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: Why Jordanian spies hold the keys; John Allen to lead international effort; Is air power like casual sex?; Rosa Brooks: no more dumb wars, please; and a bit more.

  The Mouse that Roared: Spies inside tiny Jordan might quietly be the most important ones in the fight against the Islamic State. In coming days weeks and months, readers will learn more about the work of the mukhabarat, the Jordanian CIA, in the American fight against the IS. It’s had its share of misses, ...



The Mouse that Roared: Spies inside tiny Jordan might quietly be the most important ones in the fight against the Islamic State. In coming days weeks and months, readers will learn more about the work of the mukhabarat, the Jordanian CIA, in the American fight against the IS. It’s had its share of misses, like when it recommended that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency work with the Jordanian doctor who turned out to be a double agent working for al-Qaeda who then blew himself up at a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing nine, including seven American CIA officers and contractors. But despite that, the U.S.-Jordanian intel alliance is "strong and productive," our colleague at FP, Shane Harris writes this morning: "Barack Obama’s administration says that more than three dozen countries have pledged to join its new fight against the Islamic State, from Saudi Arabia, one of the region’s richest countries, to Egypt, one of its largest and best-armed. The most important help, though, could come from Jordan, one of the Middle East’s tiniest nations. But it’s not boots on the ground that Jordan will provide: It’s intelligence, gleaned from a network of spies and informants who have helped the Americans nab some of their worst enemies and, Washington hopes, will be able to do so again.

"Jordan played a key role in helping U.S. intelligence hunt down and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, according to former U.S. and Jordanian officials. Outside of Israel, Jordan’s intelligence service is widely seen as the most competent and the closest to U.S. intelligence organizations." More here.

John Allen will lead the effort to fight the Islamic State. AP’s Lita Baldor, who broke the story: "[Allen] will coordinate the broad international effort to battle the Islamic State militants, as the campaign against the extremist group ramps up and nations begin to determine what role each will play, U.S. officials said Thursday. Allen, who has been serving as a security adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, is expected to work with the nearly 40 nations around the world who have agreed to join the fight and help them coordinate what each will contribute, several officials told The Associated Press." More here.

Allen was the one who was thought to have most articulately framed the argument for why the U.S. should go after the Islamic State, for Defense One a couple weeks ago. Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell ("D-2!") did a quick piece on yesterday’s news that he would lead the international effort. Read that here.

The U.S. has gone after al-Qaeda and weakened it – but it’s never been eliminated. The WaPo’s Greg Miller on Page One quotes Charles Wald, the retired Air Force general who oversaw the start of the air war in Afghanistan in 2001 who said airstrikes will degrade the Islamic State, but: "We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime… "there isn’t going to be any time where we all of a sudden can declare victory. This is what the world is going to be like for us for a long time." Read the rest of here.

Unlike last time, Obama’s actually making a pitch to arm the Syrian rebels. FP’s John Hudson: "President Barack Obama has only a few days to convince lawmakers that a policy he’s long avoided is now crucial to combating the Islamic State: The large-scale training and equipping of Syrian rebels. The request, first debuted in a presidential speech at West Point on May 28, would authorize the Defense Department to equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition with arms and training at camps in Saudi Arabia. But because the administration showed little interest in lobbying lawmakers to support the plan after Obama unveiled it months ago, many in Congress are having trouble taking the administration’s renewed sales pitch at face value." More here.

Officials say that Obama hasn’t given a specific order to strike in Syria. McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef: "…although U.S. CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin has been granted the authority to expand the U.S. effort in Iraq to offensive operations, that authority has yet to be extended to Syria. Austin’s authority for Iraq operations was explicit in Obama’s national address Wednesday, the officials said, and official written authority, called an execution order, is expected to reach Austin from the Joint Chiefs of Staff sometime next week, a defense official told McClatchy." More here.

Air power = casual sex? Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "The reliance on air power has all of the attraction of casual sex: It seems to offer gratification but with very little commitment… We need to be wary of a strategy that puts emphasis on air power and air power alone." Shinkman’s story, here.

The president is desperate not to go it alone against the Islamic State, but he may not have any choice.  FP’s Colum Lynch and Elias Groll: "…Signing up allies to share the load of fighting in Iraq and potentially Syria would soften the political blow of returning to war, even though U.S. military planners are focused on an expanding air campaign and have no plans to send combat troops into either country." More here.

Full pager in the NYT today: the parents of Jim Foley announce the James W. Foley Legacy Fund. "The Fund’s foremost aim is to build a resource center for families of American hostages as they work to bring their loved ones home. Additionally, the fund also seeks to aid American journalists reporting from conflict zones and to promote quality educational opportunities for urban youth." Find out more at

Also noting – American War Generals, a new National Geographic Channel feature, airs Sunday night. It features Powell, Petraeus, Odierno, McMaster, McChrystal, McCaffrey, Keane, Flynn, Eikenberry, Clark and Casey. Described in the full-page ad in the WaPo this morning as "Raw. Real. Unfiltered: Unprecedented access to America’s military legends." More here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Developing story, two jets crash, one pilot missing in the Pacific – The Navy just announced that two F/A-18 Hornets from Carrier Air Wing 17 embarked on carrier USS Carl Vinson crashed at about 5:40pm local time today during flight ops in the western Pacific Ocean. Initial reports indicate the two fighters were assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 94 and 113. From the Navy: "One pilot was rapidly located and returned to Carl Vinson, and is currently receiving medical attention. Search efforts continue for the second pilot. The search for the second pilot includes guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley and helicopters assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 15 and Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 73. The two F/A-18C Hornets have not been recovered… The accident is under investigation."

Are drone attacks actually effective? A new CNA report out this morning and provided early to Situation Report offers a cost-benefit analysis. From CNA: "Drone strikes against individuals have become a heavily used tool in U.S. counterterrorism operations since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These targeted killing operations have been effective in many respects but they have simultaneously been highly controversial, and hence have sparked growing discussion about possible policy changes. This report presents an analytic framework for evaluating potential policy changes, and focuses on tactical military effectiveness and perceived legitimacy." Read the report here.

Who’s where when today – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey provide remarks at the farewell parade for Senator Carl Levin and Congressman McKeon at 9 a.m. at Summerall Field… Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work will attend the farewell parade for Senator Levin and Congressman McKeon…

Yesterday, Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, met in Budapest with Hungarian officials in the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Prime Minister’s office, and Parliament. The discussions focused on outcomes from last week’s NATO Summit in Wales, to include substantial security issues such as the Ukraine crisis and common efforts to address the ISIL threat.  

An Israeli delegation headed by Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz met in Washington with an American delegation led by Bill Burns yesterday. Deets from the State Department, here.

Arabs give tepid support to the U.S. fight against the Islamic State. The NYT’s Anne Barnard and David Kirkpatrick: "As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides." More here.

Wanna know more about how Obama’s speech played around the world? Nathaniel Sobel (his first full story in FP!): "An ‘outsourced’ war effort, a ‘foolish and dangerous’ policy that only Israel can be responsible for and that Turkey refuses to participate in. That’s a sampling of the reaction in the Middle East to President Barack Obama’s plans to widen his campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Thursday morning, the Middle East woke up to news that Obama expects their governments to sign up for as many as three years of airstrikes and military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The media reaction was decidedly mixed.

"Echoing Turkey’s opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Arab News reported that ‘Turkey will not allow a U.S.-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants.’

"Writing for the Turkish paper Hurriyet, veteran columnist Murat Yetkin accused the Obama administration of ‘outsourcing’ the war against the Islamic State and noted the president’s unwillingness to commit ground forces to the effort." More here.

The fight against ISIS raises fears that efforts to curb Iran will slip. The NYT’s David Sanger: "President Obama’s decision to engage in a lengthy battle to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria reorders the global priorities of his final years in office. The mystery is whether it will deprive him of the legacy he had once hoped would define his second term, or enhance it instead. Until now, Mr. Obama’s No. 1 priority in the Middle East has been clear: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." More here.

The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends survey, released earlier this week, shows a majority of Americans disapprove of Obama’s international policies. GMF: "…while a majority of Europeans approved [of Obama’s international policies], that number decreased five percentage points from 2013 (64% from 69%). Transatlantic Trends 2014 shows the most notable shift in opinion was in Germany, where 56% of respondents – a 20 percentage point drop from last year – retained a positive opinion of Obama’s international policies, while 38%, a 19 percentage point increase from 2013, disagreed." Read more here.

A Pentagon official won the GMF blog competition. This slipped through the cracks when it was announced last week but we’re sharing it just the same. Maya Malkani, the country director for Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the office of the Secretary of Defense, won a GMF blog competition on what else but "Transatlantic Cooperation" that was sponsored by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. Entrants, 49 in total, were asked to explain what the transatlantic relationship means to them and suggest ways to make it stronger. Out of the 49 entrants, 27 were selected to be used in the GMF blog. From GMF, on Malkani: "…Her blog post argues that governments and institutions like NATO must engage the next generation and actively articulate the value of transatlantic partnership." Read the winning post, here.

Other GMF news: Barry Lowenkron is to be appointed GMF’s new executive vice president and chief operating officer Nov. 3. More on that here.

Aaand… Kelsey Glover, who at one point was the media relations chief for the Afghan embassy in Washington, is now the public relations manager at GMF in DC.

Also: Former colleague and FP-er John Reed just joined Just Security as its managing editor. Just Security describes itself as an online forum for "rigorous analysis of U.S. national security law and policy." We guess beers on him next time, and congrats. Their release, here.

Al Qaeda’s control of Israel’s northern border has Jerusalem nostalgic for the days of Assad.  Andrew Tabler for FP: "…The biggest issue weighing on Israeli thinking on Syria is how to deter al-Nusra Front and jihadists in general. Israel’s experience with moderate forces in southern Syria — as demonstrated recently, when al-Nusra Front forced a captured Syrian rebel to divulge his Israeli contacts and meetings in a YouTube video — indicate they are qualitatively weaker than the jihadists. While online sources provide a good amount of information on jihadi leaders and their aspirations, far less is known about their military calculations. The constellation of military and Iranian-trained paramilitary groups that make up the Assad regime seem more predictable — they at least have the trappings of a state, however crippled, that Israel has dealt with indirectly for decades. Or as Israeli officials always lament: ‘At least there’s an address.’" More here.

Hamas opens the door to direct negotiations with Israel. Ha’aretz and the AP, here.

On the 13th anniversary of September 11, the United States is once again preparing for war. Stephen Carlson for Task and Purpose: "…American troops are leaving Afghanistan, after billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost. What will happen afterward is uncertain to say the least. But I really have to wonder how many back home will even notice when it does happen. I wonder if that long peace from my childhood will ever come back. It’s the Islamic State’s time in the sun, in a war with no boundaries and no end in sight, and an American public ready to step back into the maelstrom." More here.

How Obama echoes Johnson. USC’s Philip Seib for Defense One, here.

From Lebanon’s Daily Star’s editorial titled "Better late than never:" "U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday night was long overdue for many in Syria and across the region, but it is better late than never and this new strategy to combat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq should be embraced by all countries across the region which are affected by similar terrorist mentalities." More here.

Extended Play –

For FP, Rosa Brooks on why we don’t need another dumb war but might be heading there anyways: "…I have a sinking feeling that what the United States is about to do in Syria may turn out to be another dumb war. How is it dumb? Let me count the ways. First: the Islamic State (IS) is an undeniably nasty group, but even the president admits that IS poses no immediate threat to the United States. Second, other actors may be better suited than the United States to combatting the regional threat IS poses. Third, U.S. military strikes against IS in Syria risk inspiring more new violent extremists than they kill, undermining long-term U.S. security interests. Fourth, our current fixation on IS also carries opportunity costs. Fifth, Obama’s willingness to embrace and expand George W. Bush’s doctrine of unilateral preventive self-defense is one more nail in the coffin of the fragile post-World War II collective security system." More here.

The president is right to be wary of putting troops on the ground in Iraq – but he’s wrong to rule it out, argues Jim Jeffrey for FP: "…Our fear of casualties, and even more of endless ‘armed nation building’ after Iraq and Afghanistan, have melted America’s will to employ what is justly known as ‘the combat arm of decision.’ Even President Bill Clinton, who chastened by the debacle in Somalia initially ruled out ground troops in the Balkan conflicts, went on to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers — stabilizing the region for now almost two decades." 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.

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.