Situation Report: The Hill shakes; Baiji close to falling; Kurds and Baghdad find common ground; and more
By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson Around and around. In what looks to be a big move in Washington’s revolving door process, Paul Juola is stepping down as Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense after more than 29 years in federal service, sources tell FP’s John Hudson. While there’s no word ...
By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson
By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson
Around and around. In what looks to be a big move in Washington’s revolving door process, Paul Juola is stepping down as Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense after more than 29 years in federal service, sources tell FP’s John Hudson. While there’s no word where he may be headed, as these things go, a senior defense industry job is most likely.
Juola’s replacement is Erin Conaton, who has worked as a defense and national security consultant, advising clients through her firm Conaton Strategies LLC. From March 2010 to December 2012, she served as Under Secretary of the Air Force and later as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Well, never mind. Just weeks ago, Defense Department leaders and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi all agreed that holding the oil refinery at Baiji was critical to Iraqi security. Turns out, they’re rethinking that assessment.
Now that Islamic State fighters have again punched through the perimeter of the facility, we’re being told that the refinery is actually “not strategically any more significant than any other piece of ground” in Iraq, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday, according to FP’s Paul McLeary. That represents a stark change in attitude from what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said as recently as April 16, when he called Baiji “a more strategic target,” than places like Ramadi, due to the necessity of oil to the Iraqi economy. “That’s why the focus right now is in fact on Baiji,” he said then.
Guns on the Roof. In what looks like it could be a significant breakthrough in Erbil-Baghdad relations, Kurdish regional government President Masoud Barzani on Wednesday backed off longheld demands that the U.S. directly supply arms to his northern Iraqi region, FP’s John Hudson writes.
Funny how the threat of the Islamic State tends to concentrate the mind, isn’t it?
The successive Shiite-led governments of Nouri al-Maliki and Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad have long been opposed to direct sales to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, arguing — not without reason — that the Kurds could use the weapons to break away from Iraq. The Kurds, meanwhile, accuse Baghdad of failing to distribute their share of U.S.-supplied weapons as they try to beat back the Islamic State. “The important point here is that Peshmerga get these weapons,” Barzani told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “How they will come and which way — that’s not as important.”
Well, that de-escalated quickly. The U.S. Navy has called it quits on its short-lived mission to “accompany” (not “escort” as Navy staffers are quick to remind us) U.S. and British commercial shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.
After shadowing a handful of ships through the Strait in recent days, in response to the Iranian seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris on the pretext of a decade-old cargo dispute, the USS Farragut and three American patrol boats have now peeled off from that mission. But they remain in the area, ready to help. In related news, reports out early this morning indicate Iran has let the ship and its crew go.
The days and the weather may change, but the Situation Report remains a constant. Right? Welcome to Thursday and another edition of the Situation Report. Have something to say? Try us at email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary
Around the Pentagon
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey will take to the press podium at the Pentagon some time this afternoon, we’re told. It’ll be the second time since Carter took the job in February that he’s held a press conference, and the first time since the White House announced the nomination of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford to succeed Dempsey on May 5.
In other Pentagon news, there’s talk in the press shop of taking class outside on Friday to watch about 70 WWII-era planes fly over Washington to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Since everyone wants to see the planes cruise by a few minutes after noon, public affairs staff are kicking around the idea of doing the usual 11:30 a.m. gaggle outside, so the press corps can see the show and get some much-needed fresh air away from our windowless little press room.
“A Defense Department audit has found that a number of Pentagon employees used their government credit cards to gamble and pay for “adult entertainment” — findings that are expected to lead department officials to issue stern new warnings,” reports Politico’s Bryan Bender.
President Obama plans to take advantage of the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting next week at Camp David to push a proposal to build a common ballistic missile defense system “that could act as a deterrent to a potentially nuclear armed Iran,” CNN’s Jim Acosta reports. A U.S. official told him that “the goal would be for the Gulf states to operate the missile defense system themselves, with the U.S. providing advisory and technical support.”
With the Islamic State’s claims of responsibility for Sunday’s shooting in Garland, Texas, still not verified, CNN’s Peter Bergen and David Sterman try to shed some light on the issue of why some Americans may feel compelled to join the group, or at least claim to.
Elsewhere in the Americas: As expected, Canada passed legislation today greatly “expanding spy powers,” as BBC reports, and enabling police to arrest and detain individuals without charge.
Tallying the human cost of conflict
Al-Jazeera reported Wednesday that 38 million people have been displaced by conflict around the globe, almost one third of which fled their homes this year. There are almost twice as many internally displaced persons as there are refugees, the report continues. More details can be found here.
In Nairobi, 75 people have died over four days of cattle raids. The Lebanon Daily Star reports: “In December, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said clashes were escalating due to harsh drought, as well as tensions sparked by the decentralisation of political power.”
Japan is sending Australia classified information about stealthy subs, according to the Japan Times. The move is an “unprecedented step signaling Tokyo’s intent to join competitive bidding to sell Canberra a fleet of stealth subs, said two Japanese officials familiar with the plan,” he paper reports.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China next week, Times of India reports. The agenda: the border dispute surrounding Tibet.
Yemen has sent a letter to the United Nations “urging” ground intervention to save the country. About 120 people died on Wednesday, Michelle Nichols writes for Reuters, including 40 who were fleeing on a boat that was struck by Houthi shells.
Russia blames Kiev for last year’s downing of the MH17 airliner! As Reuters reports, “An independent Russian newspaper on Wednesday published what it said was a report by Russian military engineers suggesting a Malaysian airliner shot down in Ukraine was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by Ukrainian forces.”
This is on the heels of an announcement that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be meeting with Putin in Moscow to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.