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: Dempsey Adds Fuel to the Ebola Fire; Has Ebola Paranoia Set In?; Global Events Rock Wall Street; Kobani on the Brink; and much more.

By David Francis and Nathaniel Sobel Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey changed the narrative on Ebola yesterday when he suggested, out of nowhere, that the virus could mutate and be transmitted though the air. In an interview with CNN yesterday, Dempsey said that the virus was much more dangerous that ...

By David Francis and Nathaniel Sobel

By David Francis and Nathaniel Sobel

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey changed the narrative on Ebola yesterday when he suggested, out of nowhere, that the virus could mutate and be transmitted though the air. In an interview with CNN yesterday, Dempsey said that the virus was much more dangerous that previously thought.

"If you bring two doctors who happen to have that specialty into a room, one will say, ‘No, there is no way it will ever become airborne, but it could mutate so it could be harder to discover," he told CNN. "Then it will be an extraordinarily serious problem," he said. "I don’t know who is right. I don’t want to take that chance, so I am taking it very seriously." Read more from my FP story here.

Dempsey’s comments capped a day where Ebola panic seemingly took hold. World markets fluctuated wildly, in part due to scares about Ebola. The CDC asked that people who flew on a flight with a newly infected patient earlier this week to contact them in what appears to be an attempt to track people who were exposed to the disease. I wrote about the panic and the affect on the market here. Meanwhile…

Amid heavy criticism, Obama tells the country to remain clam. "I want people to understand that the dangers of you contracting Ebola, the dangers of a serious outbreak in this country are extraordinary low, but we are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government," Obama said while flanked by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Obama postponed a campaign trip to the northeast in order to meet with the officials Wednesday afternoon.

"I want to use myself as an example, just so people have a since of the science here: I shook hands with, hugged and kissed, not just the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory (hospital in Atlanta) because of the valiant work they did," said Obama. "And I felt perfectly safe in doing so." More here, from NBC News.

White House officials say that eradicating the virus in west Africa is the key to defeating Ebola, but there are still many questions surrounding the deployment of U.S. troops to the region. Rules of engagement in a part of the world where violence is common have yet to be defined, and American troops are likely have a big bull’s-eye on their backs in a part of the world where Western troops are uncommon. How long will U.S. troops be there? Is their job simply to protect medical personnel working to stop the spread of the disease? The U.S. is putting troops in a messy part of the world, and it’s likely to be a messy mission. Whether it’s enough to stop the spread of the disease remains to be seen.   

Is the real Ebola problem paranoia? From NYT: Experts who study public psychology say the next few weeks will be crucial to containing mounting anxiety. "Officials will have to be very, very careful," said Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research, a nonprofit that studies public health and perceptions of threat. "Once trust starts to erode, the next time they tell you not to worry – you worry."

The risk of Ebola infection remains vanishingly small in this country. The virus is not airborne, not able to travel in the way that, say, measles or the SARS virus can. Close contact with a patient is required for transmission. Just one death from Ebola has occurred here, and medical care is light-years from that available in west Africa, where more than 4,400 people have died during the latest outbreak.

By contrast, in some years, the flu kills more than 30,000 people in the United States. Yet this causes little anxiety: Millions of people who could benefit from a flu shot do not get one. More here.

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Speaking of dialogue, your names for the operation in Iraq are much better than the one the administration came up with: Operation Inherent Resolve.

Who’s where when: – From DOD: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, 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.

What’s moving markets today… Yesterday, world events had markets spooked (read my story on it here). Today, "the global economy faces its biggest test of confidence since the European sovereign debt crisis as investors fear it’s running out of engines," according to Bloomberg. Concerns about growth in Japan and continued struggles in the Eurozone persist. China, once a driver on international growth, is starting to lag. Oil prices continue to plummet. European markets are down for the day – the 8th day in a row, the longest negative streak since 2003; expect another volatile day on U.S. markets.

The Washington Post asks if the market is correcting itself. For more than a year, Wall Street has appeared unstoppable, unfazed by a tepid economic recovery in the United States and a lingering recession in Europe. Workers watched their 401(k) retirement accounts grow even if their paychecks did not. The climb remained unchecked even as market skeptics warned that stocks were overvalued. Now analysts increasingly fear that the ride up is coming to an end and that Wall Street is at the beginning of a correction. "We’ve gone pretty much straight up for five years, and we were due, however painful it is to go through, for a bit of a correction," said John Canally, an investment strategist and economist at LPL Financial. More here.

Yet Germany continues to pretend that nothing is wrong and that the European market would correct itself. From Bloomberg: In a speech to lower-house lawmakers in Berlin today after a market rout that had echoes of the euro-area debt crisis, Merkel said the private sector is key to returning the region’s economy to strength and insisted that all members comply with debt and deficit limits. "We in Germany are showing that growth and investment can be strengthened without leaving the path of consolidation. It’s the business world and companies that create innovation and jobs, so if we want growth in Europe we have to look first and foremost at mobilizing private capital." More here.

FP’s Kate Brannen writes that the U.S. needs Turkey to beat IS, but Turkish help comes at a cost. The White House and its allies are pressing Turkey to join the military fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State as the terrorist organization continues fighting for a complete conquest of the Syrian border town of Kobani. But Turkey has drawn a line in the sand: Unless the United States and its coalition partners create a "buffer zone" along the Syrian-Turkish border, it’s planning to sit this one out. More here.

Japan Won’t Tolerate IS. From FP’s Hudson: Japan isn’t the first country that comes to mind when discussing the growing phenomenon of foreign fighters flocking to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group. But for top officials in Tokyo, the spread of Islamic State propaganda is a growing concern despite the country’s exceedingly small contribution of jihadist fighters to Iraq and Syria.

On Tuesday, the chief of staff of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force said Tokyo is taking measures to prevent citizens from traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State militant group and stepping up its humanitarian support in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

"Generally speaking, the Japanese people are not really deeply influenced by the Islamic religion or culture," Gen. Kiyofumi Iwata told Foreign Policy in an interview. "At the same time, I am concerned that the propaganda made by the Islamic State is very elaborate." More here.

More from FP: Gopal Ratnam on the White House wanting NATO to train Iraqi troops: The expanded retraining effort being proposed by the United States may require as many as 1,000 foreign trainers from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Australia to restore the beleaguered Iraqi security forces to a battle-ready state led by American advisors, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made. The United States already has about 1,500 advisors in the country, and Western European allies have signaled their ability to send hundreds of trainers each, the person said.

While Britain and France are participating in airstrikes against the Islamic State and Germany is supporting Kurdish rebels in Iraq, getting those countries’ parliaments to approve sending ground troops into a war zone to train Iraqi forces is likely to be enormously complicated politically given the war fatigue in Washington and other Western capitals. More here.

As the war in Afghanistan draws down, it’s time to wind down the war funding. Provided early to Situation Report, Lawrence Korb and Kate Blakeley with a new Center for American Progress report: "Rushing to add OCO money in response to the admittedly serious range of global crises, however, overlooks the fact that there is already substantial flexibility within already appropriated OCO funds to cover unexpected expenses. Beyond the immediate cries to increase defense spending to battle ISIS, the persistence of high OCO funding requests and appropriations is problematic. There is continued uncertainty about the stability and functionality of a unity government in Afghanistan and the timing of U.S. troop withdrawals. However, the FY 2015 OCO budget request of $53.6 billion for Afghanistan is a large request for what will become a small conflict as U.S. troops continue to draw down after the summer 2014 fighting season. Concerns have also been raised that some form of OCO funding will persist indefinitely, even after the war in Afghanistan concludes." The report goes live this afternoon, here.

The United States still hasn’t stopped trying to win unwinnable wars. Gordon Adams for FP, here.

The latest battle for Benghazi could decide the fate of Libya. Mohamed Eljarh for FP: "Two government officials in Cairo anonymously declared today that Egyptian warplanes have been bombing Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Shortly after that the spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency dismissed the reports as false. Just to make matters even more complicated, some reports are claiming that the planes in question are being flown by Libyan pilots.

"The reports of airstrikes come not long after a new bout of fighting broke out in Benghazi earlier today. The clashes started a few hours after a televised statement by ex-general Khalifa Haftar in which he vowed to capture the city from a coalition of Islamist groups called The Benghazi Shura Revolutionaries Council, which is dominated by the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia. Both sides are deploying artillery and other heavy weapons in the fighting. (So far airstrikes are being conducted only by Libyan air force units loyal to Haftar, with possible support from sympathizers in Egypt and elsewhere; the Benghazi Islamists have no air power.)" More here.

In Vienna, the U.S. toughens its stance in talks with Iran. The WSJ’s Jay Solomon: "U.S. officials said they weren’t seeking to extend nuclear negotiations with Iran beyond a Nov. 24 deadline, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart on Wednesday. The negotiations here were part of what is expected to be an intense final push for a comprehensive agreement between global powers and Tehran that seeks to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions. U.S. officials in Vienna said they were ‘chipping away’ on a draft of a final agreement but that significant gaps remained. More here.

A global drop in oil prices hits Russia and Iraq hard.   More here.

Are GWB Defenders Finally Vindicated? From FP’s Groll: Has the New York Times now managed to find the weapons the Bush administration so fruitlessly sought? That’s certainly how some defenders of Bush are reading a report in Wednesday’s Times that details the ways U.S. soldiers were exposed to Saddam’s old chemical weapons stocks. Those weapons turned up as improvised explosive devices and in rusting weapons depots, and now, reports of their existence are being treated as long-sought vindication for Bush’s rationale for war. Bush, supporters are now saying, was right after all.

But seeing Wednesday’s report, authored by veteran war correspondent C.J. Chivers, as the first cut of a more sympathetic history of the Bush administration’s march to war requires deliberately neglecting the nature of the weapons the White House sought to eliminate in Iraq. If Bush’s defenders are seeking vindication for the former president, they aren’t going to find it in today’s Times.

The Jerusalem Post reports that IS is on the run in Kobani. US-led air strikes have killed several hundred Islamic State fighters around the Syrian town of Kobani, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, but it cautioned that the town near Turkey’s border could still fall to the Sunni militant group. The US-led coalition has launched about 40 air strikes on the mainly Kurdish town of Kobani in the past 48 hours, the largest number since the strikes inside Syria began on Sept. 22 and illustrating the difficulty of staunching a nearly month-long Islamic State offensive on the town.

Special Forces, a key to Obama’s small war strategy, are burnt out. From Vocativ: Frustrations with the never-ending U.S. war on terror are mounting among the country’s elite fighting forces. These top-level troops-called special operations forces-are fraying at the edges after more than 13 years of near constant deployments, according to public comments by current and former leaders at the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Now, as the U.S. is poised to broaden its offensive against the Islamic State (better known as ISIS) in ways that will undoubtedly require a heavy presence of special operations forces, there are serious questions about whether waging a war without end is sustainable for these go-to fighters.

Special operations forces come from all branches of the military and include groups like Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, as well as Army Rangers and Marine Reconnaissance teams. Operators, as they’re called, are reportedly working in up to 80 countries on any given day, and they’re tasked with carrying out the military’s most secretive and specialized missions, including assassinations and training foreign troops-the chief job of the 300 special operations "advisers" President Obama sent to Iraq this summer.

But interviews with former operators point to troubling signs within special operations forces, and suggest that these units have been pushed too hard for too long, for military victories that are often fleeting. "These guys realize they’ve been fighting and dying out there-they’ve seen their friends die-and there’s been very little discernible return on investment," says Jack Murphy, a former Army Ranger. "It’s not like we liberated Holland and they threw a party for you like in World War II." More here.

And finally, today is the 50th anniversary of China’s first nuclear test, an event JFK predicted would be "historically the most significant and worst event" of the decade. Here’s a link to a story on how to deal with a nuclear China.

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