The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

FP’s Situation Report, presented by Lockheed Martin: U.S. is missing key allies in Islamic State fight; Putin remains defiant as Russian economy crumbles; North Korean cyberattack undermines Obama’s Cuba success; and much more.

By David Francis and Sabine Muscat The United States is missing key allies in its fight against the Islamic State. Some 1,500 American troops are preparing to deploy to the Middle East to retrain Iraqi security forces to fight the Islamic State next year. Turning Iraqis into a tribal fighting force of roughly 5,000, proficient ...

By David Francis and Sabine Muscat

By David Francis and Sabine Muscat

The United States is missing key allies in its fight against the Islamic State. Some 1,500 American troops are preparing to deploy to the Middle East to retrain Iraqi security forces to fight the Islamic State next year. Turning Iraqis into a tribal fighting force of roughly 5,000, proficient enough to retake territory held by the Islamic State, is one of three cornerstones of President Barack Obama’s strategy. But there’s a problem: The Sunni tribes and Syrian rebels aren’t ready for their American trainers.

FP’s Gopal Ratnam: “Efforts to establish such a tribal force has been slowed down because of many factors including distrust between the Sunni tribes and the Iraqi government of new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite.… Abadi told Hagel in a Dec. 9 meeting in Baghdad that some of the Sunni tribal group leaders in Anbar province that the United States wants to organize and equip into national guard brigades are not trustworthy.… The tribal leaders for their part don’t believe that Abadi will be any different than former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had a reputation for using the country’s security forces to pursue a strictly sectarian agenda.” More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

As his country’s economy edges toward collapse, Russian President Vladimir Putin remains defiant. In a three-hour long annual press conference Thursday, Putin refused to back down from the West. He dismissed EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s call for a change in attitude in Ukraine, even as EU officials prepare to ban investment in Crimea this weekend. Putin blamed Russia’s economic woes on a “perfect storm” of Western sanctions, low oil prices, and problems in the global economy. And while he assured his people that recovery was coming two years down the line, he offered them no concrete plans to fix Russia’s broken economy.

Reuters’s Timothy Heritage and Alexei Anishchuk: “The former KGB spy said Russia must diversify its economy to reduce dependence on oil, its major export and a key source of state income, but he gave no details and has said many times during 15 years in power that he will do this. The ruble slipped as he spoke, and was about 2 percent weaker against the dollar on the day.” More here.

More on Russia below.

Obama’s diplomatic success in Cuba comes as relations between the United States and North Korea take a turn for the worse. This week, as Obama moves to engage Cuba for the first time in decades, North Korea appears to be responsible for a 21st century cyberattack against Sony Pictures that the United States was unprepared for. As the White House builds its new relationship with Cuba, it is now searching for an effective way to retaliate against Pyongyang.

The New York Times’ David E. Sanger: “North Korea, in contrast, has escalated its confrontation with the United States, but in a far more innovative way than building nuclear weapons or firing off missiles. Instead, it has turned to a new tool — easily deniable cyberattacks — and so provoked the White House that a spokesman said on Thursday that the United States was looking for a ‘proportional response.’ But deterring cyberattacks from an isolated nation like North Korea is notoriously difficult — and in that battle, Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, not only won the first round, but still holds a few cards.” More here.    

More on Cuba and North Korea below.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

9:00 a.m. Brookings hosts a discussion on “China’s Reemergence as a Great Power: Comparing American and Japanese Perspectives.” 1:30 p.m. Obama holds his year-end press conference before heading off for his annual vacation in Hawaii. 2:00 p.m. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts the swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Ambassador-designate to India Rich Verma.

What’s Moving Markets

Writing for Foreign Policy, Andrew Scott Cooper on the Saudis undermining Iran: “There’s no doubt that shale has eroded Saudi Arabia’s ‘swing power’ as the world’s largest oil producer. But thanks to their pumping capacity, reserves, and stockpiles, the Saudis are still more than capable of crashing the oil markets — and willing to do so.” More here.

Handelsblatt’s Laura de la Motte and Frank Drost on a Russian economic collapse: “The consequences of a national bankruptcy could be especially serious for banks in France and Austria.” More here.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello on business opportunities in Cuba: “In the wake of President Obama’s historic decision to mend diplomatic ties with Cuba, U.S. businesses and potential tourists scrambled to figure out what new opportunities will be available on the island and to position themselves at the head of the line.” More here.

CNN’s Mark Thompson reports the Russia crisis has killed a big gas deal with Germany. More here.  

Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars reaches $1.6 trillion. More here.

Islamic State

The Guardian’s Ali Younes, Shiv Malik, Spencer Ackerman, and Mustafa Khalili on the assassination of Peter Kassig: “Emails seen by the Guardian show how tentative talks with the spiritual leadership of Isis to secure the release of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks, with the knowledge of the FBI.” More here.

The Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes on the deaths of three military leaders of the Islamic State: “U.S. military strikes between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9 killed Abd al Basit, the head of Islamic State’s military operations in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a key deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s top leader, officials said. In late November, another strike killed a mid-level commander, Radwin Talib, Islamic State’s ‘governor’ in Mosul, Iraq, officials said.” More here.

Al Jazeera on Kurdish gains around Mount Sinjar in Iraq: “More than 50 air strikes in recent days by coalition aircraft ‘have resulted in allowing those [Kurdish] forces to manoeuvre and regain approximately 100 square kilometres of ground’ near Sinjar, Lieutenant General James Terry, head of the US-led campaign against ISIL, told reporters on Thursday.” More here.


Bloomberg’s James G. Neuger and Volodymyr Verbyany on an EU split: “French President Francois Hollande floated the prospect of scaling back sanctions on Russia, becoming the first major European Union leader to offer to ease the Kremlin’s economic pain.” More here.

The South China Morning Post’s Terry Ng on China trying to help Russia out of its crisis: “Beijing was unlikely to send aid to Moscow, but it would boost infrastructure and investment projects to stop the collapse of the Russian economy.” More here.

North Korea

FP’s David Francis on the U.S. response to North Korea: “Cybersecurity experts said that the White House could order some kind of cyber retaliation against North Korea, although it remains unclear what form this could take or whether this would deter future hacks. North Korea has few private companies, so the only targets for potential U.S. retaliation would likely involve Pyongyang itself.” More here.

Politico’s Michael Hirsh on North Korea’s success in getting taken seriously after hacking Sony: “Now there is every reason to expect that the Kim family business — which until now has mainly consisted of ‘nuclear blackmail,’ as the Bush administration once called it — will expand dramatically into the more profitable territory of cyberspace.” More here.


The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael R. Gordon on forthcoming changes: “President Obama will move as soon as next month to defang the 54-year-old American trade embargo against Cuba, administration officials said Thursday, using broad executive power to defy critics in Congress and lift restrictions on travel, commerce and financial activities.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Javier Corrales on the historic change in U.S.-Cuban relations: “From the point of view of Cuba, the breakthrough was possible due to the unusual situation of a government in economic desperation while simultaneously feeling cocky politically. From the point of view of the United States, the agreement was reached because this is one of those rare issues where polarization has abated.” More here.

China’s Global Times on China as the model for Cuba’s opening: “Drawing on China’s experience, Havana has taken proactive measures to reform its domestic and foreign policies, laying the groundwork for the restoration of US-Cuba relations.” More here.


FP’s Colum Lynch on a possible U.S.-Israel rift at the U.N.: “The United States has long opposed a role for the U.N. Security Council in the Middle East peace process. Washington is particularly concerned that a Palestinian push to secure fresh U.N. pressure on Israel now could backfire, provoking a strong reaction from Israeli officials as they head into election season.” More here.


The Washington Post’s Tim Craig and Annie Gowen on Pakistan ending an execution moratorium: “The lifting of the moratorium comes after Taliban gunmen killed 148 students and teachers in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday.” More here.

The Los Angeles Times’ Shashank Bengali, Aoun Sahi, and Zulfiqar Ali on Pakistan’s anti-terror strategy: “The Pakistani Taliban, a federation of dozens of groups seeking to overthrow the government, are squarely in Islamabad’s ‘bad’ category. They have, however, forged close ties with other insurgents, such as the Afghan Taliban and anti-Indian groups, which operate from the same rugged border region, observe similar fundamentalist philosophies and sometimes share foot soldiers.” More here.

Dawn’s Amir Wasim on Pakistan’s political parties coming together to combat terrorism: “But ahead of this all-important meeting, there does not seem to be much optimism among some of the parties involved in the process, who say there is little chance of a major shift in the government’s approach towards the issue of militancy.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Ajmal Shams on baby steps between Afghanistan and Pakistan: “[A]ll eyes are on [Afghan Prime Minister Ashraf] Ghani, who has a rich background in economics and state-building, to re-define complicated ties with Pakistan. It is assumed that friendly relations with Pakistan — based on mutual cooperation and respect — will eventually lead to a lasting peace in Afghanistan since the mainstream Afghan leadership strongly believes in a causal relationship between the level of insurgency in Afghanistan and the degree of Pakistani hostility.” More here.  


Quartz’s Bobby Ghosh on why sanctions on Iran are different from those on Cuba: “Whatever the merits of easing the embargo on Cuba, any parallels with Iran begin and end here: both countries are run by tyrannical regimes that routinely oppress their own people. Beyond that, the two are very, very different — and the Obama administration’s approach to US sanctions should be, too.” More here.


The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff on Sierra Leone’s complicated Ebola response: “In Sierra Leone, war forms the silent backdrop to the country’s newest tragedy. It was war that destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, leaving behind a decrepit medical system. It drove away the doctors.” More here.

Reuters on a tragedy in Sierra Leone: “Sierra Leone’s leading doctor died of Ebola on Thursday, hours after the arrival in the country of an experimental drug that could have been used to treat him, the government’s chief medical officer said.” More here.

Boston Marathon Bombing

The BBC on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s first appearance in court since July 2013: “The final pre-trial hearing in the case was held in Boston ahead of jury selection for a federal trial, which is due to begin on 5 January.” More here.


The Daily Trust’s Hamza Idris on more kidnappings: “Gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram Sunday attacked Gumsuri, a village in Damboa LGA of Borno State where they killed 32 people and abducted 185 others, local officials and fleeing residents said.” More here.


The Wall Street Journal’s Doug Cameron on the Pentagon keeping up domestic and global support for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: “The lure of employment has helped the F-35 retain support among U.S. lawmakers and overseas customers, despite the troubled history of delays and cost overruns in the world’s costliest military program.” More here.

Air Force Cross

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reports pararescueman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz is awarded the Air Force Cross. More here.

Revolving Door

FP’s Simon Engler on Deputy CIA Director Avril Haines’s move to the White House: “The selection of Avril Haines to serve as deputy to National Security Advisor Susan Rice will put an Obama administration veteran with a long record in the intelligence and foreign-policy worlds into a powerful role.” More here.  

The Center for a New American Security today announced the addition of three new members of its board of directors: “General (Ret.) James Mattis, four star General, U.S. Marines, and former Commanding Officer of CENTCOM; Admiral (Ret.) Gary Roughead, a four star Admiral and former Chief of Naval Operations; and Tim Westergren, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Pandora Radio.” More here.

Farah Pandith, who served as the State Department’s first-ever special representative to Muslim communities, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tarja Halonen, who served two terms as president of Finland, has been named an Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.

And finally, the Associated Press’s Jake Coyle reports on theaters’ cancelled screenings of Team America: World Police, a 2004 puppet film depicting the assassination of Kim Jong Il. More here.

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