Situation Report
A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: Defining “destroy;” CAP: a blueprint for combatting ISIS; McConnell: Warren is like Dick Cheney; Will troops wear golf shoes?; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel On the eve of Sept. 11, tonight at 9, President Barack Obama will lay out his vision for combatting the Islamic State and thus the reluctant war president will take the nation back to war. The parameters of this newly expanded mission are still a little unclear, but generally ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

On the eve of Sept. 11, tonight at 9, President Barack Obama will lay out his vision for combatting the Islamic State and thus the reluctant war president will take the nation back to war. The parameters of this newly expanded mission are still a little unclear, but generally the plan will include more special operations forces, more airstrikes, and a "comprehensive" strategy to "destroy" the militant group. It’s also not clear the White House’s use of terms such as destroy and degrade – which have specific meaning within the U.S. military – are exactly what Obama is planning for. But we’ll see.

From the NSC this morning: "Tonight you will hear from the President how the United States will pursue a comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, including U.S. military action and support for the forces combating ISIL on the ground – both the opposition in Syria and a new, inclusive Iraqi government. The President will discuss how we are building a coalition of allies and partners in the region and in the broader international community to support our efforts, and will talk about how we work with the Congress as a partner in these efforts."

John Kerry just arrived in Baghdad. He’s commending the Iraqi government on its reincarnation and discussing, now that that new government has been formed, how the U.S. can assist Baghdad to combat the Islamic State that just weeks ago seemed ready to topple the capital city. BBC, here.

But is "destroying" the Islamic State even possible? FP’s Shane Harris (with an assist from FP’s Kate Brannen and a smaller one from Lubold) on Obama’s "mission impossible"  "…The United States has spent more than a decade trying to eliminate al Qaeda, but despite decimating the group, its fugitive leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains alive and the group’s offshoots operate in Mali, Yemen, Somalia, and a growing list of other countries. Israel has spent decades battling Hezbollah and Hamas, but the groups remain capable of launching large-scale combat operations like this past summer’s Gaza war. Destroying an organization means eradicating it for good, as the Allied powers did to the Nazi party in Germany during World War II, said Christopher Harmer, a former U.S. Navy officer and an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War.

Chris Harmer from the Institute for the Study of War to Harris: "If you use the word ‘destroy,’ you’re talking about a comprehensive military and political victory…And if the mission is to destroy [the Islamic State], what we’re doing now is wholly inadequate." Read the rest of this smart piece here.

The collapse of ISIS is imminent and inevitable – the question is: How will it happen? Quentin de Pimodan for the Research Institute for European and American Studies, here.

A blueprint for war: The Center for American Progress releases a report – exclusively to SitRep first, this morning – on how to combat the Islamic State. CAP’s Brian Katulis, Hardin Lang and Vikram Singh argue this morning that an "integrated strategy" must be used, a coalition must be formed, and the group can’t be eliminated by military action alone.

Their BLUF: "ISIS control of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria poses a clear threat to American interests and to stability across the Middle East. If unchecked, ISIS’s brutality, growing capacity, and recruitment of foreign fighters can significantly increase the risks of international terrorism. The United States can meet this threat in coalition with its allies and partners, but all involved parties must be prepared to pull their weight. ISIS can only be defeated by determined action from an international and regional coalition in which a broad range of countries decide that enough is enough and commit to a joint effort. U.S. leadership and engagement will be essential to the success of such an effort, which represents an opportunity to help bring greater stability to the region as a whole." Read the report, that just went live, here.

Will troops wear golf shoes? Tonight’s speech will raise questions about how President Obama will maintain his pledge to have no "boots on the ground" when naturally there will have to be some U.S. military personnel operating on the ground – there already are in Iraq – just maybe not conducting direct combat action. Still, Indianapolis Star cartoonist Gary Varvel’s recent cartoon showing two GIs changing their boots to golf shoes to maintain the pledge is apropos today. Click for that here. Or for more from him, click here.

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Ukraine says Russian withdrawing from the country, boosting chances for peace. Reuters this hour, here.

But back to Iraq –

Another poll, this one a WSJ/NBC poll, shows that almost two-thirds of Americans back attacking militants. The WSJ’s Janet Hook and Carol Lee bannered across Page One: "…a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll believe it is in the nation’s interest to confront the group, known as ISIS and as ISIL, which has swept through Syria and northern Iraq. Only 13% said action wasn’t in the national interest.

"The survey also found indications that more people were coming to believe the U.S. should play a more active role on the world stage, a shift from Journal/NBC surveys earlier this year that found war-weary Americans wanting to step back from foreign engagements. Asked what type of military response was appropriate, some 40% of those polled said action against ISIS should be limited to airstrikes and an additional 34% were willing to use both airstrikes and commit U.S. ground troops-a remarkable mood swing for an electorate that just a year ago recoiled at Mr. Obama’s proposal to launch airstrikes against Syria." More here.

The WH faces a series of hurdles for military operations in Syria. The NYT’s Mark Lander and Jonathan Weisman: "The White House is wrestling with a series of challenges in preparation for potential airstrikes in Syria, including how to train and equip a viable ground force and intervene without aiding President Bashar al-Assad, people briefed on the plans said Tuesday. As President Obama cobbles together a coalition of countries to fight the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, he is also encountering tensions from would-be partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are reluctant to battle ISIS too publicly." More here.

There’s more from that laptop recovered from an Islamic State safe house that FP had exclusively. Harald Doornbos and Jenna Moussa with an exclusive for FP: "The black Dell laptop found in an Islamic State safe house inside Syria not only contains instructions for how to weaponize the bubonic plague, it also includes thousands of files that provide a window into how would-be jihadists become radicalized, and how they learn to carry out their deadly craft.

"The laptop of Muhammed S., a Tunisian chemistry and physics student who joined the Islamic State, contains an eclectic mix of speeches by jihadi leaders, neo-Nazi screeds, and U.S. Army manuals on specific aspects of warfare. It also contains glimpses of the 24-year-old jihadist’s former life, showing that he once had a weakness for the music of Celine Dion and a desire to find a good recipe for banana mousse." More here.

As the push for war heats up in Congress, and the debate over authorities is front-and-center, McConnell says Elizabeth Warren sounds like "Dick Cheney." FP’s Hudson: "The top Senate Republican on Tuesday said President Barack Obama must seek congressional approval for his expanded military operation against the Islamic State militant group. The Senate minority leader noted that convincing lawmakers should be an easy task given the recent surge of ‘hawkish’ sentiment in Congress, including among some of its most liberal members.

Mitch McConnell: "When Elizabeth Warren begins to sound like Dick Cheney you know that there’s pretty broad bipartisan support here for dealing with this group of terrorists…The president should be seeking congressional approval period, for whatever he decides to do because that’s the way you hear from those of us who represent the rest of the country." More here.

The WH doesn’t believe that Sotloff was sold to ISIS. Reuters’ story: "The United States has no information indicating beheaded American journalist Steven Sotloff was ‘sold’ to Islamic State militants by moderate Syrian opposition rebels, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Tuesday." More here.

For Al Jazeera, New America’s Douglas Ollivant offers a four-point plan to defeat the Islamic State: "A comprehensive plan to defeat the IS must involve at least four factors: IS militants must be deprived of their haven in Syria; a coalition of willing local ground forces must be assembled; the U.S. must bring its key advantages in airpower, intelligence, planning and synchronization to bear; and the IS must be isolated physically, financially and ideologically." More here.

John McCain called for India to join an international coalition against the Islamic State. In a speech yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, McCain also called for the U.S. and India to develop together maritime capabilities, including aircraft carriers, and also wants a free trade agreement between the two countries.

McCain, on the U.S.-India strategic partnership: ""Too often, our relationship has felt like a laundry list of initiatives, some quite worthy, that amounts to no more than the sum of its parts. Too often, we have been overly driven by domestic politics and overly focused on extracting concessions from one another, rather than investing in one another’s success and defining priorities that can bring clarity and common purpose to our actions. In short, our strategic relationship has unfortunately devolved recently into a transactional one…"

And he also said this: "It is worth recalling this original sense of purpose in our partnership, because I fear we have lost much it in recent years. And there is blame on both sides."  Read what he said here.

Who’s where when today – Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Allyn delivers remarks at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare on Medicine Hot Topics at 7 a.m… Defense Information Systems Agency Chief Information Officer David Bennett delivers remarks on the perspectives of the risks associated with migrating data to the cloud at the MeriTalk’s 2014 Cloud Computing Brainstorming Forum at 2:45 p.m. at the Newseum… Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs Andrew C. Weber participates in a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event on the successful destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile and next steps at 3 p.m. at CSIS…

Meantime, as Dutch authorities release their report on the downing of MH17, the crash site remains unprotected and the locals are still in denial. Alec Luhn for FP, here.

Can Obama’s foreign policy be saved? FP’s Rothkopf: "… "The problem is that in seeking to sidestep the pitfalls that plagued Bush, Obama has inadvertently created his own. Yet unlike Bush, whose flaw-riddled first-term foreign policy was followed by important and not fully appreciated second-term course corrections, Obama seems steadfast in his resistance both to learning from his past errors and to managing his team so that future errors are prevented. It is hard to think of a recent president who has grown so little in office." More here.

The president is a superior terrorist hunter. He has also neutralized a profound existential threat to U.S. allies in the Middle East, and denied ISIS access to vast storehouses of deadly chemical weapons. So why does he get no credit? Jeffrey Goldberg for the Atlantic, here.

TIME’s Mark Thompson on Obama’s military options against ISIS, here.

Meantime, 35-year-old Iraq veteran Seth Moulton takes out Rep. John Tierney. The Daily Beast’s David Freedlander: "On Tuesday night, a longtime Democratic congressman lost his grip on the seat he had held for nearly two decades-and he may have saved the Democratic Party an embarrassing defeat.

"Rep. John Tierney, who was first elected to represent the North Shore of Massachusetts in 1996, conceded soon after polls closed to Seth Moulton, a 35-year-old Iraq War veteran and Harvard graduate. Although Tierney had won the backing of most of the national Democratic establishment, including President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, he had endured a series of scandals and was facing a likely defeat in the November general election to Richard Tisei, who is vying to be the first openly gay Republican to serve in the House of Representatives." More here.

In Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei undergoes surgery amid speculation over succession. Al-Awsat’s story: "Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei underwent prostate surgery on Monday, according to official reports. Although the operation was described as ‘routine,’ and was reported to have been successfully completed in less than 30 minutes, the announcement has fueled speculation among political commentators at home and abroad about his health and the identity of a possible successor.

"Iranian state TV broadcast a short interview with the 75-year-old cleric on Monday morning, apparently only minutes before he was operated on. The release of the news of his hospitalization was accompanied by the release of photos on Khamenei’s official website showing him lying in bed after the operation, receiving visits from senior officials including President Hassan Rouhani.

"…In the event of [Khamenei’s] death, a group known as the Assembly of Experts, comprised of 80 elected clerics, will appoint the new leader, according to Article 107 of the country’s constitution." More here.

Fiji says Syrian insurgents will release peacekeepers. The AP’s story, here.

Al-Qaeda has morphed into a new movement since 9/11. USA Today’s Oren Dorell: "The al-Qaeda that attacked the USA on 9/11 is not the same al-Qaeda the United States fights today. Once based in Afghanistan with a strong leader who ordered attacks on Western capitals, it has become a diffuse movement with offshoots that threaten nations across the Muslim world." More here.













Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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