors are conspiring to put pressure on Tehran. Tanking oil prices and the economic sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, upping the pressure on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to make a deal. Obama administration officials are hinting that a deal could be close, but any deal could sink relations between the United States and Israel even lower while infuriating Congress. 

From The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink, in Tehran: "Iranian officials will never admit that either sanctions or low oil prices have any effect on their bargaining position in the nuclear talks. Yet, for a country that by some estimates needs an oil price of more than $140 a barrel to balance its budget, the roughly 25 percent drop in oil prices to around $80 a barrel since last summer has to be deeply concerning." More here.

However, according to the Fars News Agency, Iran isn’t ready to budge. "We frankly announce that the world should not think that we have closed our eyes waiting for the negotiations to bear results, we have planned and prepared ourselves for more difficult conditions," said Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri yesterday. More here.

Complicating any deal is the American Congress and U.S. ties with Israel. Obama is already angling to avoid Congress, which would have to act to remove economic sanctions against Iran.

From Seth Lipsky, writing in Haaretz: "Obama clash with Republican Senate over Iran would be epic." More here.

Over at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that we’ve arrived at a make-or-break moment for Israel and the United State. "By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, but even before that, both sides are expecting a showdown over Iran, should an agreement be reached about the future of its nuclear program." More here.

 

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of the Situation Report. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Send me a note at david.francis@foreignpolicy.com and we’ll sign you up. Like what you see? Tell a friend. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to me early. Follow me: @davidcfrancis.

Who’s when where today: From DOD: "U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA) Derek Chollet arrives in Riga today for an official visit through October 30. While in Latvia, Assistant Secretary Chollet will meet with Latvian Minister of Defense Raimonds V?jonis, Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rink?vi?s, and other senior Latvian government officials and Baltic Defense Policy Directors."

"Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel provides remarks at the 2014 Washington Ideas Forum at 10:30 a.m. EDT, Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, District of Columbia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have no public or open media events on their schedules. Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency, Chief, Central Security Adm. Michael S. Rogers delivers remarks at the Cyber Maryland 2014 Conference at 12:30 p.m. EDT, Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland.Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel provides remarks at the 2014 Washington Ideas Forum at 10:30 a.m. EDT, Harman Center for the Arts, Washington, District of Columbia.Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have no public or open media events on their schedules.Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency, Chief, Central Security Adm. Michael S. Rogers delivers remarks at the Cyber Maryland 2014 Conference at 12:30 p.m. EDT, Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland.""

IMF chief Christine Lagarde will be at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington tonight, where she’ll be honored as Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year. Speakers include Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg, and David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group.

 

More from FP: "For the past three years, she re-established the IMF’s central role in promoting economic diplomacy and international cooperation." FP reporters will be live-tweeting the event, so follow us.

Antony Blinken, deputy national security adviser, is speaking on the Islamic State at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at 3:00 pm.

What’s moving markets today: FP’s Johnson, on how low oil prices are affecting petrostates in the Middle East: "If oil prices keep falling, the Gulf states may also be unable to keep splashing massive amounts of foreign aid to teetering states in the Middle East and North Africa that aren’t blessed with bottomless reserves of oil and gas, like Egypt and Morocco. For decades, in some cases, rich Gulf states have propped up distant neighbors, both to parry excessive European influence and to ensure political stability in a region historically lacking it." More here.

Michael Weiss, writing in FP, on how supposed good guy Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s deputy prime minister, managed to get his hands on a quarter of a billion bucks. "A reputed liberal in the Kremlin, once considered Russia’s business-friendly "sherpa" to the G-8, Davos, and the World Trade Organization, Shuvalov has long been thought of as an agreeable counterpoint to the hard-line siloviki, or strongmen, a faction that now seems dominant in the Kremlin." More here.

From RIA Novosti: Russia and North Korea are discussing the formation of a visa-free regime. More here.

Speaking of Russia, The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports that Moscow is behind a recent cyber attack on a White House computer network. More here.

For FP, Jamie Kirchick on pro-Western elections giving hope to Ukraine. " [I]nstead of the traditional East-West regional divide that has characterized Ukrainian politics over the past quarter century, this parliament is expected to focus primarily on substance rather than spoils. Allies of the ex-president, who had regrouped themselves into a new party called the Opposition Bloc, received less than 10 percent of the national vote. Also promising is the new crop of fresh young faces." More here.

From FP’s Shane Harris, on Spy Prom, the hottest party you’ve never heard of: "The White House Correspondents’ Association may have its B-list celeb-studded dinner. Politicos can rub elbows at the exclusive Gridiron dinner. But the spooks and special operators of Washington’s shadowlands have their own affair: Call it Spy Prom." More here. 

Now that its mission in Afghanistan is done, Richard Norton-Taylor at the Guardian writes that the future of the British military is bleak. More here.

More on Afghanistan from FP’s O’Grady: Corruption in the State Department lead to wasted money spent on Afghanistan’s largest prison. Get the details here.

And finally, read an excerpt from FP chief David Rothkopf’s new book, National Insecurity : American Leadership in an Age of Fear, here. The book takes a non-partisan look at the foreign policy of the Obama and Bush administrations. Buy it here. 

 

 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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