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: Peacekeepers might prevent history’s repeat in Iraq; All is not lost after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan; European unity on Russia begins to crack; and much more.

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat Peacekeepers might prevent the rise of another Islamic State. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State involves U.S.-led airstrikes and training Iraqi forces to retake captured territory. But the current crisis in Iraq and Syria proves missions to defeat extremism are neither short nor simple ones. After 11 ...

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

By David Francis with Sabine Muscat

Peacekeepers might prevent the rise of another Islamic State. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State involves U.S.-led airstrikes and training Iraqi forces to retake captured territory. But the current crisis in Iraq and Syria proves missions to defeat extremism are neither short nor simple ones. After 11 years, thousands of casualties, and billions of U.S. dollars spent, the United States is back in Iraq trying to clean up the mess it left in 2011. Creating a long-term peacekeeping force might be the only way to stop history from repeating itself.

FP’s Gopal Ratnam: “A major ground offensive against the militant group won’t be launched for several months. But experts say that in order to avoid a repeat of the American withdrawal in 2011, which allowed Iran to become a dominant power, thus marginalizing Sunnis and leading to the birth of the Islamic State, it’s time to plan for what comes after the militant group is defeated or sufficiently contained. One option gaining currency is an international force that can keep the region’s Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites at peace and prevent the breakup of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines.” More here.

More on the Islamic State below.

The U.S. troop withdrawal doesn’t spell doom for Afghanistan’s future. The recent surge in Taliban violence is fueling concerns that without American forces, Afghanistan could become another Iraq. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has joined a chorus of Republican voices calling for the American military to extend its stay. The Obama administration, however, is holding a firm line and insists its troops will leave as scheduled. This puts the future of Afghanistan in the hands of the Afghans, who aren’t condemned to fail.

Writing for Foreign Policy, James Stavridis: “The key to attaining a reasonably successful outcome will depend on three things: the determination of the Afghan people to continue the gains in education, health, women’s rights, and prosperity they have achieved in the last decade, free of the Taliban theocracy; the financing provided by the international community, notably to support the Afghan National Security Forces; and the political leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive (essentially prime minister) Abdullah Abdullah.” More here.

More on Afghanistan below.

European unity on Russian sanctions begins to crack. The European Union is in trouble. Its currency is at a nine-year low against the dollar. The very real possibility Greece could exit the euro zone is spooking global markets, which sold off dramatically yesterday. As fears of Russian financial contagion spread, a key European leader is calling for the West to back down.

The New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer: “Western nations should stop threatening Russia with new sanctions and instead offer to ease off on existing restrictions in exchange for progress in the peace process in Ukraine, President François Hollande of France said in an interview on Monday. Backing President Vladimir V. Putin into a corner will not work, he said, giving a high-level voice to what is seen as mounting sanctions fatigue among European politicians, as the Ukraine crisis lurches into a second year.” More here.

More on Russia below.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the Situation Report.

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Who’s Where When Today

9:00 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden hosts the second U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue meeting. 11:05 a.m. President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. 12:00 p.m. The 114th Congress convenes with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. 2:00 p.m. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby will conduct a briefing at the Pentagon. 5:00 p.m. Obama and Biden meet with outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The Associated Press’s Donna Cassata tells us what to watch for when Congress goes back to work today. More here.

What’s Moving Markets

Writing for Foreign Policy, Mark R. Kennedy on 2015 as the year of trade: “Pending trade agreements in both the Pacific and Europe offer the opportunity to strengthen each region’s commitment to the global order and boost our allies’ economic prospects, all while also enhancing America’s economic growth and job creation.” More here.

Reuters on the continuing drop in oil prices: “The selloff in global oil markets showed little signs of slowing in the new year, falling as much as 6 percent on Monday to their lowest since spring of 2009 as fears of a supply glut that vexed the market for the past six months deepened.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Daniel Altman on looming risks in 2015: “The European Central Bank didn’t do enough to stop deflation in the eurozone. The Japanese economy wasn’t saved by Abenomics. Forecasters didn’t stop lowering their predictions for China’s growth. And two of the conflicts with the potential to disrupt the global economy, in Ukraine and Syria, didn’t wind down; from an economic perspective, they probably became even more dangerous.” More here.

The New York Times’ Liz Alderman on Europe getting tough with Greece: “As a caustic election campaign in Greece revives fears that the country could leave the euro, European officials are taking an increasingly hard line toward Athens, saying they want to keep Greece in the single currency, though not at any cost.” More here.

Islamic State

The New York Times’ Tim Arango on U.S. soldiers returning to Iraq: “Now that American forces, in much smaller numbers, are returning to help the Iraqis confront the extremists of the Islamic State, they have found themselves reoccupying some of their old places. And they are excavating what feels like a slowly decaying time capsule as they discover the things they left behind.” More here.

The Atlantic’s Adam Chandler on the Islamic State’s vast fortunes: “What does the world’s ‘richest terrorist organization’ do with its growing revenue, a reported $250 million surplus, and a delusional-yet-existential need to establish some international legitimacy? How about start a bank?” More here.  

Reuters with details on new air strikes: “The U.S.-led coalition launched 20 more air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq on Sunday and Monday, targeting fighters for the militant group and hitting its crude oil operations.” More here.

The Anadolu Agency on a deal between the United States and Turkey: “Turkey is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United States on a ‘training and equipment program’ for Syrian opposition forces in January, diplomatic sources said on Monday.” More here.

Defense News’s Paul McLeary provides details on U.S. troops under fire. More here.

The Belfast Telegraph reports Kurdish forces retake sections of Kobani. More here.


The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable on an attack in Kabul: “A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into a European Union convoy on a busy boulevard in central Kabul on Monday, leaving one Afghan bystander dead and at least five wounded, police officials said.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, M.F. Moonzajer on sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan: “Despite important gains in the education and health sectors, unemployment is still the biggest challenge to economic growth and sustainable development.” More here.


The BBC’s Laurence Peter on Russia hiring foreign troops: “President Vladimir Putin issued a decree enabling foreigners to serve for at least five years in the Russian military — provided they speak Russian. More recruits from ex-Soviet Central Asian republics are expected.” More here.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis on proof of the deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington: “The evidence is increasingly strong that not only is Moscow routinely sending submarines within an arm’s length of the United States coastline, but that these submarines are deployed with nuclear-armed [submarine-launched cruise missiles].” More here.

The Associated Press’s John-Thor Dahlburg details NATO’s pivot back to Europe: “NATO is shifting its focus to Europe in 2015 and the creation of its new ultra-rapid-reaction force, designed as a deterrent to Russia.” More here.


The Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw and Gbenga Akingbule on Boko Haram’s hold on Nigeria: “Boko Haram’s weekend seizure of a Nigerian army outpost that was to serve as a command center for combating the Islamist insurgency offers another measure of how fast the country’s military is losing ground and how multinational efforts have stalled.” More here.

North Korea

From the Yonhap news agency: “South Korea and China on Monday reaffirmed their stance of zero tolerance toward North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and agreed to beef up their cooperation for regional peace, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller on a desperate move by the Palestinians at the International Criminal Court: “[E]ven though I don’t see the ICC move as being good for the Palestinians, I do see it making sense to the Palestinians.” More here.

The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren on the Palestinian statehood movement gaining momentum: “[T]he Palestinians have begun to translate a series of such symbolic steps, culminating in last week’s move to join the International Criminal Court, into a strategy that has begun to create pressure on Israel.” More here.

The Jerusalem Post on U.S. Congress’s role: “Punishments appear to be in store for Iran and the Palestinian Authority this month, as Republicans take the reins of Congress.” More here.


FP’s David Francis on new efforts to stop torture: “Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was the driving force behind the report that exposed America’s contentious post-9/11 spy secrets, including the use of torture and false claims that those practices led to actionable intelligence. Now, she is attempting to make sure that those so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are never again used by the United States.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, Steven A. Cook on the U.S. winning back Egypt: “[U]nlike Iraq, where the United States has deployed 3,000 soldiers and has been pummeling the Islamic State with almost continuous airstrikes, Egypt requires something entirely different from Washington to win its battle against the jihadists — money and trust.” More here.


The Associated Press’s Maggie Michael on Shiite rebels in Yemen helping Sunni al Qaeda militants: “Al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen is surging in strength, finding new support and recruits among the country’s Sunni tribesmen, in a backlash to drone strikes and the rise to power of Shiite rebels who have taken over the capital and other parts of the country, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials warn.” More here.


AFP on failed efforts to overthrow the Gambian government: “US-Gambian dual national Papa Faal and US resident Cherno Njie were arrested in the United States after they returned from Gambia, where they had travelled to help launch a 30 December coup attempt against President Yahya Jammeh’s government.” More here.

Boston Marathon Bomber Trial

The Guardian’s Nicky Woolf on the first day of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial: “His face remained impassive throughout the proceedings; it was impossible to detect in his bearing either remorse or its absence. When called upon to stand up, he did so slowly and awkwardly.” More here.


The New York Times’ Alison Smale on Germany’s largest anti-immigration rally to date in Dresden: “Defying appeals from an array of German institutions to stay away from anti-immigration rallies, some 18,000 people took part in a protest here on Monday, parading against what they call the Islamization of Europe and putting pressure on the authorities to defuse social tensions.” More here.


Writing for Foreign Policy, John Hannah calls for regime change in Iran: “Currently out of favor in many circles, regime change has a proven track record in helping put a number of bad actors out of the nuclear weapons business.” More here.

Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reports nuclear talks with the West will resume January 15. More here.


The Associated Press reports on setbacks in Mali: “Radical Islamic militants attacked a central Malian town early Monday, the closest they have struck to the capital since a French-led campaign forced them from power nearly two years ago.” More here.


The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe on the fading Ebola mission: “It has been more than three months since President Obama first ordered thousands of U.S. troops to West Africa to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus. That mission prompted everything from applause to outrage, but it has now moved to another phase: the quiet return home of troops.” More here.


The Washington Post’s Tina Griego on the tangled web between Cuba and its exiles: “In the complicated, sometimes violent, always emotional history of relations between the United States and Cuba, resides an obscure chapter about 55 young exiles. All were still children when they left Cuba in the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro took power. In 1977, they returned.” More here.

The New York Times’ Helene Cooper on Guantánamo Bay prison: “In a series of secret nighttime flights in the last two months, the Obama administration made more progress toward the president’s goal of emptying the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, than it had since 2009.” More here.

Revolving Door

The National Journal’s Dustin Volz on changes at the CIA: “The CIA’s internal watchdog will resign at the end of January, a departure that comes just months after his office found that the spy agency had improperly hacked into computers used by Senate staffers to investigate its Bush-era ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, the agency said Monday.” More here.

And finally, the Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper reports on White House spokesman Josh Earnest channeling his inner Bryce Harper. More here.

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