Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Monday, October 27, 2014, 1:46 PM

While the US midterm elections are still a week away, democratic contests elsewhere in the world are ongoing or have just concluded. In Brazil, the BBC reports that incumbent president Dilma Rousseff narrowly won re-election today in what was a fraught contest between her and a centrist challenger, Aecio Neves. President Rousseff, who won with 51.6% of the vote to Neves’ 48.4%, promised that she would be a “‘much better president’” than she has been so far. Over the past year, her regime has confronted mass protests and sagging approval ratings due to allegations of corruption and poor services. Still, she, as well as her Workers’ Party, remains “popular with poor Brazilians thanks to her government’s welfare programs.” Reuters has more on her legacy up until now and the economic challenges Brazil faces moving forward.

In Ukraine, pro-Western parties appear to have won handily in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Both President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc and the party of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk each appear to have won approximately 21% of the vote. The two are reportedly holding coalition talks today. The BBC reports that the full party-list results are expected later tonight, and will cover “only 225 of the 450 seats.” President Poroshenko was ebullient as the results began to come in, saying at a news conference that “‘more than three-quarters of voters who took part in the polls gave strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine’s path to Europe.’” Still, the country remains divided; there was no voting in the eastern areas of the country currently dominated by pro-Russian separatist forces. As a result, the parliamentary seats for Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimean regions remain vacant.

Finally, in Tunisia, the secular Nidaa Tounes party defeated the Islamist party Ennahda, its main rival, and won the largest number of seats in that country’s parliamentary contest. According to the New York Times, the latest results show that Nidaa Tounes has 38% of the vote, translating to 83 seats, compared to Ennahda’s 31% of the vote and 68 seats. Officials say provisional turnout reached 62%, demonstrating “Tunisians’ support for democracy.” The Guardian reports that Ennahda has conceded.

In the flashpoint city of Kobani, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Kurdish fighters repulsed an ISIS attempt to seize a key border post in the city. Over the past 40 days, the militant Islamists from ISIS have been “pressing their assault” on the town despite US airstrikes and fierce Kurdish resistance. The Guardian quotes the monitoring group as stating over 815 people have been killed in the month-odd fighting, “more than half of them ISIS fighters.”

As Kobani holds strong against ISIS militants, a Kurdish spokesman announced on Sunday that Iraqi Kurdish forces will not participate in ground fighting in the city, instead providing artillery and other heavy weapons support.

Reuters reports that Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militiamen have retaken Jurf as Sakhar, a strategically vital town for Iraqi security forces because it could allow them to prevent ISIS encroachment towards Baghdad, sever militants’ supply lines to strongholds in Anbar province and stem the advance of Sunni militants into Iraq’s Shiite heartland. Still, the situation in the area is volatile; Reuters also reports that 27 Shiite militiamen have died in a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Jurf as Sakhar and 60 more are wounded. Over the weekend, the United States and its allies conducted 22 air strikes against ISIS forces inside Iraq.

The New York Times writes that the Christians of Mosul have finally found safe haven from ISIS in the borders of the Hashemite Kingdom. Over 4,000 Christians from Iraq’s second city have migrated to Jordan in the past three months, fleeing the Islamist group’s stark ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a tax, or die.

At the Brookings Institution, visiting fellow Charles Lister explains how Western governments can cut off ISIS’s cash flow.

Kate Brannen of Foreign Policy writes that ISIS is busy on another front: inculcating a new generation of Islamist militants. In a piece entitled, “Children of the Caliphate,” she explores how ISIS members are “raising an army of child soldiers” and why this effort is significant to the West from a long-term perspective.

The New York Times reports that ISIS’s antiaircraft abilities are growing in response to continued US air pressure on its positions. With the proliferation of antiaircraft missile technology, ISIS members are achieving more victories, including a successful strike on an Iraqi Mi-35M attack helicopter, which killed the aircraft’s two crew members. And ISIS is also looking to new heights and new targets: it recently published an online guide that instructs militants how to use shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down Apache attack helicopters, among the “most fearsome weapons in the United States’ Army’s conventional arsenal.”

According to the Times of Israel, retired general and special US envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS John Allen attended a meeting in Kuwait today and called for a “united Internet front” to combat the group’s activities---and success---online.

The Guardian suggests that desperate British jihadists who are now looking to return home are being threatened with death by fellow ISIS militants. The British paper writes that “at least 30” Britons are seeking to return, but that such disobedience to the “caliph” is “subject to disciplinary measures which include death.”

Finally, the New York Times describes the horrific treatment ISIS hostages, including James Foley, endured before execution.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Shiite Houthi fighters in Yemen “thrust” into strongholds of al Qaeda and its tribal allies, killing around 10 civilians. Reuters has more on the push, which was “backed by government fire.”

The United States says it killed three members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Friday with a drone strike, reports Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal.

In the Lebanese city of Tripoli, the country’s army entered Bab al Tabbaneh, an Islamist redoubt that has been the scene of fighting between Sunni fighters linked to al Qaeda and Alawites loyal to Assad. The Times of Israel reports that since Friday, at least 16 have died in brawls in the area, including five civilians.

In response to sustained instability in disputed East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to respond forcefully and to assure peace and order, as well as Israeli sovereignty, in the area. A video of his remarks on the subject ahead of a Sunday cabinet meeting can be found here, complete with English subtitles.

Also in Israel, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced the building of approximately 1,000 houses in East Jerusalem. The apartments are slated to be built in the two majority-Jewish districts of Ramat Shlomo and Har Homa. According to the New York Times, the building comes amid pressure from “right-wing Israeli ministers” in Netanyahu’s coalition. Yediot Achronot has more.

Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians are not happy. The Times of Israel reports on the Palestinian Authority’s condemnation of the building.

The Obama administration “marked a milestone” yesterday on its journey to ending the American-led coalition’s combat role in Afghanistan: the ending of combat operations in Helmand Province. The province has been one of the “bloodiest” areas of battle for coalition forces in its struggle against the Taliban and was a “primary focus” of the 2010 surge championed by Obama to beat back the then-strengthening group. Foreign Policy notes that despite the significance of the event, the White House did not issue any statements of commemoration, and only a small ceremony at US base Camp Leatherneck and British base Camp Bastion was held.

According to Reuters, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US yesterday of “damaging world order.” At a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, a top meeting for Russia’s intellectual elite, Putin accused Washington of promoting a “unilateral diktat” internationally and blamed the US for the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

On November 10th, the governments of Russia and China are set to sign a cooperation agreement on cybersecurity that would allow the two to conduct “joint cybersecurity operations.” Russian paper Kommersant writes that the treaty will be signed during Russian President Putin’s visit to China next month.

China’s top anti-graft official said yesterday that the government’s fight against corruption “will never end.” Reuters reports that Wang Qishan, the head of Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, made the remarks before a meeting aimed at cleaning up business in the country. Relatedly, al Jazeera notes that Beijing is considering dropping capital punishment for a bevy of crimes, including “weapons smuggling, counterfeiting and brokering prostitution.” According to the Dui Hua Foundation, approximately 2,400 people were executed in China last year, compared to 39 people in the US. For more on corruption in China, legal reform and the recent plenum, check out Lawfare’s post on the subject here.

The New York Times reports that China is planning to set up a “national anti-terrorism intelligence system” in light of the continuing insurrection in Xinjiang. For more on the uprising in China’s west, and al Qaeda’s attempts to insert itself into Uighur-Han hostilities, check out this recent Lawfare post.

Frustrated with “lengthy delays” in acquiring eight vessels from a 2001 US defense deal and wary of China’s “rapidly” expanding navy, Taiwan is planning to develop its own submarines. Reuters has more on the move, which is certain to raise hackles in Beijing.

Troubling news out of Northeast Asia: General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top American military commander in South Korea, said Friday that North Korea “had most likely completed its yearslong quest to shrink a nuclear weapon to a size that could fit atop a ballistic missile.” The New York Times has more.

Livemint reports on India’s rapid rate of weapons acquisitions since the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi this May. The administration’s most recent purchase was for 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles and 321 launchers from Israel. The Guardian elaborates on Israel’s successful bid, worth about $525 million, which beat out its American competitor, the Javelin system. The decision to choose Israel’s offer comes amid reports of increasing ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem. Indeed, just weeks after Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Indian PM Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of the UN assembly in New York, the governments announced that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the second-ranking cabinet official in the Modi administration, is set to visit Israel next month.

Yesterday, IBM announced that it will utilize its data crunching capabilities to track the spread of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. The system will allow people to report Ebola-related information and enable governments, health agencies and others “to keep track of the disease.” The BBC reports that the data will also be analyzed for correlations or emerging issues. NBC News also carries a story on US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s recent visit to Guinea, meant to highlight the continuing necessity of international support in containing the Ebola outbreak.

The BBC writes that Boko Haram appears to have kidnapped more civilians in its insurgency against the government. A new report by Human Rights Watch further alleges that the militant Islamist group “has forced abducted women and girls to go to the front line to help fight the military.”

According to the BBC, twenty four European banks failed “stress tests” of their finances. The rejects now have nine months to consolidate their financial portfolios or else face being shut down.

The Toronto Sun features a video Canadian terrorist Michael Zehaf-Bibeau made just before his attack on Parliament Hill last week. At Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt cautions Ottawa to keep calm in the wake of the shooting, which claimed the life of one soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

A cybersecurity bill that would allow the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector to share cyber threat data has an “80 percent chance of becoming law” during Congress’ lame-duck session, says House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas). The Hill reports that the legislation is supported by the administration and passed the Republican-controlled House in July.

Coming to a sea near you: the BBC reports on a competition in Singapore to build an unmanned boat. Check out the video here.

Parting shot: over at the New Republic, Yishai Schwartz writes that Citizenfour, aka the “Edward Snowden documentary,” accidentally discredits the leaker, despite its attempts to the contrary.

In Case You Missed It: A Lawfare Round-Up

Benjamin Wittes on the Council on Foreign Relations getting “Warm and Fuzzy with the North Koreans.”

Jack Goldsmith tells us that “Susan Rice Did Not Consult DOD When She Urged Repeal of 2002 AUMF That DOD (Correctly) Thought Was “Still Needed.”

Jack also has “a bit more on the debate about the exterritorial scope of the torture convention’s provisions on cruelty.”

John Bellinger, too, writes on “The Convention Against Torture: Extraterritorial Application and Application to Military Operations.

Matt Waxman provides a glimpse into a “New CNAS program on Autonomous Weapons.”

Naz Modirzadeh expands on the “Folk Law and Obama Administration Mythology: Four Stakes.”

Jodie Liu gives us a preview of oral arguments in Zivotofsky v. Kerry.

And in the Foreign Policy Essay, William McCants takes us in the the current “Sectarian Apocalypse” in Iraq and Syria.

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