The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Situation Report: The $30B Iraq experiment; GOP debate guide; a bunch of new Joint Chiefs; armor pouring into Yemen; lasers are overrated; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Under the big top. Is 2016 going to be a national security election? We’ll all get a glimpse on Thursday night when 10 lucky GOP contenders take the stage for a two hour debate that will be watched by literally hundreds of Americans outside of the metro Washington area. ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Under the big top. Is 2016 going to be a national security election? We’ll all get a glimpse on Thursday night when 10 lucky GOP contenders take the stage for a two hour debate that will be watched by literally hundreds of Americans outside of the metro Washington area. While 17 hopefuls have thrown their PACs into the race, only those in the top 10 in national polling have been invited to attend. That means Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich will get to mug for the cameras. FP’s Yochi Dreazen, Dan De Luce and John Hudson run down the five things to listen for in this first GOP debate, which will likely include more national security and foreign policy questions than anyone had expected just a few months ago.

New chiefs. There was no white puff of smoke, but there was a press release. On Tuesday, the Defense Department got three new Joint Chiefs of Staff when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to confirm the nominations of Gen. Mark Milley to be Chief of Staff of the Army, Adm. John Richardson to be Chief of Naval Operations, and Gen. Robert Neller to be Commandant of the Marine Corps. They’ll all take over in the coming weeks, as the current Chiefs wind down their tenures and get to work on their books and polishing up stump speeches for the lecture circuit.

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Under the big top. Is 2016 going to be a national security election? We’ll all get a glimpse on Thursday night when 10 lucky GOP contenders take the stage for a two hour debate that will be watched by literally hundreds of Americans outside of the metro Washington area. While 17 hopefuls have thrown their PACs into the race, only those in the top 10 in national polling have been invited to attend. That means Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich will get to mug for the cameras. FP’s Yochi Dreazen, Dan De Luce and John Hudson run down the five things to listen for in this first GOP debate, which will likely include more national security and foreign policy questions than anyone had expected just a few months ago.

New chiefs. There was no white puff of smoke, but there was a press release. On Tuesday, the Defense Department got three new Joint Chiefs of Staff when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to confirm the nominations of Gen. Mark Milley to be Chief of Staff of the Army, Adm. John Richardson to be Chief of Naval Operations, and Gen. Robert Neller to be Commandant of the Marine Corps. They’ll all take over in the coming weeks, as the current Chiefs wind down their tenures and get to work on their books and polishing up stump speeches for the lecture circuit.

Bankrupt on selling. Since January, the Pentagon has picked up the tab to ship almost 300 heavily armored MRAP vehicles and dozens of Humvees to an Iraqi Army struggling to find its feet after entire divisions broke and ran earlier this year in the face of the Islamic State.

The latest shipments of equipment are only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion that the American taxpayer has paid to train and equip — now for a second time in a decade — a force that has yet to really prove itself. From 2003 to 2011, the United States spent $25 billion to build a 400,000-strong Iraqi security force that today numbers (according to anyone’s best guess) in the tens of thousands. But that original $25 billion is old news, as the U.S. investment keeps growing.

After pulling combat troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011, Washington has spent almost $6 billion to retrain and equip the Iraqi Army.

For starters, the Defense Department spent $857 million to run the Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq out of the embassy in Baghdad between 2012 and 2014. The office, which kept a small U.S. military staff, focused on mentoring Iraqi military leadership and managing and planning weapons buys. There is also the $1.6 billion that Congress agreed to in 2015 for the Iraqi Train and Equip Fund, along with the $700 million that the Pentagon has requested for the fund training in the 2016 budget.

Add to that the $3.3 billion (or $9.4 million per day) that the Pentagon has paid since last August to fly strike missions over Iraq and Syria, as well as to house, feed, and provide security for the 3,500 U.S. military trainers in Iraq.

Some of those strike missions, of course, have involved bombing military equipment that the United States handed over the Iraqi forces. In total, American aircraft have bombed 336 Humvees captured by the Islamic State, which is only a small portion of the 2,300 Humvees that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the jihadists captured from Iraqi forces when they abandoned Mosul earlier this year. American aircraft have also hit 116 tanks, some of which are also American-made.

Despite the tens of billions spent on training hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops in the early 2000s, according to the latest numbers the U.S. Central Command provided to FP, there’s still plenty of work to do. A total of 11,100 Iraqi troops have gone through the newest U.S. training program in recent months, while another 3,000 are currently being run through the five U.S.-staffed training sites in Iraq.

We’re holding steady over here on the Situation Report desk, scanning laptops and phones for anything noteworthy or interesting to flag. If you see something we don’t, or think something is flying under the radar please pass it along: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com, or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Yemen

There has been no official word of troops and equipment from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. pouring into Yemen, but social media has never been wrong before, has it? Tweets and Facebook posts with pictures of Leclerc battle tanks from the U.A.E., American-made M-ATVs used by special forces troops from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., and other military vehicles most definitely not in the motor pools of Yemeni government troops have emerged over the past several days, as the fight appears to have turned against the Houthi rebels.

A top operative for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The world’s foremost terrorist bomb maker. Incisive media critic. Ibrahim al-Asiri really has it all going on. The bomb innovator is blasting Al Jazeera for the journalistic practices the network employed when putting together a documentary about him that claims his group had accepted money from the Yemeni government. FP’s Elias Groll read through a new translation of a statement al-Asiri released last month in which he asks how the network could “adopt an entire film from a single source.” How, he asks in a post he should’ve freelanced to the Columbia Journalism Review, “is this fair or professional?” The network, Asiri demands, “is not incapable to send someone who can investigate the truth himself.”

Afghanistan

Like middle aged men the world over, the new head of the Taliban has posted something on Facebook that he thinks you should take a look at. Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the Taliban’s chosen successor to the late Mullah Mohammed Omar, released his first statement since assuming leadership of the group. Experts say the statement, promising that “jihad will continue” and seeking consensus from colleagues, is likely aimed at consolidating his leadership. But it’s noteworthy that Mansour’s comments were published on social media, given the Taliban’s somewhat less enthusiastic embrace of the Internet relative to its militant Islamist peers.

The first female pilot in the Afghan Air Force, Niloofar Rahmani, has seen death threats, her family uprooted, her father losing his job, and her sister’s marriage collapse, all because she dared to learn to fly airplanes to help defend her country.

The Department of “Pew!”

Getting Congress and the Pentagon to fund laser weapons is hard sell, writes Sandra Irwin in a new piece for National Defense Magazine. The Navy has had some recent technical successes in developing laser prototypes that could one day do the work of missiles and artillery. But even the most ardent supporters on the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus are lamenting the legacy of skepticism wrought by the Reagan administration’s failed “Star Wars” program and the difficulties convincing Congressional colleagues of their value. Speaking at a recent conference on directed energy weapons, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall was tepid about their funding prospects, saying the budget was unlikely to increase in the near future.

Drones

Here come the dogfighting drones! Well, sort of. The Air Force’s Scientific Advisory board is recommending that the service arm MQ-9 Reaper drones and RQ-4 Global Hawks with air-to-air weapons. The report notes that drones have proved valuable in the uncontested airspace over conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, but would be ripe targets in a conflict with a more conventional adversary — which is pretty hard to argue with. An air-to-air role for American drones isn’t an entirely new idea. The Air Force very briefly armed the Predator with Stinger missiles in 2002 for flights over Iraq, but the air-to-air Predator didn’t fare especially well in its lone engagement against a pair of Iranian MiG-25.

Fast & Furious: Moscow Drift

Russia is hosting another annual International Tank Biathlon Championship at the moment and Tuesday’s competition brought footage of what happens when you try and pull a drift racing maneuver in an over 40 ton tank. Video from the event shows a Kuwaiti tank driver flipping his T-72 on its side after heading into a turn at high speed. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Iraq

The conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya have spawned more than their fair share of homebrew armored vehicles that look like leftovers from a Mad Max sequel. The Islamic State is no exception and we have lots of images showing some of the latest franken-vehicles. The jihadi group has up-armored captured Iraqi BTS-5B armored recovery vehicles — tracked battlefield tow trucks, essentially — and fitted them with machine guns to act as a kind of battering ram.

India

The Indian government has taken the surprising step of canceling its much-anticipated $12 billion fighter jet program, which was slated to go to France’s Dassault Aviation, and its Rafale fighter. In a hotly-contested race for the work, the Rafale had already beaten the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is manufactured by a consortium of three European companies, the American-made F-16, and F-18, the Swedish-made Gripen, and Russian MiG-35.

NATO

NATO is dialing back its air patrols over the Baltics, cutting the number of jets available for the missions from 16 down to eight. The airspace over the Baltics has been a tense place ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Russian fighter jets and bombers frequently buzzing their neighbors. But Lithuania’s Defence Minister told AFP that the cutbacks make sense given that Russia hasn’t recently violated neighboring airspace quite as much, requiring only occasional escorts.

Big spenders

Think of this one next time you hear complaints about dangerous cutbacks in defense spending. A recent Government Accountability Office report says that the Pentagon’s spending on strategic bombers is expected to skyrocket to a whopping $58 billion over the next ten years. That’ll be split between the Air Force’s new Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) on the one hand, and upgrading the B-2 bomber and the iconic (and still kicking) B-52 Stratofortress on the other. The competition for the LRS-B program — which should kick off later this month or early next — will eat up about $33 billion between now and 2024, while modernizing existing B-2s and B-52s should run another $24 billion.

Who’s where when

1:30 p.m. The United States Institute of Peace hosts “Beyond Afghanistan’s Dangerous Summer,” with the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dan Feldman.

Think tanked

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s David Ottaway has a new report, “Saudi Arabia’s ‘Terrorist’ Allies in Yemen” looking how the Kingdom has found itself in a surprising tactical alliance with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Muslim Brotherhood in its quest to crush the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, even though it has condemned both groups as terrorists.

Finally…

Everyone likes lists, and the good people staffing FP are no different. Thursday night is the curtain call for Jon Stewart as he is leaves The Daily Show, ending a long, 17-year run of hard-hitting interviews on foreign affairs. But we’ll always have the Internet, and FP’s David Francis runs down the five foreign policy-related interviews Stewart conducted that will live forever in cyberspace.

 

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