Situation Report: Selling the Iran deal; Chinese and Russian diplomats lobby the Hill; Iraq grinds on without Congressional approval; Syrian rebels missing; Baathists losing grip; and plenty more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Always. Be. Selling. As Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to express uncertainty over the upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear deal, an unexpected group of people has come to town to try and stiffen their spine. Diplomats from China, Russia, and other European allies have been sitting down with ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Always. Be. Selling. As Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to express uncertainty over the upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear deal, an unexpected group of people has come to town to try and stiffen their spine. Diplomats from China, Russia, and other European allies have been sitting down with top Democratic lawmakers to sell them on the pact, FP’s John Hudson reports.
“The prospect of the rejection of a deal makes us nervous,” Philipp Ackermann, the acting German ambassador to the United States, said Thursday. “It would be a nightmare for every European country if this is rejected.” Hudson’s story includes some great details of a closed-door meeting on the Hill with the international diplos and the Democrats.
Your problem, not ours. Debates like these aren’t really an issue on the other side of the political aisle. As expected, the ten Republican presidential hopefuls who took the stage last night for the first GOP debate of the election season practically fell over themselves to bash the Iran accord.
August surprise. One top Democrat who won’t back the deal is New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who issued a bombshell statement on Thursday saying, “I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.” So far, 12 Senate Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Senator Angus King of Maine, have thrown their support for the deal. FP’s John Hudson, as always, has a bit more.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is also working Tehran hard to push for the deal, delivering remarks on Iranian state television recently extolling the accord. “Today’s achievements are more than what was imagined yesterday, and what we have achieved today is more than what we thought we could two years ago,” he said. An anonymous FP contributor observes that “in a sign of growing acceptance that he has won this domestic battle, there has been little dissent voiced recently in Tehran.”
Strange times, new allies. In a big scoop, FP’s Colum Lynch has obtained a copy of a draft resolution to be offered at the United Nations Security Council on Friday that would launch an international investigation to identify those individuals responsible for carrying out dozens of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The most surprising part? Washington and Moscow worked together on it. The deal was finalized Wednesday night by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. One Security Council diplomat told Lynch the measure was “the first time we have a U.N. resolution that creates a mandate to attribute responsibility for anything in the Syrian conflict.” While the draft may not necessarily point to a larger thaw between Washington and Moscow, it is still important in the Syrian context because “it reveals an evolution of the position of Russia, which up until now has been protecting the Syrian regime from any finger-pointing or blame,” the diplomat said.
Lost in translation. An unknown number of the 60 or so Syrian rebels who have been trained by U.S. forces to fight back against the Islamic State have crossed the border back into Syria. But defense officials have admitted since their crossing last week, they’ve been attacked by other anti-Islamic State fighters, some have been killed, some captured, and most are now effectively out of the fight.
Officially called the New Syrian Force (NSF), the handful of fighters have cost the Pentagon $41 million to smuggle out of Syria, train, equip, and sneak back in, according to the latest figures. But where they are now is anyone’s guess. A Pentagon official on Thursday said that a second “class” of Syrians is now in Turkey undergoing training, and that the goal is to train them to eventually take over the program. Congress approved $500 million for the program for 2015, and the Defense Department has asked for another $600 million in the upcoming 2016 budget request to keep churning out fighters.
As we cruise into another weekend after a typically newsy week, the Situation Report desk remains on the lookout for tips, noteworthy notes, and other interesting bits to flag. If you see something we don’t, or think something is flying under the radar please pass it along: firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Noted selfie enthusiast and commander of Iran’s shadowy Qods Force, Qassem Suleimani apparently made a secret trip to Russia in late July to meet with Russian leaders. Suleimani is supposed to be subject to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1747, passed back in 2007, which slapped a travel ban on him, making his visit an apparent violation of sanctions. Suleimani is in charge of running Iran’s proxy war in Iraq and is responsible for Qods Force external operations, which would include the alleged 2011 plot to bomb the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and the Israeli embassy in Washington.
Whatever happened to Iraq’s Baathists? The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov took a look, and found that Saddam’s former henchmen thought they could play the Islamic State’s leadership to do their dirty work, but got played instead. After helping the jihadis set up shop in places like Mosul and Anbar province, many Baathist leaders who managed to survive years of being hunted by U.S. troops have found themselves floating face down in the Euphrates River, or dumped in shallow desert graves.
Pentagon vs. White House
The Daily Beast reports that senior officials in Pentagon are none too happy with what they see as an insufficiently tough approach to Russia. The core of the disagreement stems from apparent White House irritation at the parade of senior military officials who have lined up to say they see Russia as the top national security threat to the United States. The administration allegedly sees those declarations as a slippery slope to providing lethal aid to Ukraine and having the conflict escalate out of control. Some defense officials view a tougher stance on Russia as necessary given the failure of diplomatic and economic measures to curb Russian aggression.
Paper is the appropriate gift for a one year anniversary, but on Saturday, when the anniversary of U.S. involvement in the latest round of Iraq fighting comes up, Congress will still be withholding the paper gift that used to be customary for America’s wars: an authorization. Amid all the bombs dropped and billions spent, Congress has still yet to authorize the war in Iraq. The absence of any discernible Congressional action has riled Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who on Thursday voiced frustration at his inability to get colleagues to push an authorization to the front burner.
If a classified document gets leaked and no one believes it, does it make a sound? A former employee of Australia’s Defense Department is in legal trouble for allegedly leaking a classified document online in 2012. Australian police claim that Michael Scerba posted a document marked “Secret” to 4chan, the message board that spawned lolcats, the “Anonymous” hacktivist collective and countless online pranks both vile and juvenile. Despite an accompanying post declaring support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the ever-sophisticated readership dismissed the classified document as “fake” after it was posted.
The emerging consensus on responsibility for the recent breach of the Joint Staff’s unclassified email system is pointing the finger eastward in the direction of Russia. Reuters taps some anonymous defense officials claiming the hack was the result of Russian spear-phishing — emails impersonating trusted contacts designed to trick the recipient into clicking links or opening attachments. Dmitri Alperovich, CTO of CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that tracks nation-state hackers, told the wire service that his firm has noticed a spike in the number of Russian origin attempts to breach the networks of US national security agencies.
The Army’s Cruise Missile Defense Systems office is looking for ways to use Stinger man-portable air defense missiles to knock cruise missiles out of the sky, according to a request for information posted this week. Defense against fast-moving, low-flying cruise missiles has become a high priority for the Pentagon as countries like Russia have invested heavily in developing their arsenals. Earlier this year, officials asked for an “urgent need” assignment of F-16 patrols and radar systems to protect Washington.
Twitter enthusiast and one of the top U.S. diplomats working the Middle East and Islamic State beat, Brett McGurk: RT @brett_mcgurk: Landed in #Baghdad for five days of consultations with Iraqi officials on next steps in the campaign to defeat #ISIL.
Who’s where when
8:45 a.m. Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz, a key participant in the negotiations that led to the nuclear agreement, talks about the deal at the Chicago Council in the actual city of Chicago. Check the livestream here.
On the move
The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has named Tom Pritzker, executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and chairman and CEO of the Pritzker Organization, as its new chairman of the CSIS Board of Trustees. He’ll take over from former senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) who will remain on the Board as chairman emeritus.
The Center for a New American Security’s Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine have a new report out on “An Intensified Approach to Combatting the Islamic State.” Key word here is “Intensified.” Calling the Obama administration’s current approach “strong in theory, inadequate in practice,” the two call for a more aggressive approach to the conflict, including bypassing Baghdad to directly arm Kurdish and Sunni fighters, increasing aid to Syrian rebels and embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi forces down to the battalion level.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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