The Cable

Situation Report: Team Obama in sell mode; F16s and MRAPs for Iraq; Cyber chief warns of coming attacks; OPM hack hits Pentagon messaging; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Team America. After President Barack Obama practically demanded reporters ask him more questions about the deal struck with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program during a White House press briefing on Wednesday, his team began to fan out to pitch the deal to the American public, and to ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Team America. After President Barack Obama practically demanded reporters ask him more questions about the deal struck with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program during a White House press briefing on Wednesday, his team began to fan out to pitch the deal to the American public, and to allies overseas.

Just hours after the president spoke, National Security Advisor Susan Rice sat down with Reuters to disclose that Defense Secretary Ash Carter would head to Saudi Arabia next week, a new leg of his previously scheduled trip to Israel. It’s a critical trip to assuage two important allies in the region, especially since the Israelis have made no secret of their dislike of the deal, months before the document was even finalized.

Out of bounds. During his press conference, Obama pushed back forcefully against critics who charge that the deal is flawed because it leaves four U.S. citizens in Iranian jails on a variety of vague or trumped-up charges, and fails to account for Tehran’s bankrolling of Hezbollah and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The president worked to set the parameters of the nuclear deal very narrowly, insisting that uncoupling all of those issues from the accord “is a matter of us making a determination of what is our priority,” FP’s Paul McLeary writes.

In fact, the president all but ruled out normalizing relations with Iran any time soon, FP’s Dan De Luce writes in a smart piece. Obama said that the nuclear “deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior. It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy.”

New game, new rules. But the Obama administration isn’t just in pitch mode. It’s also laying the groundwork for getting the deal approved by the U.S. Congress and the U.N. And with Capitol Hill pretty restless about the terms of the deal, there’s a move afoot to get a legally binding resolution through the Security Council before Congress get to vote on it.

FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson report that the decision to take the deal to the Security Council “places lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of potentially breaching a binding resolution by voting down the deal. The strategy has infuriated some Republican lawmakers, who see the administration making an end run around Congress.” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, circulated the legally binding draft to the 15-member Council on Monday. The 14-page resolution, obtained by Foreign Policy, is likely to be put to a vote by early next week.

The Situation Report is staying on top of the Iran debate, while keeping tabs on the rest of our messy, interesting world. Have anything noteworthy to share? Pass it along at or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.


Since Monday, the Iraqi government has taken ownership of quite a haul of advanced American military equipment. The first five F-16 fighter planes landed at Balad Air Base earlier this week, though despite a big reception when the Iraqi pilots finally touched down on Iraqi soil, there’s no word on when they’ll start putting warheads on Islamic State foreheads. Here’s a little video of the planes coming home to Balad.

Iraqi security forces also received a shipment of 30 new MaxxPro MRAPs with mine-roller attachments at Camp Taji. The United States has already sent hundreds of MRAPs to help Iraqi forces survive the Islamic State’s roadside bombs, despite the Iraqi Army’s penchant for losing their vehicles to the jihadist group. (Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi estimated earlier this year that his army lost 2,300 Humvees when entire divisions fled Mosul.) The latest sale comes courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, since it is being paid for with a part of the $1.6 billion Congress set aside to train and equip Iraqi forces.

The business of defense

In other F-16 news, South Korea is looking to pay Lockheed Martin $2.5 billion to upgrade its fleet of 134 fighter planes with new avionics, weapons and radars. The deal is a big one for Lockheed, since it had previously lost out on a similar competition to BAE in 2012. The Korean government had signaled its unhappiness with the BAE deal however, complaining that extra costs were being added to the bill.


Shocked by the recent hacks that targeted millions of federal workers’ personal data at the Office of Personnel Management? Get used to it, says NSA chief Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, because hackers are going to keep aiming for these kinds of attacks.. Speaking to an audience at the London Stock Exchange, Rogers offered the grim prediction, “we are in a world now where, despite your best efforts, you must prepare and assume that you will be penetrated.” He added, “it is not about if you will be penetrated, but when.”

That recent OPM hack of over 21 million personnel records has had another surprising side effect: it’s lengthened the time that it’s taking for SecDef Ash Carter to get his spokesman installed. A defense official confirms to SitRep that Carter’s guy, ex-Bloomberg TV anchor Peter Cook, has had his paperwork held up due to the hack. No word on when the situation will be resolved, but Carter has been without a spokesperson since early March, after then-Rear Admiral John Kirby was asked to step down. Kirby recovered nicely, as we all now, having retired and moved on over to the State Department.

Senator John McCain appears to be throwing a challenge flag on a new bid by a Chinese microchip company to purchase America’s last major chip manufacturer, Micron Technology. Concerns about supply chain security in the semiconductor industry are felt particularly deeply in the Defense Department, one of the largest single purchasers of semiconductors in the world. The Defense Science Board has stated that hacked chips in the supply chain could disrupt military hardware or be used for espionage. McCain urged a thorough review of the proposal, which must be ultimately be cleared by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. before approval.


Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar has released a message endorsing peace talks with the Afghan government in a posting to the Taliban’s website, timed for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Omar’s endorsement of the ‘legitimacy’ of talks with the Afghan government is significant in that the Taliban has preferred to engage only with the United States and not offer any implied legitimacy to the Afghan government.


France’s Interior Minister says the arrest of four terrorism suspects made during the country’s national holiday on Monday, thwarted a series of attacks on military sites. Authorities say the four suspects, young men in their teens in and 20s, were targeting a senior military official for an attack set to take place in January 2016. France has been on edge following a series of terrorist attacks recently, including the massacre at the offices of satirical cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo to an attack at a military base in the south of the country last month.


The first of a handful of Syrian rebels trained by the United States to take on the Islamic State in Syria have arrived in the country, according to a senior official speaking to the Washington Post. Pictures on social media also appear to show the rebels heading into Syria in Toyota pickup trucks. The troops are from the Free Syrian Army’s 30th division and are part of a half a billion dollar U.S. effort to train ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that has thus far yielded only about 60 volunteers.

Hezbollah troops fighting alongside the Syrian army are inching closer to control of the strategic town of Zabadani, as the two forces try to shore up Hezbollah’s lines of communications to the Assad regime. The capture of the city would mark a relative bright spot amid a series of recent battlefield setbacks for the Assad regime.


U.S. military checkpoints have been the scene of some tense encounters and gut wrenching tragic misunderstandings in recent years. During the height of the Iraq war, they were scene of almost daily violence, according to the International Red Cross. Now, the Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is using technology to try and cut down on lethal misunderstandings by using an escalating spectrum of non-lethal technology to get vehicles to stop as they approach checkpoints. The technologies include long-range acoustic devices to blast ear splitting noise, pain from the military’s microwave blaster, the Active Denial System, or electric shocks that jam the electronics in your car and bring it to a halt.

South China Sea

The Philippine government is reopening the Subic Bay naval base in order to offer its military greater access to the South China Sea, where Manilla is currently feuding with China over territorial disputes. Up until 1991, Subic Bay was home to a large U.S. naval base, later closed due to domestic political pressure once the post-war lease agreement with the Philippine government expired. But the construction of a new military facility there could provide access to U.S. warships once again, which have been making periodic stops in the bay during exercises with the Philippine military.

Who’s Where When

8:00 a.m. A group of U.S. Army and Army Reserve officers will speak at a morning-long forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, exploring how the Army will coordinate between its active duty and reserve components in the wake of funding and force cuts in the coming years. Among them will be Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of Army Reserve; Lt. Gen. Patrick Donahue II, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command; Maj. Gen. David Conboy, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command; and Robert Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense integration. Live stream here.

Think tanked

Earlier this year, the Institute for the Study of War ran a wargame taking a look at the Islamic State’s global strategy, and has now released it’s report. While the U.S.-led coalition is currently focused on the group mainly in Iraq and Syria, “the U.S. is vulnerable to strategic surprise resulting from ISIS’s external activity,” the think tank writes.

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