- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Adam RawnsleyAdam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.
Election reax. With Donald Trump’s shocking upset electoral victory against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama will likely get to work to safeguard his signature foreign-policy initiatives in his final months in office. But, FP’s Dan De Luce writes, “there are limits to how much his administration can preempt the next president, who captured the White House riding a tide of populist anger over immigration, trade, and international commitments.”
Cabinet talk. Now the predictions begin for who will fill out Trump’s cabinet. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a longtime Trump adviser, has been floated as a prime candidate for Defense Secretary, while other reports have named Newt Gingrich as a potential pick Secretary of State, along with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.
Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Trump a message saying he would like to improve relations with the United States, and work “to lift Russian-US relations out of the current crisis.”
While we’ve only seen this muted response from the Kremlin so far, there is no mistaking the victory that Trump’s election represents for the Russian government — which the U.S. intelligence community holds responsible for hacking the emails of Democratic officials in an attempt to sway the election for Trump. As the New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar writes from Moscow, “there was no mistaking the enthusiasm with which the Kremlin viewed Mr. Trump’s ascension. His lack of foreign policy experience, questioning of NATO, open admiration for the Russian leader and seeming acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea all seemed to play into the Kremlin’s hands.”
South Korea. President Park Geun-hye called a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the U.S. election and Trump’s campaign promises to change trade and military agreements with long time allies. Officials in Seoul also said they expect recent missile defense agreements between the two countries to go forward as planned.
China. Writing from Shanghai, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne points out, “Beijing has reason to cheer the election result: Mr. Trump has less regard than Mrs. Clinton for America’s military alliances, which have underpinned U.S. dominance in China’s neighborhood since World War II—a primacy that Beijing is determined to upend.” His election will also likely wipe out President Barack Obama’s signature “pivot” to Asia, which Beijing has looked at as little more than a form of military containment.
Another Journal story notes, “Mr. Trump’s antagonism toward U.S. defense arrangements presents new risks for Washington’s allies in Asia and in Europe. And his anti-free trade stance signals the possibility of a world-changing trade war with China, the second-biggest economy.”
Iran. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also chimed in on Wednesday to say that despite Trump’s promises to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. election would have “no effect on the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He added that “the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions have made our economic relations with all countries expanding and irreversible,” and Iran’s nuclear deal, already approved by a United Nation Security Council resolution, cannot be dismissed by one government.
NATO. Head of the Atlantic alliance Jens Stoltenberg reminded Washington Wednesday that “NATO’s security guarantee is a treaty commitment,” and he is “looking forward to work with President-elect Trump and I look forward to welcoming him to Brussels at our next Summit next year.”
France. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised Wednesday to work with Trump, but said Trump’s personality “raised questions,” and he said he is unsure what a Trump presidency would mean for key foreign policy challenges.
Germany. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen described Donald Trump’s win as a “huge shock” on Wednesday, and said she is looking for assurances on his commitment to NATO. She added that the vote totals were “not a vote for him but rather against Washington, against the establishment”.
Markets. The New York Times writes that after the election results were announced, “global investors reacted as if the world had caught fire. They yanked their money from the marketplace in an unrestrained bout of selling reminiscent of the outbreak of war or a major terrorist attack.”
Congress. Both Houses of Congress also remained in Republican hands, and the Military Times has a great rundown of how those races went.
Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
Despite fears that hackers could disrupt critical infrastructure or news sites on election day, the federal government was pretty chill about the threat of malicious actors interrupting the voting process. Wired spoke to cybersecurity experts and anonymous administration officials who said that intelligence indicated the threat of a massive distributed denial of service attack, as happened in late October, or online mischief by Russian intelligence were remote. Intelligence officials also downplayed the likelihood of al Qaeda being able to carry out terrorist attacks on election day. Nonetheless, the Department of Homeland Security put hacking mitigation teams on standby in the event of a cyber incident.
One allegedly Russian intelligence-linked website, however, was conspicuously silent Tuesday. The website of DCLeaks, which had posted hacked emails from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove, and Hillary Clinton, was inaccessible on Tuesday. In a joint statement, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson linked the website to the Russian government, writing that it was “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
Turkey may be open to buying missile defense systems from Russia, Politico reports. Ismail Demir, Turkey’s top weapons buyer, says all options — including Russian ones — are on the table for Turkish air defense needs. Russian officials, in kind, said they’d be willing to go through with a theoretical deal. Of course, the prospect of a NATO country buying Russian missile defense hardware would likely raise objections within the Atlantic alliance. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Ankara flirted with controversial missile defense suppliers. Turkey briefly selected China’s T-LORAMIDS system for its missile defense needs before walking away from the deal in the face of pressure from NATO.
The Islamic State
France says it’s identified the man who coordinated the deadly shooting attacks in Paris and subsequent bombings in Brussels carried out by the Islamic State, CNN reports. French authorities say Oussama Atar, a dual Belgian and Moroccan citizen, served as quarterback for the operations from Syria and remains at large. Not much is known about Atar, but he was arrested by Iraqi authorities for illegally entering the country in 2005 and was imprisoned until 2012, when he was released and sent back to Belgium where authorities took little interest in him. Atar’s cousins, Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, killed themselves in the suicide bombings attacks in Brussels.
Russia is signaling that it may soon begin a new bombing campaign in Syria. The Russian government controlled Sputnik news outlet reported that anonymous Russian defense officials are predicting a wave of attacks against Syrian targets from Russia naval assets in the Mediterranean within 24 hours. The battle group accompanying the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was “getting ready to strike,” according to the Russian defense ministry and it includes a Kirov-class battlecruiser and two Udaloy Class destroyers. Sputnik also reported that Russia would likely fire Kalibr cruise missiles from submarines, either in the Mediterranean or Caspian seas. Russia has previously fired Kalibr cruise missiles at Syria from Corvettes in the Caspian Sea and a submarine in the Mediterranean.
Iraqi investigators have identified the bodies found in a mass grave south of Mosul as those of Iraqi security forces as well as members of their families. The Wall Street Journal reports that the roughly 100 decapitated bodies showed signs of torture. The Islamic State apparently used the burial site — next to an agricultural school in Hamam al-Ali — as an execution site after for Iraqi security officials, including 50 police officers killed there. Locals tell the paper that the jihadist group would search for Iraqi security officials and behead family members if their original target couldn’t be found.
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