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: Obama Might Appoint Ebola Czar; Turkey Approves Drone Flights; UN Chief Slams Israel; Mistakes in Iraq; and much more?.

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel Ebola Panic Begins to Take Hold… Last night, President Obama said that he might appoint an Ebola czar to oversee the response to the spread of the disease. From NYT: President Obama raised the possibility on Thursday that he might appoint an "Ebola czar" to manage the government’s response ...

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

By David Francis with Nathaniel Sobel

Ebola Panic Begins to Take Hold… Last night, President Obama said that he might appoint an Ebola czar to oversee the response to the spread of the disease. From NYT: President Obama raised the possibility on Thursday that he might appoint an "Ebola czar" to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as anxiety grew over the air travel of an infected nurse. More here.

As I wrote Wednesday in FP, whether there’s an Ebola outbreak in the United States depends on you definition of outbreak. What’s clear is that the disease has the nation, and the market, spooked. I’ll have more later today on what the disease really means for the United States, but there’s no denying that it has everyone spooked.

Turkey approves U.S. drone flights to monitor the Islamic State. Military Times’ Brian Everstine: "Air Force drones in Turkey have reportedly received the OK to join the fight against the Islamic State. Incirlik Air Base is a joint U.S. and Turkish Air Force facility that is host to about 1,500 U.S. military members. The base is home to the 414th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, which has flown the MQ-1B Predator since the unit reactivated in 2011.

"The base has been a focal point of discussions between U.S. and Turkish officials, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying last week that the base would be key, along with helping to train and equip some moderate Syrian forces. Turkish officials have pressed for more U.S. involvement, including in setting up a no-fly zone and a safe haven near the border with Syria." More here.

Turkey is slowly getting on board with the fight. The fight for Kobani could still go either way. In the U.S., Ebola panic has distracted attention away from what’s happening in the Middle East. According to al Jazeera, U.S. airstrikes are turning the tide of the battle toward the U.S. alliance. More here.

Ban Ki-Moon finishes a week of criticism of Israel with more digs at the UN. My own work at FP: "A week of harsh criticism of Israel by Ban Ki-moon culminated at the United Nations Thursday, with Ban launching a fusillade at Tel Aviv, recounting the destruction he saw during his week-long trip to the Middle East. Ban’s continued criticism of Israel has frustrated officials in Tel Aviv, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who view them as overly harsh. Earlier this week, during a meeting with Ban, Netanyahu said that the U.N. was forgiving Hamas for using U.N. facilities as a front for attacks on Israel."

Israeli officials have appeared to be frustrated with the UN in recent weeks. Ban’s comments aren’t likely to do much to lessen this frustration. 

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What’s moving markets today…Will Europe Get Stimulus? Russia Under Pressure…Ebola Has Everyone Spooked.

Who’s where when today – Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III conducts a briefing on Operation Inherent Resolve in the Pentagon Briefing Room at 10:00 a.m… Secretary Hagel hosts an honor cordon and meeting in honor of Spain’s defense minister at the Pentagon at 3:00 p.m… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey delivers remarks at the annual USO Gala, honors USO Military Service Members of the Year, and thanks the USO for its continuing support of the military family at the Washington Hilton at 6:30 p.m…

Revolving Door: SIGAR’s Director of Public Affairs, Phil LaVelle, is headed to the Customs and Border Protection agency on Monday to lead their Office of Public Affairs as the new Assistant Commissioner.

Who’s going to replace Dep. Sec of State Bill Burns? A look at Tony Blinken and Wendy Sherman. FP’s John Hudson: "The race to succeed the nation’s No. 2 diplomat is pitting a senior White House official with close ties to the president but little experience at the State Department against a veteran Foggy Bottom hand respected within the department but unpopular on Capitol Hill According to multiple State Department sources, the top contenders to replace Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns are Tony Blinken, the president’s deputy national security adviser, and Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs. To a lesser extent, sources have also floated the possible appointment of Tom Shannon, the State Department’s counselor and a longtime Foreign Service officer.

"…The exit of Burns, who was instrumental in leading secret back channel talks with Iran on its nuclear program, will leave a significant void as the United States strives to complete a comprehensive agreement on restraining Tehran’s nuclear program by the Nov. 24 deadline." More here.

The Holocaust Museum in Washington opens a new exhibit of photos from Syria, echoing the effort to tell the world about Nazi atrocities.  FP’s O’Grady: "The photos are devastating: Warehouse rooms filled with the emaciated bodies of victims brutally scarred from torture tactics, their eyes gouged out and faces ripped apart. The diversity of the victims — men, women, and children, ranging in age from very young to quite old — has served as proof that those killed were starved, beaten, and abused in torture chambers, not killed on battlefields as the Assad regime has tried to assert. According to the most recent U.N. figures, 191,000 people have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict, and the true figure is probably much higher." More here.

Washington is making all its favorite mistakes in (another) Iraq war. For FP, Stephen Walt analyzes five mistakes the Obama administration is making:  1) Exaggerating the Threat 2) Squandering U.S. Leverage 3) Failing to Set Clear Priorities  4) Assuming Others Share Our Worldview and Our Interests 5) Overpromising and Underachieving. Full analysis, here.

This morning, the U.S. General in charge of anti-ISIS ops briefs the press at the Pentagon.  FP’s Kate Brannen: "Something surprisingly unusual will take place at the Pentagon Friday. The general directing U.S. operations against the Islamic State will brief reporters for the first time since U.S. bombs started falling on Iraq and Syria — and for the first time in his entire tenure overseeing the military command in charge of the Middle East. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, which also covers North Africa and Central Asia, has long been seen as one of the more silent generals, especially when compared to high-profile predecessors like David Petraeus. Austin’s morning press conference will be his first since taking his post in March.

But it won’t be lost on reporters that this is Austin’s first time in front of the press: "…While reporters have heard from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey over the last few months, there was growing frustration within the Pentagon press corps that they had yet to hear from the man directly in charge of the U.S. bombing campaign." Full story here.

On the outskirts of Baghdad, the Islamic State’s advances raise tensions. The WaPo’s Loveday Morris: "About 14 miles from Baghdad International Airport, a mortar shell landed with a thud. A second followed, closer, and then a third struck across the Iraqi army’s lines, as the Islamic State militants zeroed in on their target.

"The volley of mortar fire outside the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib this week was not unusual in itself; Islamic State fighters and the Iraqi army have regularly exchanged fire in this area for months. But now, officials worry that gains by the extremist group in neighboring Anbar province will provide momentum for an assault on the outskirts of the capital.

"…Despite U.S. and allied airstrikes intended to crush them, the Sunni extremists have been steadily consolidating power in the majority-Sunni province to the west. Islamic State fighters continued to advance Thursday, closing in on the Anbar town of Amriyat al-Fallujah, one of the last in the province still controlled by the government. Local officials begged the government to send reinforcements, warning that the town could be overrun in a matter of hours." More here.

Kerry says that the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal causes ‘humiliation’ and drives recruitment for the Islamic State. AFP’s story: "US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called for a resumption of the Israel-Palestinian peace process, saying the talks were vital in the fight against extremism.  ‘It is imperative that we find a way to get back to the negotiations,’ Kerry said at a State Department ceremony marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. Kerry has just returned from a tour of Europe and Egypt, where on Sunday he attended a conference on the reconstruction of Gaza, and where he told Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table." More here.

The US holds its first direct talks with the PYD. Rudaw’s Yerevan Saeed: "The United States held direct talks with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) for the first time over the weekend, US State Department spokesperson said on Thursday. ‘We have for some time had conversations through intermediaries with the PYD. We have engaged over the course of just last weekend with the PYD,’ Jen Psaki told reporters. The PYD is the dominant Kurdish party in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) led by Salih Muslim. Psaki said that the talks between the US government and PYD had taken place outside the region without providing further details. PYD’s armed wing, the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) has been locked in a fierce battle with Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobane for a month." More here.

The FBI director wants to change surveillance law to guarantee government access to personal info. FP’s Harris: "FBI Director James Comey is calling for a change in the law that would give the government even greater access to private information like emails and smartphone photos, a controversial proposal certain to add new fuel to the simmering debate over privacy rights in the digital age. At issue is a 20-year-old statute that requires telecommunications companies to build their systems so that they can be tapped should the government present the companies with a court order to hand over information.

"…In a speech at the Brookings Institution on Thursday, Comey for the first time called for a change in the existing law, known by the acronym CALEA, in order to keep the FBI and other law enforcement agencies from ‘going dark’ when investigating suspected criminals. Under the current regime, he said, there are cases where the authorities cannot get access to communications and other data, either because a company refuses to provide them or because the government lacks the technological equipment to conduct court-approved surveillance." More here.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s plane broke down on the way back from yesterday’s Iran talks – that’s gotta be a metaphor for something, right? FP’s Elias Groll on that, here.

Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi and Fredrick Dahl report from Vienna after talks on Iran nuke program ended yesterday: "Iran and the United States said they made some progress in high-level nuclear talks but much work remained to clinch a breakthrough deal by a late-November deadline. Both sides said they still aimed to meet the self-imposed Nov. 24 date, despite doubts among many experts that they can reach a full agreement to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program with just a few weeks remaining.

Still more talks to come: "Zarif said he would next meet Kerry and Ashton in three to four weeks’ time though not in Vienna, Iranian state television reported. Ashton coordinates talks with Iran on behalf of the six other countries involved, including the United States." More here.

Oil is cheaper-not cheap and that makes a big difference to its geopolitical impacts. FP’s Johnson: "Crude oil prices in New York and London kept falling early Thursday, Oct. 16, sending the price of oil back to those long-ago, halcyon days of 2010 and prompting an orgy of hand-wringing about how cheap oil spells doom and despair for everybody from Vladimir Putin to Texas wildcatters. But does it?

"Oil’s recent slide, from prices around $115 a barrel over the summer to the low $80s today, has unleashed a torrent of speculation about what it all means. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman imagines that the United States and Saudi Arabia are conspiring to cripple oil-dependent Russia and Iran; energy-industry advisor Nick Butler worries that the Saudis have lost control of the oil market; all sorts of folks are gaming out the decline and fall of petrocracies from the Persian Gulf to Maracaibo; and analysts are scratching their heads to figure out if and when falling prices will kill the U.S. oil boom. And if the United States does reach a deal with Iran on that country’s nuclear program and eases current restrictions on Iranian oil exports, that could push prices even lower.

"In reality, what has happened is that froth has come out of a pricey oil market that simply had too much supply chasing anemic demand in a wheezing global economy. Falling oil prices don’t necessarily mean cheap oil prices; in real-dollar terms, oil has only been this expensive for a half-dozen years or so since the end of the U.S. Civil War." More here.

North Korea has made a number of "intriguing gestures" on the issue of human rights recently – but should the world them seriously?  For SAIS’s 38 North, Brooking’s Roberta Cohen argues that there’s an opening, but with caveats, here.

Hagel is briefed on a new US surface ship, but hasn’t made a decision yet. Defense News’ Christopher Cavas: "The US Navy’s senior leadership briefed top Pentagon officials Oct. 6 on proposals for a new Small Surface Combatant (SSC), but no decisions have been made, said the US military’s top spokesman. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ‘appreciated the work and analysis the Navy did, the seriousness with which they took his tasking,’ Rear Adm. John Kirby said Thursday evening. ‘He knows how important a decision this is, for the Navy and the nation, for many years to come.’" More here.

Al Awsat’s Michel Abu Najm interviews Libya’s foreign minister, here.

From the Daily Beast: The Kardashian Look-Alike Trolling for Assad. More here.

And finally, FP’s Colum Lynch with some color that didn’t make it into his story that Venezuela is now on the UN Security Council. When they announced the Venezuela ambassador Samuel Moncada could be seen mouthing the phrase coño la madre. I’ll let you translate.

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