Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Monday, July 18, 2016, 2:07 PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stood atop a bus in front of his mansion in Istanbul on Saturday night and boasted to his supporters that “we bow only to God.” This populist message underscored Erdogan’s strength in the face of a botched coup attempt by renegade factions of the Turkish army on Friday. He spoke to the nation via the FaceTime app on Friday night after narrowly avoiding capture by mutinous special forces units who arrived in a helicopter at the seaside resort where he had been vacationing. Then around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, Erdogan arrived in Istanbul after a dangerous flight while rebel fighter jets were still in the air. The New York Times published a vivid photo essay capturing the drama of the crisis as it unfolded.

Nearly 6,000 military personnel have been arrested after a turbulent weekend which saw at least 265 people killed in clashes across the divided nation. Although the coup was also resisted by many who are bitterly opposed to Erdogan and the AKP, Erdogan’s supporters have been quick the coup’s failure as a triumph for political Islam. Erdogan has used this crisis as an opportunity to arrest thousands of judges, many of whom seemingly played no role in the coup attempt. Reuters has more on the ongoing crackdown.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. extradite an ageing cleric living in Pennsylvania, whom he accused of fomenting the failed coup. Turkish government officials said on Saturday that Ankara would respond harshly if the White House fails to hand over Fethullah Gulen, an influential cleric who has lived in the United States for nearly two decades. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, “any country that stands behind [Gulen] is no friend of Turkey.” U.S. officials, however, responded brusquely to these accusations. Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that “public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly harmful to our bilateral relations.” But Kerry did not rule out a possible extradition of Gulen.

The New York Times discloses that U.S. warplanes flown from the Incirlik Air Base resumed their operations against Islamic State targets yesterday after only a brief delay. Turkey had temporarily closed its airspace during the coup’s uncertain early hours, leading some to worry that it could hamper the fight against the Islamic State. But Peter Cook, the Defense Department’s top spokesman, said U.S. soldiers have been closely working with their Turkish counterparts to ensure these operations are back to running smoothly.

The Washington Post reveals that Syrian government troops scored a major victory by closing the only road leading into and out of the rebel-held northern city of Aleppo yesterday. The siege of Aleppo has drawn concern from international humanitarian groups, who have said the hundreds of thousands of civilians in the city will suffer as food and medicine runs out soon. A victory in Aleppo—the country’s largest commercial hub before the civil war began—would be a major turning point for Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his Russian backers.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with NBC this weekend that he would not disclose details of the new deal signed with Russia to reduce the violence in Syria because he did not want to “raise expectations.” He also said the partnership—which was rumored to include a joint operation against radical Islamic groups in Syria in return for the cessation of Syrian airstrikes against rebels and civilians—was not based in trust and would only evolve as both sides fulfilled their pledges incrementally. The Times has more on the agreement.

A powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, warned that the 560 additional U.S. troops entering Iraq to join the fight against the Islamic State will offer a “target” for his supporters. Sadr’s force, known as the Peace Brigades, is one of the largest and most formidable Shiite militia groups battling the Islamic State. The Peace Brigades fought against the U.S. in the years after the 2003 invasion. The Associated Press has more.

The Washington Post tells us that the U.S. military has launched an unprecedented digital war against the Islamic State. The move marks the first time that any nation’s military has explicitly declared a cyberwar against an adversary. Cyber attacks have traditionally been linked with clandestine operations. But the Pentagon is experiencing growing pains as the seven-year old Cyber Command was built to face more traditional foes rather than non-state actors.

A lone gunman named Gavin Long killed three police officers and wounded three others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Sunday morning, less than two weeks after the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of Baton Rouge police. According to local officials, Long, an African-American former Marine who had served in Iraq, “definitely ambushed those officers.” The shootings come at a racially charged and emotionally raw time for the nation as it grapples with a number of high-profile killings of black men by law enforcement officials and the attack on police officers in Dallas.

NPR reports that top officials in the Philippines are calling on the United States to demonstrate its credibility as a partner by standing up to China over the ongoing South China Seas dispute. Although Washington claims that it does not have a stake in determining the maritime disputes between Manila and Beijing, an international tribunal delivered a comprehensive victory to the Philippines by dismissing China’s legal claims to the South China Seas. Antonio Carpio, a justice on the Philippines’ Supreme Court, said the United States should show its resolve by defending the Scarborough Shoals, a section of rocks and reefs in which a Chinese presence would threaten US use of Philippine military bases.

But Sun Jianguo, a Chinese admiral and Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, warned that any freedom of navigation patrols conducted by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end “in disaster.” He added that the freedom of navigation issue was blown out of proportion and that the Chinese military should upgrade its capabilities to defend its access to the South China Sea. U.S. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson is slated to meet with the head of the Chinese navy, Wu Shengli, in Beijing today.

The Associated Press reports that China is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week as an implicit rebuke to the international tribunal’s ruling. The Chinese have also conducted a number of air and naval patrols of the contested waters, with the pledge to make them both routine operations.

An ongoing investigation into the Nice truck attack, which claimed 84 lives and wounded over 200 others, has not yet yielded concrete links to any terrorist group. But French officials said Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the perpetrator of the attack, had been radicalized quickly. Surveillance footage showed him practicing test-runs before carrying out the attack. NBC has more. CNN also adds both that the Islamic State’s media arm, Amaq Agency, described Bouhlel as a “soldier” for the terrorist organization and that an Albanian couple have been arrested by French authorities for their involvement in the attack.

The Times examines the thorny question of “who is and who is not a terrorist” in the age of ISIS. Does a violent attacker with no known links to a terrorist group still count as a terrorist? Or to put the matter in the words of Brookings’ Will McCants, are these attackers ISIS, or only “ISIS-ish”?

British lawmakers are expected to vote today to renew Britain’s aging nuclear weapons system, a sign that the United Kingdom aspires to remain a global power after it leaves the European Union. The vote will be one of the first major foreign policy decisions by Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May and is deeply opposed by a large faction of the opposition Labour Party and the pro-independence Scottish National Party. Critics say the timing is politically motivated and rushed to bypass scrutiny over the project’s immense costs.

FBI officials told the Post that their investigation into Omar Mateen’s massacre in an Orlando gay club has found no evidence that he chose the venue because it was frequented by gay patrons. In the days immediately following the shooting, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “people often act out of more than one motivation. This was clearly an act of terror and an act of hate.” But the FBI also said there is no evidence Mateen was gay or that his attack was motivated by homophobia.

The Obama administration is working on a series of agreements with foreign governments that would empower foreign law enforcement and intelligence officials to serve U.S. technology companies with warrants for email searches and wiretaps. The move comes on the heels of a ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled federal warrants couldn’t be used to search data held overseas. The court’s ruling could be a major barrier to this proposed initiative, but DOJ officials said they would consider appealing to the Supreme Court. For more, the Wall Street Journal has you covered.

For the Washington Post, Karen DeYoung, Adam Goldman, and Karoun Demirjian parse through the previously redacted 28 pages of the 2002 congressional inquiry into 9/11. They conclude that the document—which has reached near-mythic levels of intrigue—does not appear to add significantly to information collected in subsequent investigations, including the 9/11 Commission report, which was published in 2004. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he hoped the release of the document “will diminish speculation that they contain proof of official Saudi Government or senior Saudi official involvement in the 9/11 attacks.”

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic posted the latest episode of the Lawfare Podcast, wherein Brookings senior fellow Will McCants discusses the Islamic State’s involvement in a series of high-profile global terrorist attacks.

John Bellinger noted that the Senate ratified two more treaties by unanimous consent on Thursday night to bring the number of total treaties signed during President Barack Obama’s tenure to 15.

Jolyon Howorth offered a review of his native Britain’s tumultuous relationship with the European Union.

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