The Cable

Situation Report: Iran deal approaches; debate over new hostage strategy; NATO chief gets new powers; the Navy has a Windows problem; and lots more

By Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley The deal with the deal. The deadline to reach an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program is less than a week away, and the pressure is building on all sides to seal the deal before the game is up. FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson go deep in a ...

By Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley

The deal with the deal. The deadline to reach an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program is less than a week away, and the pressure is building on all sides to seal the deal before the game is up. FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson go deep in a new piece, digging into the diplomatic wrangling among members of the U.N. Security Council over veto power and “snap-back” provisions.

The six world powers negotiating with Tehran, known in diplo-speak as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany) want to create a joint commission with Iran where each country would have authority to raise concerns about any potential violations of the deal after one is struck. As part of that commission, the U.S. and European allies are seeking to “curtail Russia’s ability to block the U.N. Security Council’s ability to reimpose — or “snap back” — its sanctions on Iran if it breaches an accord placing strict limits on its ability to develop nuclear power.”

The thinking here goes that the weight of the commission would rest with its Western members, which would have four votes, while China, Russia, and Iran would combine for only three. Russia or China could always go to the Security Council seeking a resolution reversing the commission’s decision, but Washington could veto the measure.

No deal? As the June 30 deadline looms, fewer people on the home front are marching in lockstep with the negotiations. A group of President Barack Obama’s former top aides have written an open letter warning that the current deal, if approved, isn’t a good one. The group includes Dennis Ross, who oversaw Iran policy at the White House during Obama’s first term; former CIA chief (and the most famous general of our time) David Petraeus; Robert Einhorn, a State Department official who helped devise the sanctions against Iran; Gen. James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Gary Samore, Obama’s former chief adviser on nuclear policy.

New policy, same criticisms. As first reported by FP, the White House announced a new set of policies Wednesday guiding how it deals with Americans who have been taken hostage overseas, and how it works with their families back home. The changes would do several things: allow families to negotiate with the hostage takers without fear of prosecution from U.S. authorities, create a new government office to work with families of hostages, and implement new procedures to improve communication and coordination between the government and the families.

FP’s David Francis followed up Wednesday, reporting that the White House failed to go far enough to satisfy many in Congress or, more importantly, the families of the 30 Americans still held in captivity worldwide. By failing to create a so-called “hostage czar” at the National Security Council to serve as a point person leading efforts to free their loved ones, many of the families still feel their voices will continue to be unheard at the highest levels of power in Washington.

Marching days. The job of NATO Supreme Allied Commander has always been one of the most coveted positions among the U.S. military’s top brass, but the position might become even more important with a pending decision to grant the so-called SACEUR the power to move and use troops more quickly than ever before. Stars and Stripes reports from Brussels that current NATO military chief, Gen. Philip Breedlove, may have a longer leash to respond to threats amid a streamlined process to deploy troops from the alliance’s rapid reaction forces. It’s no surprise the move is prompted by Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in Ukraine and along NATO’s borders in recent months. Breedlove’s new authorities come on the heels of other recent moves, including stationing U.S. tanks, armor, and troops in eastern Europe, and increasing the alliance’s rapid reaction forces from 15,000 troops to as many as 40,000.

Welcome to the Situation Report, where we don’t expect to be given any new powers any time soon, but are always happy to see new items in our inbox with the lowdown on new think tank reports, NatSec events, tips or scooplets. As usual, you can pass them along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Iraq

Of all the things that bedevil the United States and its campaign in Iraq, a persistent and widespread conspiracy theory is doing real damage, reports the Wall Street Journal‘s Yaroslav Trofimov. The notion that the United States is not only not interested in defeating the Islamic State, but actively assisting it, is already a regular feature of Iranian propaganda in the region. But the theory also is taking hold among the Sunnis of Anbar province, who puzzle over how ineffective the U.S. has been in expelling the extremist group from their cities. At a time when many view a push to arm and recruit Iraq’s Sunnis as the way out of an apparent stalemate, the conspiracy theory could prove a stumbling block for the U.S. strategy going forward.

Syria

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) might not be pushing further south into the Islamic State’s capital in Syria. YPG forces backed by American airstrikes had surged south and captured Ain Issa earlier this week, a town just north of the Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa. But Reuters quotes a Kurdish Democratic Union Party official tamping down expectations that the YPG will go south for much farther. The wire service reads the comments as a suggestion that the YPG is skittish about the politics of a Kurdish group capturing predominantly Arab territory like the city of Raqqa.

Cyber

October 2001: Britney Spears releases her comeback album, Britney, Corky Romano fails to launch Chris Kattan into a post-Saturday Night Live career, and the operating system that the Navy currently uses to run command and control systems and connect to classified and unclassified networks is released. That’s right. The Navy just forked over $31 million to Microsoft because it’s still using Windows XP and needs the Redmond, Washington, software giant to continue supporting its systems. Most of the rest of the world ditched XP in April 2014, when the Microsoft officially retired the operating system for the wider market. But the Navy is paying Microsoft to make sure that the XP system continues to receive software updates, lest they fall prey to unpatched vulnerabilities discovered and exploited by hackers.

Peter W. Singer, war futurist and a fellow at the New America Foundation, has a new book coming out next week with former Wall Street Journal defense reporter and current Atlantic Council fellow August Cole — but this time, it’s a work of science fiction. Ghost Fleet packages their thoughts on what the next major war would look like and the geopolitics that could launch it. SitRep hasn’t had the chance to review the book yet, but Singer’s promotional teases foreshadow the story of a future throwdown with China, informed by a number of issues that defense geeks will find familiar. It’s complete with footnotes pointing out modern-day analogues for the scenarios the authors devised.

Think Tanked

Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace look at how the Islamic State has managed to make such inroads in Libya so quickly. They put much of the blame on infighting and disorganization among the members of Operation Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misrata forces, for the surge in the Islamic State’s fortunes.

Days after the National Security Council announced that it was kicking off a new plan to curb its growth — after having doubled in size from 200 to about 400 staffers since 2008 — the Center for a New American Security drops a new report, “Shaping the National Security Council for the Next President.” Written by several former NSC staffers, the recommendations for the next administration boil down to a few relatively simple points: presidential candidates need to start thinking about their NSC staff way before they take office, cut down on the number of mandatory meetings, and push decision-making down to lower levels so the higher-ups don’t have to focus on the day-to-day tactical issues. In other words, don’t micromanage.

Who’s Where When

9:00 a.m. Lt. Gen. David Halverson, commander, U.S. Army Installation Management Command, speaks at the Stimson Center for the rollout of a new report about K-12 education in military communities.

10:00 a.m. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, and Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld testify before the House Armed Services Committee on “Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st century.”

10:15 a.m. Frank A. Rose, assistant secretary of State for arms control, verification, and

compliance, speaks at The Atlantic Council’s “Global Missile Defense” conference.

12:00 p.m. Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre delivers the closing keynote address at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation symposium at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.

1:45 p.m. Also stopping by the Atlantic Council’s missile defense conference is Brian McKeon, the Defense Department’s principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

2:00 pm. Dr. Yisroel Brumer of the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation joins Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director, strategic systems programs, 20th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Jack Weinstein, and 8th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Richard Clark to testify at a House Armed Services Committee on the 2014 Defense Department nuclear enterprise review in the Rayburn House Office Building.

3:45 p.m. J. Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation at the Defense Department heads over to The Atlantic Council to speak at the conference, as well.

Big talk

The talking heads in Washington and New York were at it again yesterday after The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright penned a searing portrait of the families of five U.S. hostages in Syria — four of whom have been killed by their Islamic State captors. Wright followed the efforts of media mogul David Bradley — publisher of Atlantic Media — to work with the families to free their loved ones.

The question was why David Bradley’s own magazine, The Atlantic, didn’t run the story. A day before the story broke on Wednesday morning, Bradley sent an email to his staff explaining why they didn’t get the scoop, and Politico’s Dylan Byers has the details. After speaking with his top editorial staff, Bradley went ahead and asked himself, in his own email, “How did you come to the decision to cooperate with The New Yorker,” he wrote. “Really, David. The New Yorker?

“I decided it would be hard for our colleagues to author a story, in part, about me without a brilliant-red-flag of apparent conflict,” he wrote.  “And, as to The New Yorker, the decision was not so much to work with a particular magazine as it was to work with Lawrence Wright.”

Finally…

The U.S. Army is a listening organization, and it cares about your feelings. But it’s also not about to change. Unmoved by the groundswell in public opinion over the Confederate flag flapping above state capitals in several southern states following the heartbreaking South Carolina slaughter of nine African American churchgoers, Big Army says that there’s no discussion of changing the names of ten of its domestic bases named after Confederate generals.

“Every Army installation is named for a soldier who holds a place in our military history,” Brig. Gen. Malcolm Frost, the service’s top spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Accordingly, these historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies. It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division.” It’s widely believed the bases were named as a way to bring the defeated officers — and the troops that followed them — back into the Union’s fold after the Civil War.

 

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