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: GOP win could bolster Obama’s economic foreign policy; Big setback for U.S. strategy in Iraq; Continued fallout from U.S.-Israel rift; Eastern Ukraine builds ties to Russia; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Foreign policy issues could be on the verge of swinging Congress to the right. A day ahead of Congressional midterms, Democratic hopes for keeping the Senate are waning in light of Obama’s response to both the Islamic State and the West African Ebola outbreak. The conventional wisdom is that ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Foreign policy issues could be on the verge of swinging Congress to the right. A day ahead of Congressional midterms, Democratic hopes for keeping the Senate are waning in light of Obama’s response to both the Islamic State and the West African Ebola outbreak. The conventional wisdom is that a GOP victory would allow Senate Republicans to mount stronger challenges to the president’s foreign agenda.

However, could a GOP win bolster Obama’s economic foreign policy? From FP‘s John Hudson: "The administration is currently negotiating two proposed free-trade agreements with the European Union and key nations in the Asia-Pacific region: the cumbersomely named Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). …If the Senate flips, pro-trade Republicans will dominate key committees that deal with trade policy and relegate more protectionist Democrats to the minority. Unlike most other issues, Republicans are increasingly signaling a willingness to work with Obama to strengthen his negotiating position with partners overseas." More here.

A WSJ/NBC News poll shows that 46 percent of likely voters favor a Republican Congress, while 45 percent favor a Democratic one. More from The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Conner here.

The Military Times’ Leo Shane III on how troops are fed up with all politicians. More here. 

If the GOP wins the Senate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will become chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The Hill’s Vicki Needham Wrote Sunday that McCain could push for further investigations into the Benghazi attacks as well as for changes to Obama’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State. More here.

This strategy suffered a major blow this weekend, with The Washington Post’s Liz Sly reporting that U.S.-backed Syrian rebels were routed by the Islamic State. "Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected… Other moderate fighters were on the run…" More here.

More on the setback from McClatchy’s Roy Gutman and Mousab Alhamadee here.

From Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon in The New York Times, Iraqis plan new offensive against the Islamic State, "a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges." More here.

From The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and. Julian E. Barnes: U.S. spying on Syria yields bonus: Intelligence on Islamic State. More here.

According to The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogan and Eli Lake, the military is fed up with micromanagement in the fight against the Islamic State: "It’s been manic and obsessed with the tiniest of details. Officials talk of sudden and frequent meetings of the National Security Council and the so-called Principals Committee of top defense, intelligence, and foreign policy officials (an NSC and three PCs in one week this month); a barrage of questions from the NSC to the agencies that create mountains of paperwork for overworked staffers; and NSC insistence on deciding minor issues even at the operational level." More here.

All of this plays into Republican hands a day ahead of voting.

On Ebola, Obama had a brief reprieve, as the fight over quarantine became a conflict between civil liberties and state’s rights. More from FP’s Francis here.

However, this reprieve was short. Late Sunday, North Carolina public health officials announced that a person who had recently traveled to Liberia was being monitored for Ebola.

Whether or not the patient actually has the disease, this is a public relations disaster in a state when incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagen is running neck and neck with Republican challenger Thom Tillis. I spend my weekends in North Carolina, and for the last two days it’s been impossible to avoid advertisements critical of the White House response. Check The Cable later today for more on what this means for Democrats.

American U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power tried to assure Americans that the Ebola response is working. More from CBS News, here.

Maia de la Baume in The New York Times reports there’s a new Ebola case in Europe: a U.N. worker who treated the disease in Africa arrived in France for treatment. More here.

Liberia is experiencing a surge of Ebola cases. More from Al Jazeera here.  

As of Friday, there have been 13,567 cases; 7,728 of those have been confirmed, resulting in 4,960 deaths.

As rumors of a possible nuclear deal between the United States and Iran continue to circle, the fallout from an anonymous Obama administration official calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "a chickenshit" last week continued. Kerry called Netanyahu on Friday to apologize for the remark, and American officials said the two discussed ways to improve the relationship. However, it’s becoming increasingly hard to cover up the rifts in the U.S.-Israel relationship with reassurances of its strength alone.

Writing for FP, Steven Walt argues that it’s Obama, not Netanyahu, who’s soft for not saying what he really thinks about the special relationship between the two: "Instead of a real crisis, all we have here is evidence that some U.S. officials don’t think much of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and at least one of them used some salty language to explain his or her disregard…If this is a ‘crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations — as the Atlantic’s headline blares — it is surely an odd one. The United States is still giving a wealthy and powerful Israel several billion dollars of military and economic aid each year; it is still selling Israel some of the most advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal; and U.S. officials continue to provide diplomatic cover in the United Nations and other international forums. The United States even took Israel’s side when it pummeled Gaza again a few months back, despite official concerns about the wisdom and morality of Israel’s actions. And White House officials are now doing damage control by reaffirming the ‘effective partnership between the two countries and their leaders." More here.

In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg — the journalist who wrote the piece that opened the rift — argues that even Israel’s closest friends are abandoning it. "A lead editorial in The New York Jewish Week, the flagship American Jewish newspaper, center to center-right in orientation, with many thousands of Orthodox Jews among its readers and an ardently pro-Israel editorial line, bluntly asks whether the Israeli government has become unmoored from reality…The unease felt by some American Jews about Israel’s direction is moving into the mainstream." More here.

Avi Issacharoff in The Times of Israel on senior Israeli officials on how any deal between the United States and Iran is a bad one because Washington has given up much for little in return. More here.

There are new indications that a nuclear deal is not a sure thing. With Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif set to meet Nov. 9 in Vienna, The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reports that Iran "continues to stonewall United Nations weapons inspectors, complicating the Obama administration’s effort to forge a nuclear agreement with Tehran by a late-November deadline, according to U.S. and U.N. officials." More here.

Also, Iran’s Defense Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard Corps released a statement calling the United States the "the great Satan." More from the FARS New Agency here.

The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner on a hardline Israeli lawmaker’s visit to Jerusalem’s "most contested holy site with a police escort on Sunday, and a far-right minister reiterated a contentious call for Jews to be allowed to pray there." More here.  

Finally, Azriel Bermant argues in The Guardian that Israel’s hard line on settlements is undermining its objections to the Iran deal. "Netanyahu will not reach an accommodation with the Palestinians and refuses to halt settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so it is argued, because he is too afraid of his rightwing coalition rivals. However, this is a misleading reading of the situation: Netanyahu is deliberately building settlements in defiance of international opinion because he believes in it." More here. 

On to Ukraine. Controversial elections in Eastern Ukraine in defiance of the government in Kiev confirmed what was already known: Russian influence in the region far outweighs that of the Ukrainian government. The contest could be another step toward some kind of formal alliance between pro-Russia parts of Ukraine’s east. But the silver lining to the results is that Moscow and Kiev were able to come to a gas deal last week that will assure European supplies this winter.

However, FP’s Keith Johnson argues that the deal does little to solve the long-term crisis. "It’s not a long-term solution to the energy impasse. The deal guarantees Russian gas supplies for Ukraine through the end of the winter at a price roughly comparable to what other European customers pay. But Gazprom said that after March, it might charge more." More here.

One of the main reasons that the gas deal got done is that Russia needs European money just as much as Europe needs Russian gas. FP’s Jamila Trindle on the reasons for the dramatic steps the Russian Central Bank is taking to stem inflation. "Sanctions from the United States and Europe, a penalty for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military support of separatists in eastern Ukraine, have hurt the country’s growth prospects. Falling prices for oil, Russia’s main export, have also taken a toll. The central bank warned Friday that growth for the next two quarters will be near zero after just 0.2 percent growth in the third quarter this year." More here.

How much longer will Germany need Russian energy? Paul Hockenos, writing in FP, says that Germany’s backyard windmills and locally owned solar panels is revolutionizing the way the country consumes energy. "In just a dozen years, industrial-powerhouse Germany has replaced around 31 percent of its nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity with green power, produced overwhelmingly from moderately sized onshore wind, solar PV, hydro, and bio-energy installations." More here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of the Situation Report. If you’d like to be one of our subscribers, we’d love to have you. Send me a note at and we’ll sign you up. Like what you see? Tell a friend. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to me early. Follow me: @davidcfrancis. 

I’d also like to welcome Sabine Muscat to the Situation Report. Sabine and I worked together at the Financial Times Deutschland in 2009. She worked as the paper’s U.S. political correspondent from 2008 to 2012. Since 2013, she works for German TV station N24 and writes for German business monthly Capital as well as other English and German language publications. Sabine speaks fluent Chinese and worked as FTD’s Asia editor prior to coming to the United States. 

Who’s where when today: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon for and meeting with the Minister of National Defense of Tunisia Ghazi Jeribi at the Pentagon at 2 p.m. EDT. The cordon will be held on the steps of the Pentagon’s River Entrance…Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is traveling. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey has no public or open media events on his schedule…U.S. European Command Commander, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip M. Breedlove provides an update to the media on European Command and NATO at 9 a.m. EDT.

What’s moving markets today: Will two crashes in one week sink the private space travel industry? FP’s Francis: "Investors see private space travel as the market of the future. According to the Space Angels Network, an organization created to connect investors with entrepreneurs in the private space travel business, in 2012 the global space economy was valued at over $300 billion. The network says it is expected to grow to $600 billion by 2030." More here, and more on the cause of Virgin Galactic crash here.

The upcoming APEC summit in Beijing is an opportunity for China to reset its relations with the United States and its Asian neighbors, writes China expert Elizabeth Economy in The Diplomat. She thinks that joining the TPP trade talks will be high on the agenda for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with President Obama. More here.

The European Central Bank will start its new supervisory role of Europe’s 120 largest financial institutions today. This won’t be an easy task, as Bloomberg’s Jeff Black reports. More here.

U.N. Climate Change report blames economic and population growth for "unprecedented" increase in greenhouse emissions. Read the report here.

Revolving Door: Want to work at Lockheed Martin? The Washington Business Journal’s Jill R. Aitoro with Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson, on the five questions you’ll need to answer. More here.

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe interviewed "Matt Bissonnette, a Navy SEAL veteran who took part in the May 2, 2011, raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan…Also known as Mark Owen, his pen name, he remains under investigation by the federal government and under fire from fellow members of the Special Operations world for allegedly disclosing classified information in his bestselling 2012 book about the mission, ‘No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.’" More here.

FP’s Siobhán O’Grady on how the protests in Burkina Faso are fulfilling the vision of Thomas Sankara, the pan-African visionary nicknamed "Africa’s Ché Guevara." More here.

Writing in The Washington Post, Zachariah Mampilly on how the protests are part of a larger, ongoing wave of African protests. More here.

The Times of India on the suicide bomber who blew himself up and killed at least 52 while injuring some 200 at the Wagah border on outskirts of Lahore Sunday. "The explosion happened in the parking area of the Wagah border ahead of the security barrier at the end of a daily flag-lowering ceremony when people were moving back to their vehicles. The dead included 10 women, seven children and three officials of Punjab Rangers, a paramilitary force, stationed at Wagah Border." More here.

Defense One’s Molly O’Toole on how Congress is losing interest in Afghanistan oversight. More here.

The Pentagon trimmed its plans for the new Defense Clandestine Service due to a lack of funding from Congress, reports The Washington Post’s Greg Miller. More here.

And finally, "Saturday Night Live" takes on the Islamic State. Watch the skit here.



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