Obama writes Congress; Turkey joining ISIS strikes?; Iowa vets like Trump; A ‘new Swift boating’; And a bit more.
Obama pens letter to Congress as poll numbers on his foreign policy slip. U.S. President Barack Obama is looking to shore up any additional support from fence-sitting Democrats undecided about the merits of diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program, The New York Times reported late Thursday.
What’s in the letter? A promise that “the United States would unilaterally maintain economic pressure and deploy military options if needed to deter Iranian aggression, both during and beyond the proposed nuclear accord,” the NYT writes. The letter also “commits explicitly to establishing an office within the State Department to carry out the nuclear accord.”
Anything particularly new here? “Mr. Obama’s pledge to use the multinational commission policing the accord to block Iranian procurement of nuclear-related technology is new, as is the president’s explicit pledge ‘to enhance the already intensive joint efforts’ of the United States and Israel in the region,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
But that’s not all. Obama also promised “to increase missile defense funding for Israel, accelerate co-development of missile defense systems, and boost tunnel detection and mapping technologies.” Obama also vowed increased cooperation with “Israel and Persian Gulf allies to counter Iran’s efforts to destabilize Yemen, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its efforts to preserve the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”
News of the letter comes after a CNN poll revealed some 60 percent of Americans said they disapprove of how the White House is managing its relationship to Iran, while a modest spike from July shows just over half of those polled (52 percent) think Obama is taking the country in the wrong direction with his foreign policy. Full results of that survey can be found here.
Obama’s letter also comes on the heels of some suspect reporting from AP on Wednesday regarding Iran conducting its own nuclear inspections as part of the agreement. The AP report immediately sent Republicans in a tizzy over “side deals” the White House allegedly negotiated in secret. Problem is, as Max Fisher of Vox writes, “The report was not based not on an actual agreement, but rather on a copy of a draft agreement” that ultimately illustrates “a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy.”
Opposition to the Iran deal is turning into the “swift-boating” of John Kerry all over again, argues Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, writing in Defense One. “There is little debate among the world’s arms-control, nonproliferation, and denuclearization experts and advocates. They overwhelmingly support the deal. Not a single notable nuclear specialist opposes it. Politicians do…Experts have disproven the false claims here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and…well, you get the idea.”
What now? “Even as experts, advocates, the administration and members of Congress work to secure every possible vote to approve the deal, part of that energy needs to go into defining the meaning of the expected victory.”
And that victory “is increasingly looking within reach” with the White House just eight Senate Democrats away from sustaining a veto of any measure disapproving the deal, AP notes in a follow-up report Thursday.
Meanwhile in Iowa, voters were not at all crazy about Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports after speaking with veterans and family members of vets at the fried-Twinkie-and-funnel cake-strewn grounds of the Iowa State Fair.
“They sent my kids overseas and they’ve done things that are good over there, and then they haven’t followed through,” one parent of a veteran said. “They get things started and now we’ve got ISIS.” Who’s they? “All of ’em,” she answered — Bush and Clinton, Republican and Democrat, which all leaves her “liking the things that [Donald] Trump is saying because we have too much whitewash.” Read the rest of the refreshingly detailed reporting from a place that in many ways couldn’t feel farther from the D.C. Beltway, here.
The Pentagon wants more from Turkey. Turkish warplanes have been bombing Kurdish PKK militants in Iraq, but they have so far only pledged to add their planes to the air campaign against the Islamic State. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants that to change, Marcus Weisgerber reports. “Now more than a year into the airstrikes campaign, Turkey last month opened a key air base to American fighter jets and unmanned aircraft.
“That’s important, but it’s not enough,” he told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. Carter would like to see Ankara step up their efforts to curb ISIS fighters and equipment from moving across its lengthy borders with Syria and Iraq. He also wants them join what’s called the coalition’s air tasking order, or ATO, which allows U.S. war planners in a Middle East air operations center to assign specific strike missions to Turkish fighter jets. Read the rest here.
Meanwhile in the Golan Heights, Israeli jets bombed militants after rockets reportedly launched from that location struck an Israeli village near the border with Lebanon Thursday. Israel said the rockets came from an Iranian-backed Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad, though the group objected to the allegation, Reuters reports.
And the U.S. wants Australian jets stationed in Dubai to join in its counter-ISIS air campaign over Syria. The jets have been bombing ISIS positions in Iraq since October, but the prospect of expanding their air war to Syria is anything but a done deal in the Australian parliament. AP lays out what’s at stake in Canberra, here.
From Defense One
Russia and China have a cyber nonaggression pact. On May 8, the countries agreed to cooperate on information security by exchanging information and boosting scientific and academic teamwork. And the new deal is just part of a fascinating Sino-Russian vision of cybersecurity that is markedly different from Western approaches. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Elaine Korzak explains.
Germany charges spy with treason. His alleged crime? Passing secrets to the U.S. and Russia. The spy, arrested last summer, is accused of accepting more than $100,000 from the CIA to snoop on Germany. And that’s big news in a country still furious over the Snowden revelations of U.S. efforts to spy on a NATO ally. National Journal’s Dustin Volz has the story here.
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From May to June, Beijing added almost 50 percent to its built-up islands in the South China Sea, according to a new Congressionally-mandated report from the Defense Department, The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold writes. “The Pentagon report, issued late Thursday, said that, as of June, China has reclaimed 2,900 acres of landmass across a string of islands in the South China Sea known as the Spratlys, up nearly 50% from May, when the Pentagon said Beijing had claimed about 2,000 acres.”
“In less than two years, China has reclaimed 17 times more land than any other claimant has in the past 40 years—accounting for about 95% of all reclaimed land in the Spratlys,” Lubold writes, adding, “Vietnam has reclaimed about 80 acres, Malaysia has reclaimed 70 acres, the Philippines has reclaimed 14 acres and Taiwan has reclaimed eight acres.”
“The report comes about a month before a high-profile visit to Washington by Chinese President Xi Jinping, where the South China Sea issue, along with cybersecurity and monetary policy are likely to come up. Taken together, the issues portend a potentially difficult visit for Mr. Xi and for the Obama administration.” Read the rest here.
North Korea has ordered its troops on the southern border into a “semi-war state” beginning this evening, Stars and Stripes reports, though there’s nothing terribly new about these sorts of provocations from Pyongyang, especially when the U.S. and South Korea conduct joint military exercises—as they are presently. The escalated readiness order comes after yesterday’s exchange of fire over loudspeaker messages from South Korea into the North following the maiming of two South Korean soldiers from land mines in the DMZ more than two weeks ago.
Back stateside, South Carolina officials are pushing back against the Pentagon’s “Gitmo North” scouting in their state. Lining up in opposition: Gov. Nikki Haley her predecessor, Rep. Mark Sanford, Sen. Tim Scott—all Republicans with no interest moving some Guantanamo Bay detainees to the Naval Brig near Charleston, which is one of two sites (Fort Leavenworth, Kans., the only other named so far) where the Pentagon is considering stateside sanctuary, AP reports.
The latest Ranger School class graduates today, and in case you hadn’t heard, NPR and NYT and CNN and many others would like you to know that there are two women among the graduates. (Here’s Defense One’s own latest piece.) Congrats to all.