Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Monday, November 3, 2014, 2:08 PM

Today marks the beginning of oral arguments in the landmark Zivotofsky v. Kerry case. Lawfare has devoted extensive coverage to the trial and its implications, a small selection of which can be found here, here and here. For a fresh take on Zivotofsky and what it could portend for presidential power, check out Yishai Schwartz’s analysis at the New Republic.

The US midterm elections are slated for tomorrow and Republicans assert they have momentum in a campaign that has “centered” on President Obama. In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza writes that “prominent Democratic strategists” are getting increasingly unnerved that the GOP’s claims might have some validity. The Huffington Post reports on how Republicans are “seizing” on the President’s low approval ratings in order to take back the Senate for the first time in roughly a decade. Speaking of polls, RealClearPolitics has the latest on who is ahead, behind and statistically deadlocked. Also at RealClearPolitics, Alexis Simendinger explores what Tuesday’s outcome could mean for the rest of President Obama’s term in office. Even if the GOP wins big tomorrow, John Hudson of Foreign Policy writes that President Obama could in fact use the “Republican wave” to finally push through key trade deals.

While pundits from across the political spectrum are eagerly awaiting the results, one important group of Americans is “fed up” with politics: troops. According to Military Times, more than one-third of soldiers in a recent poll by the website said neither party has been a strong advocate for the military, and 44% think both have become less supportive over the past few years.

If a Daily Beast report is to be believed, the rank-and-file are not the only ones expressing dissatisfaction with politicians in Washington. In an October 31st article, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake allege that “top military leaders” in the Pentagon and abroad are getting increasingly “frustrated” by the White House’s “micromanagement” of the campaign to arm Syrian rebels and repel ISIS’s advances.

Apropos of ISIS, the New York Times reports that Iraqi security forces, with the help of American air power and advisers, are preparing to stage a major assault on the militant group in the spring. The offensive has a few major goals, foremost among them breaking ISIS’s grip on northern and western Iraq and establishing Iraqi governmental control over roads, its border with Syria and the country’s second city, Mosul. The government hopes to complete this by the end of next year.

Over in Syria, militants affiliated with Jabhat al Nusra seized Deir Sonbol, the last remaining bastion of Western-backed rebels in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib. Their victory constitutes a major blow for the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front, which is led by Jamal Maarouf, and for President Obama’s Syria strategy. The Washington Post reports that in the aftermath of Jabhat al Nusra’s victory, militants associated with the movement captured “significant quantities of weaponry.” The paper also reports that moderate Syrian rebels have witnessed “widespread defections” among its ranks. Reuters has more on the story.

For its part, ISIS also claimed a victory over the weekend, saying they had taken control of a major gas field in Homs province. Reuters reports that this is the second gas field the group has seized in the past week from government forces.

The Washington Post writes that on Sunday, Canadian aircraft officially launched their first airstrikes in Iraq since joining the US-led bombing campaign there. The jets’ first targets were reportedly centered around the city of Fallujah.

Disturbing reports from Iraq’s western Anbar province claim that ISIS militants have killed 322 members of the Sunni al Bu Nimr tribe. In recent days, government forces have found more than 50 bodies in a water well, while 65 other members were kidnapped. The latest attack against the tribe reportedly occurred yesterday morning, when militants shot and killed 50. The BBC reports that the tribe has been targeted for what ISIS sees as its “resistance.”

ISIS, in an apparent fit of paranoia, is methodically hunting down former policemen and soldiers who surrendered to it in the fear that these men might join an “internal Sunni uprising” against its rule. The Stars and Stripes has more on the group’s “pre-emptive” purge.

Over at the Guardian, Ian Black argues that Abu Dhabi’s significant role in fighting ISIS as part of the US-led coalition reveals its ambitions to root out jihadism in the region.

Reuters reports that Iraqi Kurds have officially joined the fight against ISIS militants in the flashpoint city of Kobani.

The Wall Street Journal writes that US spying on the Assad regime has yielded an unexpected bonus: intelligence on ISIS.

In the Atlantic, Shadi Hamid explores the roots of ISIS’s rise, asserting that the group “draws on, and draws strength from,” ideas that have “broad resonance” among Muslim-majority populations.

Tragedy off the Turkish coast: Hurriyet reports that at least 22 have died after a boat carrying 42 Afghan refugees and a Turkish smuggler capsized off Istanbul’s northern coast. The incident occurred near Rumeli Feneri, a small town near the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.

The Libyan army urged residents of the central Benghazi district of Assabri to evacuate on Sunday. The call comes on the eve of a planned military operation to root out Islamists in Libya’s second-largest city. According to Reuters, at least 230 people have been killed since the army began its offensive against Islamist groups in the area.

The Guardian reports that hundreds of Egyptian journalists have rejected a pledge by newspaper editors that promised “near-blind support” for the as Sisi regime in their publications.

At the Middle East Institute, Charles Schmitz explores how Yemen’s “uncharted political landscape” is evolving one month after the Houthis’ conquest of Sanaa.

In Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt penned an op-ed asserting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not the one who is “chickens**t,” the White House is.

According to Kuwaiti daily al Jarida, Israeli PM Netanyahu held a covert meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah over tensions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office denied the account. The Times of Israel has more on the conflicting reports.

Earlier today, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 500 housing units in the disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The project is one of two announced last week by Israeli PM Netanyahu. Haaretz has more on the plan and its international criticism.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran continues to prevent UN weapons inspectors from accessing key sites in the country, “hobbling” the Obama administration’s attempt to complete a nuclear agreement with Tehran by November 24th.

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, has launched a Hebrew website. The Times of Israel quotes the agency's director-general as saying that the move was done to provide residents of Israel with “‘impartial information’” on the crimes committed against the Palestinian and Syrian people.

The Huffington Post analyzes why Afghani president Ashraf Ghani recently decided to drop his tribal name and ask for all government and media departments to use only his family name. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that President Ghani is expected to embrace tighter cooperation with the US and is preparing to remove certain restrictions on anti-Taliban military operations.

A suicide blast in Pakistan near the country’s Wagah border with India, the main crossing that connects Lahore with Amritsar, killed more than 50 and injured at least 100 more. The attack appears to be in retaliation for the ongoing Pakistani military operation in Waziristan. The Washington Post has more of the story, while the BBC notes that despite the attack, both India and Pakistan continued with the daily flag-lowering ceremony.

Is there a “silver lining” for Burkina Faso? Ken Opalo suggests so.

The BBC reports that a suicide bomber has killed 15 Shia Muslims at a religious ceremony in Nigeria. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion has predictably fallen on Boko Haram, which considered Shiites non-Muslims.

Foreign Policy describes how Germany’s search for energy security and sustainability, navigated through a patchwork of neighborhood windmills and local solar panels, may be the future of green energy.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned British Prime Minister David Cameron that proposed changes to the UK’s immigration policies were approaching a “point of no return." Cameron’s Conservative party is currently considering changes that would curb the influx of European Union migrants to Britain.

In Foreign Affairs, Mark Galeotti asserts that Russia is not just outgunning Ukraine and the West, but also outsmarting them with its superior intelligence capabilities.

According to the New York Times, rebel election committees in two breakaway eastern regions of Ukraine announced on Monday that the areas’ current leaders “had won enough votes” to retain power. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” allegedly won 78% of the vote; Luhansk’s leader, Igor Plotnitsky, won 63%. While Western countries did not recognize the vote and urged Moscow to do the same, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it “respected” the elections.

In Foreign Affairs, Gilbert Rozman argues that the Russo-Chinese relationship is not as brittle as some Western observers believe. He asserts that the two countries have founded flourishing bilateral ties on one important point: that the geopolitical order of the East should be “in opposition” to that of the West.

China’s state-run official news agency, Xinhua, announced today that China has developed a highly accurate laser weapon system that can shoot down drones at low altitude. The Guardian reports that the new system is expected to play “‘a key role’” in promoting security during major events in dense, urban areas.

In the New York Times’ Op-Ed section, Zalmay Khalilzad analyzes the short-term realities and long-term goals that explain why Afghanistan is actively courting China.

The battle over the United States’ response to Ebola has evolved into a battle between states’ rights and civil liberties, writes David Francis in Foreign Policy.

According to the New York Times, a UN panel on climate change has released "its starkest warning yet" on the effects of global weather shifts. In an interview, Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the panel, said that the threats posed by climate change were not “something in the future,” but “here and now.”

A Huffington Post news bulletin appears to show that Western publics systematically overestimate the percentage of Muslims in their countries' populations. For instance, Americans believe that 15 percent of the United States is Muslim, while only about 1 percent of the country is so, according to a new survey from the research group Ipsos MORI. Edgar Hopida, a communications director for the Islamic Society of North America, suggests that the “Islamophobia industry” is creating a perception that Muslims are taking over - a conception that is having real ramifications on the Muslim community in North America.

The New York Times brings us news that a Mexican judge ordered the release of a United States Marine, Andrew Tahmooressi, after he spent seven months in a Mexican jail on charges of carrying weapons illegally into Mexico. Mr. Tahmooressi claimed that he had entered the country accidentally at a poorly marked border crossing near San Diego. As of Saturday, he was at home in Florida.

The Navy will launch a new year-long effort to protect hardware and software service-wide dubbed “Task Force Cyber Awakening.” Defense News notes that the strategy comes as a reaction to a suspected Iran-backed Navy computer system hack last year.

The Pentagon has rolled back its plans for a Defense intelligence service that would have rivaled the CIA in size after it came under fire from lawmakers dubious of its purpose and cost. Instead, the Washington Post reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency will train and deploy 500 undercover officers - half the number initially envisioned.

Oral arguments are set to begin tomorrow in Klayman v. Obama, a lawsuit filed by conservative activist Larry Klayman seeking to end NSA bulk data collection. The case is one of three ongoing federal appeals court challenges to the NSA’s collection programs.

In the New York Times, Joe Nocera argues that releasing tapes from Guantanamo will allow the American people to “finally decide for ourselves whether the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees amounts to torture.”

A Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled last Thursday that while a person does not need to provide a passcode to unlock their phone, it is constitutional for police to demand that a suspect provide their fingerprint. The Virginia Pilot has more on the ruling.

This morning, the One World Trade Center opened for business.

Parting Shot: on Friday, Lawfare kicked off the first round of the Brookings Fight Club. Don’t miss Ben Bissell and Ben Wittes squaring off at Brookings HQ, as Wells Bennett (everyone’s favorite giant bunny) officiates.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Ashley Deeks walks us through Syrian reactions to foreign actions against ISIS.

Jack writes “On Journalists’ Claims for Immunity from Legal Accountability.”

Susan Landau tells us “How Not to Do Remote Computer Searches.”

In this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, Jennifer M. Harris says that the key to U.S. sanctions happiness is a short national memory.

For the Lawfare Podcast, Ben sits down with Chris Soghoian, ACLU technologist and cybersecurity expert, who responds to FBI Director James Comey on encryption.

And finally, Ben reminds you that if you like our stuff, please contribute to Lawfare. Every little bit helps us bring you an even better discussion on national security law and privacy.

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