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Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Americans support airstrikes, less the president; Talking war over dinner at the WH; Hagel pushes reforms; Zal in trouble; Amid reforms at the VA, just call him Bob; and a bit more.

  By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Polls showing Americans support U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State helps Obama to make his case tomorrow. The beheadings of the two American journalists and the degree to which the threat to Americans has been hyped has pushed Americans to strongly support airstrikes against the militant group. While ...


By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Polls showing Americans support U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State helps Obama to make his case tomorrow. The beheadings of the two American journalists and the degree to which the threat to Americans has been hyped has pushed Americans to strongly support airstrikes against the militant group. While the actual threat IS poses to the U.S. homeland remains murky, more Americans appear ready for President Barack Obama to widen and deepen his strategy in Iraq and Syria.

The WaPo’s Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill on Page One: "Americans overwhelmingly view Islamic State terrorists as a serious threat to vital U.S. interests and, in a significant shift, widely support airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The nation’s increasingly hawkish mood will form part of the backdrop for a speech by President Obama on Wednesday, when he will outline his thinking on how to confront the threat from the Islamic State. Obama’s remarks will come a day after he confers with congressional leaders at the White House about the administration’s planning."

"Only 43 percent of Americans say he is a strong leader, the lowest reading since he entered the White House. Just over half the country says his presidency has been a failure, although partisanship colors that judgment.

"…His overall foreign policy ratings are his lowest yet in a Post-ABC News poll. A majority says the president is too cautious when it comes to international problems and specifically in dealing with Islamic State militants."

CNN’s Mark Preston: "Americans are increasingly concerned that ISIS represents a direct terror threat, fearful that ISIS agents are living in the United States, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll… The poll released Monday shows that Americans favor: Additional airstrikes against ISIS (76% favor, 23% oppose); Military aid to forces fighting ISIS (62% favor, 37% oppose); Providing humanitarian aid to people fleeing ISIS (83% favor, 16% oppose); U.S. targets ISIS fighters near Iraq’s second-largest dam. But a majority of Americans, 61%-38%, oppose placing U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Syria to combat the terrorist group." More here.

Hot potato: Congress wants a say in airstrikes – but would just love to wait until after the mid-terms to have it. FP’s Siobhán O’Grady: "No matter who’s running Capitol Hill, lawmakers always want to be consulted when a president is considering taking military action — until it’s politically inconvenient for them.

"…The spread of the Islamic State (also called ISIS) from Syria into Iraq and its significant territorial gains there have focused attention on a group that many analysts now view as more dangerous than al Qaeda. The executions of two American journalists further heightened calls to confront the Islamist extremists, roll back their gains in Iraq — and strike them in their Syrian home base." More here.

The BLUF of the WaPo’s editorial this morning, "Search and destroy": "…Mr. Obama begins to make his case to Congress and the nation Wednesday. In seeking their support for what may be the first long-term overseas war to begin entirely on his watch, the president should be utterly forthright about the risks of inaction but also about the potential costs of action. Only a clear-eyed president, backed by an informed people and their representatives, can lead the world in this crucial mission." More here.

Lawmakers approve a cabinet in Iraq, but two posts are empty. The NYT’s Kareem Fahim and Azam Ahmed: "Iraqi lawmakers approved a new power-sharing government led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi late Monday. But they left the two most divisive security posts unfilled, potentially extending a contentious debate even as American officials prepared a new campaign of military support for the Baghdad administration." More here.

Iraq Forms New Cabinet under Abadi. John Lee for Iraq’s Iraq Business News, here.

Zal in hot water: Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad faces a probe into money laundering led by Austrian authorities. Bloomberg’s Jonathan Tirone: "…Khalilzad, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, allegedly transferred $1.4 million to his wife’s bank account in Vienna, Austrian magazine Profil reported today, citing court documents. The money came from oil and building contracts in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates that allegedly violated U.S. laws, U.S. investigators told their Austrian counterparts, according to the papers cited by Profil." More here.

More on Iraq below.

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The White House is socializing its plans to combat the Islamic State, hosting influencers and others to hear about its plans. Last night, he invited a number of folks to the White House. The NYT’s Mark Lander on the dinner: "In an effort to win over elite opinion before a speech to the nation this week on Iraq and Syria, President Obama played host at a White House dinner on Monday evening for a bipartisan group of prominent foreign policy experts… But the purpose of the gathering seemed more for Mr. Obama to give his guests, several of whom are fixtures on television talk shows and op-ed pages, a preview of the plan for confronting the threat from the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a plan he has promised to reveal on Wednesday." More here.

Who came? From the administration: Biden, Kerry, Blinken, Podesta, Phil Gordon, Suzy George. From the outside world: Berger, Brzezinski, Donilon, Flournoy, Haass, Hadley, Harman, Talbott. But, where were the operators, or the former mil-types, or the hardened critics who might handicap the White House’s plans?

McDonald launches a 100-day VA reform plan. Military Times’ Leo Shane III: "Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald said the recurring complaint he heard during a month-long listening tour across America is that his department’s culture is still too closed and unfriendly. To counter that, he has been giving out his personal cell phone and email at every stop – to lawmakers, media members, employees, and large groups of frustrated veterans.

"…Monday’s event was the official launch of VA’s new ‘Road to Veterans Day’ initiative, a push to reform and rebrand the department in McDonald’s first 100 days in office. The moves include internal reforms in how things like inter-office communications and appointment scheduling are handled, and outreach to community leaders to help with recruiting new workers and fixing future problems." More here.

Want Bob McDonald’s cellphone number? Here it is. For all of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s qualities, public outreach and accessibility was decidedly not one of them. But the new VA Secretary approaches things a little differently. The WaPo’s Al Kamen: " New Secretary Robert McDonald’s cellphone number is: 513-509-8454. And whatever, you do, call him Bob. Not Robert, not Bobby. Just Bob. Our colleague Emily Wax-Thibodeaux asked him for the number at a news conference Monday, and, with cameras rolling, he gave it out. That’s unusual, if not unprecedented, in a town where government PR staffs vet all calls and interview requests, often through a process that can take weeks." ‘Call me Bob,’ he said, drawing a pyramid on the back of a placard that put veterans at the top and himself at the bottom. ‘I’m Bob. We want an organization where everyone is called by the first name.’ More here.

Hagel will continue to push for Pentagon reforms amid global threats. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he plans to forge ahead with bureaucratic Pentagon reform initiatives despite the uptick of global threats and military activities in recent months.

Hagel yesterday in a briefing with reporters: "There are probably another half-dozen reforms that we will continue to put high priorities on." More here.

The Pentagon is sending a 25-bed hospital to Ebola-stricken Monrovia. FP’s Kate Brannen: "On Sunday President Barack Obama raised expectations that the U.S. military will help fight the deadly Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa. But on Monday the Pentagon said it is merely filling a request for one field-deployable, 25-bed hospital — a drop in the bucket toward stemming the epidemic, according to experts.

"The Pentagon will send the hospital to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the country hardest hit by Ebola. The U.S. military will set up the hospital, stockpile it, and then hand it over to the Liberian government to operate, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said at the Pentagon Monday.

Sophie Delaunay, the executive director of MSF in the United States: "More beds are very useful but what would be even more useful is if the United States sent experts who could run these facilities." More here.

Who’s where when today – Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia meets with the USA Women’s Basketball Team at the Naval Academy Gymnasium in Annapolis… Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Alan F. Estevez testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on "Oversight of Federal Programs for Equipping State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies"… Defense Information Systems Agency Chief Technology Officer David Mihelcic participates in a panel discussion on "The Internet of Things: The Convergence of Cloud, Big Data, and Mobile" at the NextGov Prime Conference Gov2020 in the Ronald Reagan Building in DC… Director, Office of Small Business Programs Andre Gudger delivers the keynote at the National Defense Industrial Association Small Business Conference… Program Executive Officer, Joint Strike Fighter Program, Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan participates in a panel discussion at the National Defense Industrial Association Small Business Conference… Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco traveled to Saudi Arabia and Jordan from September 7 – 8.

Grad rockets are falling and the cease-fire in Ukraine is crumbling. Alec Luhn from Ukraine for FP: "Heavy machine-gun fire rang out on Sunday morning from inside Donetsk airport, which is held by Ukrainian government forces and has been the scene of intense fighting over the past four months. Shortly after came a dozen low booms of artillery fire, most likely Grad incendiary rockets. These were the sounds of Friday’s cease-fire between Kiev and Russia-backed rebels falling apart. In further evidence of the cease-fire’s debility, homes were burning in the village of Spartak next to the airport after being shelled." More here.

Congress may not have time for Ukraine’s president. FP’s John Hudson: "A push to invite embattled Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to speak before a joint session of Congress in September may fall victim to a scheduling conflict caused by the midterm elections.

"On Monday, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged House Speaker John Boehner to invite Poroshenko to address the two chambers, viewed as the highest honor Congress can bestow on a foreign leader. But while the proposal is still under review, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says it may be impossible to accommodate Ukraine’s leader because the speaker is likely to truncate the House’s pre-election session." More here.

The Kurds Agree to a new Iraq government, opening door to US war strategy. The story from Kurdish media outlet Rudaw: "Embattled Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds cobbled together a last-minute government on Monday, as Washington said it needed an administration in place immediately before stepping up its role in the war." More here.

ISIS is filling its war chest with millions of dollars by smuggling thousands of tons of oil into Turkey. Thomas Seibert for the Daily Beast: "The lifeblood of the death-dealing Islamic State is diesel fuel. And the group widely known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL is filling its war chest with millions of dollars earned by smuggling thousands of tons of this black gold into neighboring Turkey, according to independent analysts and Turkish opposition leaders.

"Remember, Turkey is a member of NATO, and could and should be the key member of the U.S.-led 10-nation coalition that was formed last week at the NATO summit in Wales to fight ISIS. It has almost 650,000 men and women under arms. It borders ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, where the black flags of the so-called ‘caliphate’ are visible from the Turkish side of the fence. It has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees, and it is less than 100 miles from the de-facto ISIS capital, Mosul, where 49 Turkish citizens, including several diplomats, have been held hostage since June." More here.

Israel’s defense minister says that Turkey is openly supporting terrorism. The Times of Israel’s story here.

A Western diplomat: Israel provides intelligence on Islamic State. Reuters’ Dan Williams in Jerusalem: "Israel has provided satellite imagery and other intelligence in support of the U.S.-led aerial campaign against Islamic State in Iraq, a Western diplomat said on Monday. Once ‘scrubbed’ of evidence of its Israeli origin, the information has often been shared by Washington with Arab and Turkish allies, the diplomat said." More here.

Extended Play – (where we let the words flow a bit longer at the bottom)

In Iraq, the Kurds are a key part of Obama’s strategy against Islamic State. The WSJ’s Joe Parkinson and Adam Entous: "The anti-Islamic State strategy the U.S. is developing first began to take shape a month ago after a series of increasingly urgent phone calls from this Kurdish city.

"In one, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani told Vice President Joe Biden the jihadists were within 25 miles of Erbil, which is both the capital of the Kurdish region and home to U.S. military, intelligence, diplomatic and corporate offices. The message: Unless the U.S. stepped in, Erbil could fall in days.

"‘Something in Barzani’s voice made [Mr. Biden] think, ‘We need to do something here,” said a U.S. official describing the call, which Kurdish officials also confirmed.

"Later that day, President Barack Obama, who had long resisted pressure from the government in Baghdad to help fight the Islamic State menace, authorized airstrikes on the militants approaching Erbil. He also approved both overt and covert programs to resupply the Kurdish fighters known as the Peshmerga against the jihadist threat spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

"The airstrike campaign spread this past weekend as the U.S. sought to stop jihadists threatening a dam on the Euphrates upriver from Baghdad. The administration also is seeking to form an international coalition to fight Islamic State, which Mr. Obama is expected to elaborate on in a speech Wednesday. As the intense telephone contacts with Erbil a month ago show, the Kurds, a people with whom the U.S. has had a decadeslong but sometimes wary partnership, play a central role in U.S. plans to combat the jihadist threat." More here.


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