Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, September 3, 2015, 2:57 PM

Tanks returned to Tiananmen Square earlier today, but this time to celebrate an ascendant China as well as the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. With fighter jets and helicopters soaring overhead and tanks, troops, and ballistic missiles rolling past, China’s President Xi Jinping presided over a parade that served both to promote his version of Chinese nationalism and underscore an ambition to make China the pre-eminent power in Asia. The event, which was controversial among many Western democracies, was attended by foreign dignitaries including Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

During the parade, Xi announced that the People’s Liberation Army will cut 300,000 troops. While framed as an attempt to demonstrate that China does not seek hegemony, regional analysts see the move as a cost cutting measure designed to allow Beijing to invest more heavily in high-tech defense capabilities. Even with the cuts, the PLA will remain the world’s largest standing army. The Associated Press has more.

The South China Morning Post carries a roundup of the 10 most anticipated weapons in the parade, including the DF-21D “carrier killer,” an unproven appellation but one that is worrying all the same.

Away from the pomp and circumstance, the Daily Beast describes the intense planning and machinations that went into the event:

It took a lot to disperse the polluted haze. Ten thousand factories in seven provinces were temporarily shut down. Workers on 40,000 construction sites were told to take time off. Automobiles were banned from driving in some parts of the capital. With tight traffic restrictions, a curfew, and other controls in place—hotel rooms couldn’t be booked, retail and entertainment businesses were asked to stay closed, and the Chinese Communist Party  mobilized 850,000 “volunteers” to patrol the capital—residents in Beijing felt like they were being subjected to martial law in the past few days.

Back in the States, President Barack Obama secured enough Senate votes to protect the Iran deal from a veto override yesterday with the announcement that Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) would support the deal. Today, the New York Times describes the coordinated strategy that brought about the success, which included a mix of pressure from other P5+1 countries, cabinet secretaries, and especially the White House.

While the deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 is now all but certain to stand, that does not mean that the Obama administration is content. Politico shares the the President now hopes that he can convince 41 Senate Democrats to support the deal, enough to filibuster a resolution of disapproval and avoid an embarrassing rebuke to the President’s marquee foreign policy achievement. In that vein, after news of Mikulski's vote trickled in, Secretary of State John Kerry forcefully defended the deal in Philadelphia, repeating his earlier claim that any notion of a better deal is “an illusion.” For their part, Republicans are now looking for new ways to upend the deal, according to the Times. These include re-applying new sanctions that are to be lifted as part of the accord, and potentially passing new terrorism-related sanctions that are not included as part of the broader nuclear deal. The House is scheduled to vote on a resolution of disapproval by the end of next week.

Earlier this week, Kurdish forces claimed that ISIS fighters had  fired homemade rockets with chemical weapons at their positions. Today, the Daily Beast asks, “where did ISIS get its chemical weapons?” A Dutch ISIS fighter claims that the mustard gas, which ISIS has reportedly used at least twice in recent weeks, is from Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s stockpiles. However, the Pentagon is skeptical. According to defense officials, the recent attacks do not have the kind of impact that one would expect from a state-sponsored weapon, and it is much more likely that ISIS is manufacturing its own chemical agents. Elsewhere, the Guardian carries a graphic account of what it is like to suffer a mustard gas attack by ISIS.

ISIS militants in the Caucasus region are claiming their first successful attack targeted a Russian army outpost in southern Dagestan, the Long War Journal reports. According to a statement from the group, “the soldiers of the Caliphate were able to mount an attack on barracks of the Russian army,” which “led to the killing and wounding of a number of them.”

And in coalition news, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made headlines today, saying that he will make a decision next week on whether his country will deploy fighter jets to take on the Islamic State in Syria.

Egypt is roiling under a string of recent militant attacks across the county. Like elsewhere in the Middle East, the problem is compounded by this fact: The attacks aren’t executed by a single group, but instead are part of an escalatoring clash between militant factions. The Washington Post reports that the rivaling sides have only become more brazen as they vie for influence and power. 

In Yemen, two bomb blasts, the second of which was timed to occur as people gathered the wounded, killed at least 20 people at a mosque in Sanaa, reports the Washington Post. Yemen’s Islamic State-affiliate claimed responsibility, saying the assault was meant as revenge against the Houthi rebels currently occupying the capital.

The Guardian brings us news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered what is sure to be a controversial review of live-fire regulations over when soldiers can shoot at Palestinian stone-throwers. A statement from Netanyahu’s office suggested he was considering giving soldiers more latitude to use live fire in incidents involving firebombs and stone-throwing along the West Bank, saying “since the justice system finds it difficult to deal with minors who throw rocks, changes to orders on opening fire towards stone- and petrol bomb-throwers will be examined.”

Two Indian soldiers and five suspected militants were killed in two separate gun battles in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday, according to the BBC. Across the border, Pakistani forces claimed to kill at least 31 suspected militants in the country’s Khyber northwest.

The Times shares that the Ukrainian government in Kiev is currently considering a series of proposals to grant greater autonomy to the country’s secessionist eastern districts, but the Times notes one little problem: the “areas have already achieved an autonomy surpassing that envisioned in the measure[s].” Yet some analysts say that may not be a bad thing, as the would-policy furnishes Russian President Vladimir Putin a way to “cement the facts on the ground” while also granting him a “politically defensible way to extricate himself from a costly conflict that he can no longer afford.” However, it remains unclear if the reform package can muster the necessary 300 votes out of Kiev’s 450 member parliament; already, three police officers have died in protests, and one party has left the governing coalition.

Yesterday, the United States imposed a new round of sanctions against Russian firms, including the state arms export agency Rosoboronexport and four other Russian defense corporations. The sanctions are for allegedly violating the missile technology control regime by providing sensitive material to Iran, North Korea, or Syria. The United States also slapped sanctions on entities based in China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Apropos, sorta: Have a look the Small Wars Journal, where Octavian Manea has interviewed NYU professor Mark Galeotti.  Among other things, the latter discusses Russia, Ukraine and, the "war of governance" underway in Ukraine. 

The migrant crisis in Europe escalated sharply today, as Hungarian officials stopped a train bound for the Austrian border---a train they had initially allowed to proceed---and forced hundreds of families fleeing from the civil war to disembark in a town with a detention camp, Reuters tells us. The growing crisis demonstrates the divisions across the continent, where Germany plans to take in as many as 800,000 refugees this year, while Britain has approved only 216. Hungary itself is considering proposals to stem the tide of refugees, including building holding zones along the country’s southern border. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to unveil proposals for ameliorating the crisis next week.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon informed the plaintiffs in Klayman v. Obama, a suit that challenges the legality of the NSA’s collection of bulk telephony metadata, that they could amend their case in order to include customers of Verizon Business Network Services---a unit known to have cooperated with the NSA program. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last week that the plaintiffs did not meet the requirements for standing to file suit since they could not prove that their records had been collected. Judge Leon, according to the Washington Post, said that “if the Court finds jurisdiction, I don’t have to write another opinion on the merits.” Leon previously ruled the NSA metadata program unconstitutional.

The Washington Post reports that the Department of Justice told a federal court yesterday that the seizure and interrogation of Ahmed abu Khattala, a Libyan man charged in connection with the attacks on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left several Americans dead, was legal and that courts have upheld such tactics before. Abu Khattala has called his arrest, interrogation, and transport on a U.S. Navy ship “well-planned lawlessness” and Khattala has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Pentagon officials toured the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C. yesterday as part of an evaluation as to whether it could serve as “Guantanamo North.” Stars and Stripes has more.

The Army has officially announced that the Ranger school is now open to both men and women. The determination came just weeks after two women successfully completed the grueling training program. Even so, Defense One informs us that women are still ineligible to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Parting Shot: We’ve that seen bears get anxious around drones, and that eagles will fight one to the death. Today we learn that kangaroos take no drone junk; instead they just box them out of the sky.

Today's Headlines and Commentary will be at the beach for Labor Day, starting Friday, September 4th and returning on Tuesday, September 8th. 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Paul Rosenzweig asked the OPM, “where’s my letter?”

I linked to Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) letter announcing her support of the Iran deal.

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