Situation Report: The politics of an Iran deal; numbers game in Syria; Taliban talks; a shrinking U.S. Army; Chechens in Ukraine; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Out of step. Even if the White House gets the deal with Tehran that it’s looking for, actually implementing the agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program will likely take a bruising fight on Capitol Hill. But while Republicans control the Hill, they aren’t the only hurdle that President Barack ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Out of step. Even if the White House gets the deal with Tehran that it’s looking for, actually implementing the agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program will likely take a bruising fight on Capitol Hill. But while Republicans control the Hill, they aren’t the only hurdle that President Barack Obama faces in getting a deal passed.
There are a handful of key Democrats in the House and Senate with long-standing ties to pro-Israel groups who are expected to face intense pressure to break with the president. They’ll also be pulled from the other side by antiwar groups and nonproliferation organizations that support a deal. FP’s John Hudson gets out ahead of the debate, running down the list of the top Dems to watch, led by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, should a deal emerge from the negotiations in Vienna.
Finally, agreement! In a related note, the New Yorker’s Robin Wright takes a look at the anti-deal movement in Tehran, and the contours of the discontent look pretty familiar. There are plenty of complaints over too much given away for too little in return, and legislation has been passed in the Iranian parliament — 213 votes to ten — forbidding foreign access to military and security sites, as well as to its nuclear scientists. Parliament also demands the right to review a deal and to ratify any potential inspections.
There and back again. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been a busy man this week, hosting the French defense minister and president Obama (separately) at the Pentagon, and heading up to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday to take his lumps from lawmakers eager to take shots at the president’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State.
Carter shocked the panel by admitting that despite the $500 million investment Congress signed off on last year, only 60 of the 7,000 “moderate” Syrian volunteers who have signed up to fight the Islamic State have made it through the hoops of the U.S.-led vetting process. Those 60 fighters represent a decline in the number that the Pentagon announced back in May, when there were 90 fighters in the training program. FP’s Paul McLeary notes that the training hasn’t been going so well in Iraq either, where 3,500 American troops are on the ground training about 2,600 Iraqis.
Scene setter. American and Chinese officials are sitting on the sidelines this week as reps from the Afghan government and Taliban meet in Islamabad for a new round of peace talks. Don’t be surprised by the presence of the Chinese — Beijing has been playing an expanding role in trying to broker a peace deal to end the Afghan civil war, and has hosted the two sides back at home more than once over the past year.
One wild card in a negotiating process already packed with wild cards could be the recent uptick in Islamic State activity in Afghanistan, as the group tries to gain ground against the Taliban. There are some fears that the introduction of the new jihadists will splinter factions within the Taliban, who are split between talking with Kabul, and doubling down on the fight.
Drawdown. We’ve known since 2013 that, thanks to postwar budget flattening, the U.S. Army was going to shrink. Just how much, however, has been uncertain. The USA Today has some details on how the Army plans to fall to 450,000 troops from the present 490,000 by the end of 2017. But it could go even lower — to 420,000 if sequestration remains in place. Sequestration is due to cut $500 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over 10 years, doubling already-planned cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act.
FP’s Dan De Luce points out that Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno and other top officers have said they can live with the reduction to 450,000, but have warned that any further troops cuts would have a devastating effect on the Army’s ability to respond to crises.
The Situation Report is working through this busy week of potential nuke deals, presidential drop ins at the Pentagon, and Army reduction blockbusters. Have anything noteworthy to share? Pass it along at email@example.com or send along a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
In an unexpected move, an untold number of Chechen fighters have joined the fight against pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and are serving on the front lines. The New York Times reports from Mariupol, a key seaport and industrial hub that the separatists have long had in their sights, that about 30 volunteer units of Chechen fighters are out in front of Ukrainian troops, who are manning secondary lines. “We like to fight the Russians,” said one Chechen, who refused to give his name. “We always fight the Russians.”
Everyone loves maps, and FP’s Elias Groll delivers in a post studying several maps of the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, showing where Kurdish forces have pushed Islamic State fighters out of territory they had previously captured — and why this is making the Turks, and some Syrian Arabs, nervous.
The AP has a terrifying look at the Islamic State’s “Inghemasiyoun,” Arabic for “those who immerse themselves.” They’re the ones who serve as the jihadi group’s shock troops, plunging headlong into battle strapped with suicide vests, having pledged to fight to the death.
America’s regulations on the export of sophisticated encryption technology are making it difficult to help European allies confront the threat of Russian electronic warfare. Russia has been investing in newer and better ways of jamming and eavesdropping on tactical radio communications. That’s left the U.S. in a bind as it tries to equip allies in the Baltic states since the systems which can best defend against Russian electronic warfare use forms of encryption that are against U.S. law to export.
Paris says that French special ops forces in Mali have killed Ali Ag Wadossene, a key operational leader in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Wadossene had been quietly released from prison back in December as part of a secret deal with the terrorist group in exchange for the freedom of a French citizen held by AQIM.
French authorities are on edge after a massive theft of explosives from a military base in the south of the country, raising fears they could be used in a terrorist attack. Prosecutors say they’re trying to find the “organized gang” responsible for stealing 40 grenades, detonators and plastic explosives from the Miramas base in Marseille. Following the terrorist attacks against the office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January and the recent Islamic State-inspired attack at a gas plant near Lyon, authorities worry the explosives could fuel further attacks.
Suspected U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan targeted fighters for Islamic State yesterday. The attacks killed between 25 to 49 people in Nangarhar province, which has been the scene of recent territorial gains by the group as it tries to secure a foothold against the Taliban.
As protests against a Russian company’s electricity price hikes in Armenia rattle the government there, Russia has ordered a snap check of its troops Kamkhud and Alagyaz in Armenia. The protests have made some in Russian officials nervous that the country could slip outside Russia’s political orbit as happened during the uprising in Ukraine. Outside Russia, the fear is that Russian troops could intervene in the political crisis using the same hybrid war techniques it used to annex Crimea and flow into parts of eastern Ukraine.
China might be in the market for a long range bomber, according to a recent article published in state-owned media. China Daily writes that officials at a recent meeting of military officials resolved that the country needed a bomber that could reach the “second island chain” from Japan to Taiwan in order to prevent the intervention of third party militaries. But don’t hold your breath for a long range Chinese bomber to pop up anytime soon. The publication’s deputy editor says he doubts the engineering challenges to build one “can be resolved within a short period of time.”
The Philippines is planning to increase defense spending over the long haul to confront the threat of China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in support of its territorial claims in the South China Sea. The plans approved by senior military officers call for $20 billion to be spent over the next 13 years. The money will be dedicated to buy diesel electric submarines as well as radar and missile systems.
The Carnegie Middle East Center dropped a new report Wednesday morning by visiting scholar Kheder Khaddour, “The Assad Regime’s Hold on the Syrian State,” which outlines how the dictator has guaranteed civilian support by ensuring that the state is the only resource to provide critical services, despite years of grinding war.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released a new study looking at “The 2015 National Security Strategy: Authorities, Changes, Issues for Congress.”
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Janine Davidson looks at five takeaways of the new National Military Strategy recently released by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.
And one more from CRS exploring “Iran’s Foreign Policy.”
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.