Obama channels JFK; A changing of the guard at JCS; Disturbing news from BlackHat; Leave those fake pipe bombs at home; And a bit more.
Obama to Congress: learn from the Iraq War, don’t block the Iran deal. “Congressional rejection of this deal will leave any U.S. administration absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option: another war in the Middle East...Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months, but soon,” the president said in a Wednesday speech meant to invoke John F. Kennedy urging de-escalation between Cold War rivals.
“But if we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple. The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences,” he said at American University in Washington. Defense One’s Politics Editor Molly O’Toole reports.
Lawmakers spent much of the rest of the day debating the agreement before leaving Washington for their long August recess. Some on the fence came off it — Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, called it “the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make” and endorsed the deal. Others, like Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., continued to mull their options. They’ve got until Congress returns the first week of September, which will be the make-or-break month for the deal, House and Senate leaders said Wednesday.
And the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, discussed the Iran deal for more than an hour with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.
He said “Iran so far has refused to allow United Nations inspectors to interview key scientists and military officers to investigate allegations that Tehran maintained a covert nuclear-weapons program,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Iran’s stance complicates the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe into Tehran’s suspected nuclear-military program—a study that is slated to be completed by mid-December, as required by the landmark nuclear agreement forged between world powers and Iran on July 14 in Vienna.”
What brought Amano to Capitol Hill? “Many opponents of the nuclear agreement with Iran have accused the IAEA of making a ‘secret deal’ with Iran after a trip Amano made to Tehran last month while negotiations were still underway,” WaPo explains.
The takeaway: “Most members left here with greater concerns about the inspections regime than they came in with,” said SFR chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. And “Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, was disappointed by the lack of senatorial access,” WaPo added.
Worrisome new satellite imagery inside Iran: A new report from the nonproliferation group, the Institute for Science and International Security, released “imagery of an Iranian site possibly used for work on a nuclear weapon shows crates, trucks and construction that may be linked to a renewed attempt to clean up before an inspection by the U.N.'s nuclear monitor,” AP reports this morning.
And oh by the way: “An Iranian warship briefly pointed weapons on its deck at a U.S. military helicopter and coalition warship two weeks ago in the Gulf of Aden,” a Pentagon official told CNN’s Barbara Starr Wednesday. “However, the coalition warship and helicopter crew quickly noticed there was a cameraman standing right behind one of the Iranian gunners. ‘Were they just trying to get cool pictures pointing at us? Were they making a propaganda film? Was some guy taking pictures to send to his girlfriend? We don't know,’ the Defense official said.”
This summer’s changing of the guard at the Joint Chiefs of Staff is finally complete, Military Times’ Leo Shane III reported Wednesday as “lawmakers approved the appointment of Gen. Mark Milley to be the new Army Chief of Staff, Adm. John Richardson to be the new Chief of Naval Operations and Lt. Gen. Robert Neller to be the new Marine Corps Commandant… They join new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. and Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva, both confirmed last month by the Senate. All of the men are expected to formally assume their new roles in the next few weeks, as their predecessors retire or move on.”
The author of DADT repeal could be the Army’s next undersecretary. Obama nominated Patrick J. Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress, for the post late Wednesday. Murphy, a lawyer, represented Pennsylvania as Democratic congressman from 2007 to 2011 until he lost his reelection bid.
Murphy served on several powerful defense committees in the House: Armed Services, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Appropriations. Before his time on the Hill, he served as a commissioned Reserve officer for several years before deploying to Bosnia in 2002. The following year took him to Iraq, where he earned the Bronze Star as a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborne.
“The nomination is another sign of the rapidly changing military attitudes toward gender and sexuality,” Stars and Stripes reports, in a profile that centers on his work repealing the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gay U.S. troops from serving openly. “If confirmed, he would replace acting undersecretary Eric Fanning, who was appointed as the first openly gay Pentagon chief of staff in February and has been mentioned as possible candidate for the Army’s top civilian post.”
And ICYMI: Murphy kicked out a window of the Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia in May, helping passengers flee from the derailment that killed more than half a dozen travelers. That story, here.
From Defense One
Dispatch from #BlackHat2015: A researcher says he can eavesdrop on — and even alter — data flowing through a satellite network operated by Globalstar, which provides communications services and equipment to militaries, oil companies, and many other organizations. “I can say with 100-percent confidence I did inject data back into the network,” Colby Moore, who works for a network security company called Synack, told reporters at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has more from the scene, here.
The 2016 race is already turning friends into frenemies. When the 17 GOP candidates face off tonight in the first 2016 presidential debate, a pair of former national security advisers to Mitt Romney—friends for decades, and currently law partners—will be in opposing corners. Former ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper is backing Jeb Bush; Robert O’Brien is backing Scott Walker. “I think we’ve got the two candidates that probably have the best shot at the nomination right now,” O’Brien told Defense One’s O’Toole. “I haven’t made a bet with him yet, but maybe I should.” Read what their split says about the future of the Republican Party, in 2016 and beyond, right here.
Russia is running out of options in Ukraine. “At the heart of Moscow’s problem is that it doesn’t want these territories. It doesn’t want to govern them. It doesn’t want to shoulder the cost of rebuilding them. It wants to use them to undermine and paralyze Kiev,” writes Brian Whitmore in The Atlantic. “And these efforts are failing—and the Kremlin is flailing as it searches for an alternative.”
Cyberwar’s looming legal questions: The rules defining attacks and self-defense are pretty clear in the physical world, but even if you can figure out who attacked you in cyberspace, you might not be able to assert your right to strike back. Benjamin Brake of the Council on Foreign Relations explores the quandary, here.
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Turkey says it’s poised to “launch a comprehensive struggle against Islamic State together [with the U.S.-led coalition], now that we are already seeing American warplanes and unmanned drones arriving in Turkish air bases,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Malaysia on Wednesday. This after the Pentagon said the U.S. carried out its first drone strike from Turkish air bases on Tuesday, WSJ reports.
But don’t expect Turkey to take its eyes off Kurdish PKK rebels. “Although these operations started almost simultaneously, they are separate,” Cavusoglu said. “Our struggle against ISIS is a long-term one, while the PKK operations can be halted if the PKK agrees to declare a new cease-fire and stop its attacks against Turkish security forces.”
And Turkey is putting more eyes on its oil and gas pipelines after two came under attack in the last 10 days. Reuters has the story—which involves the unusual combo of thermal cameras and horseback patrols—here.
Meanwhile, the view from Istanbul suggests Turkey’s recent stepped-up efforts against ISIS and PKK militants is largely for political gain—with war as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s answer to diminishing parliamentary support ahead of possible snap elections in November. The New York Times has that angle, here.
A U.S.-trained Syrian rebel is not happy with the slow pace of the Pentagon’s training program, BBC reports. “In six months only 60 fighters were trained. If it takes this long to train 60, it will take decades to get everyone ready,” one Capt. Ammar al Wawi said.
In Iraq, at least 17 of Baghdad’s troops died fighting ISIS in the contested Anbar province, AP reported Wednesday in this Anbar offensive status report.
And in Saudi Arabia this morning, a bomb killed at least 10 Saudi troops inside a mosque used by “Interior Ministry special forces in the southwestern city of Abha,” AP reports. No claims of responsibility have surfaced yet, though ISIS has claimed recent bombings at mosques inside Saudi Arabia, including one in May that killed nearly two-dozen people.
In Egypt, the ISIS affiliate called Sinai Province threatened to killed a captured Croatian citizen unless Cairo releases all of its female Muslim prisoners in less than two days, WaPo’s Erin Cunningham reports.
U.S. Army units shipping out to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan soon. They’ll come from the New York-based 10th Mountain Division and the III Corps based at Fort Hood, Texas. Details here.
And speaking of Afghanistan—an Afghan official says U.S. drone strikes have killed as many as 60 militants in the country’s eastern Nangarhar and Paktika provinces. He said many of the fighters were aligned with ISIS; the U.S. military in Kabul did not go that far. AP has that story here.
China’s foreign minister says Beijing has stopped its island-building in the South China Sea and submitted a 10-point plan to boost China’s relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, WSJ reported yesterday. And U.S. State Secretary John Kerry followed up his stern warning against further expansion in the SCS, asking all sides to halt reclamation and construction.
Kerry also came out swinging on the issue of restricting navigation above and near disputed islands, saying, “Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea.” That via Reuters.
Despite China’s words, “U.S. officials played down the foreign minister’s comments about halting land reclamation, saying Washington is skeptical that the work had stopped. Even if there has been a pause in construction, U.S. officials said it would be difficult to determine whether the stoppage was permanent or temporary,” WSJ notes.
Wanna catch of glimpse of what’s been underway in the South China Sea? The folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative have a great multimedia roundup of satellite imagery and expert analysis you can dive into right here.
France is turning over some $1.2 billion Russia paid to acquire two Mistral warships, the WSJ reports. “The Mistral contract was initially brokered by Mr. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, as a gesture aimed at repairing ties between Paris and Moscow after Russian troops invaded Georgia in 2008.” Then Ukraine happened, ergo refund. WSJ explains here.
And Russia just cobbled together a new branch of its military: “the Aerospace Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” IHS Janes reported yesterday. The new service “is divided into three sub-branches: air force; air and missile defence missile troops; space forces.”
Finally today: Fix your truck—and stop driving around with fake pipe bombs. A 61-year-old Mississippi man caused a big stir two days in a row when U.S. Army guards at Camp Shelby reported the sound of gunshots—nothing to take lightly in the wake of the tragedy in Chattanooga, Tenn., that killed 5 service members. Turns out the man’s truck had (mostly likely—a full investigation is still underway) just backfired at the wrong place and the wrong time, the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reports.
The kicker? The ATF had to send a bomb squad an hour’s drive north from Biloxi to Camp Shelby after authorities found what appeared to be a pipe bomb in the floor of his maroon pickup.
“He more than made it, he painted it...He wanted it to look like” a pipe bomb, said an ATF officer. “But practically or legally, it was not an explosive device that we would be able to prosecute.”
The legal tally to date: Camp Shelby’s alleged backfire-er was “charged with four counts of disturbance of the peace of a person, and two counts of felon in possession of a firearm.” Full story, here.
NEXT STORY: Russia Is Running Out of Options in Ukraine