Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, September 17, 2015, 8:51 PM

Following German and Austrian calls for a summit to address the refugee crisis, European Council President Donald Tusk announced plans to hold another emergency meeting to find an acceptable solution to the migrant crisis. As the situation has worsened, European leaders have faced difficulty in reaching a consensus, sparking fears of a “nuclear” vote might be necessary—meaning “a qualified majority vote that would force through a decision over the objection of countries opposed to it." Politico has the story.

Back in Germany, Manfred Schmidt, the president of Germany's Office for Migration and Refugees, has resigned from his post after broad criticism of his mismanagement of the refugee crisis. Schmidt cited “personal reasons” for his resignation, but critics pointed instead to a tweet from his office that implied that all refugees who reached Germany would be granted asylum, as well as his failure to anticipate the surge of displaced persons entering the country.

The Washington Post discusses the wave of refugee and migrant populations that have reached Croatia after Hungary reinforced its border with Serbia. A total 6,200 displaced persons have entered Croatia so far, but that number is only expected to grow, raising fears of how exactly how the country intends to manage them.

The United Nations has expressed shock in response to Hungary’s treatment of refugees and migrants. Hungary’s use of tear gas and water cannons in its brutal crackdown on the refugees caused U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the actions as “unacceptable.” Hungary defended its response, criticizing international media for “siding with people who were committing a crime.”

The New York Times is following the European response to the crisis with live updates.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin “appeared before the committee to give an essentially optimistic overview of the effort.” The Daily Beast has the story; it comes in the midst of an ongoing investigation of senior intelligence officers, who are suspected of altering reports so as to paint an exessively rosy picture of the campaign against ISIS. Adding that the “10-month, $500 million U.S. effort to train and equip moderate Syria had yielded a ‘small number’ of fighters,” General Austin was met with serious concerns from both sides of the aisle regarding the U.S. strategy against ISIS.

And what about that big train and equip program the Pentagon had going? Turns out, only a handful, perhaps four to five people, remain actively engaged in fighting ISIS. As recently as last week, the Pentagon press secretary "refused to concede that the U.S. military likely would not train 5,000-plus fighters before the end of the year." The Daily Beast has more on this, too.

The Washington Post discusses Congress’s reaction to General Austin’s remarks, where the usual cadre called for a strategy and others went so far as to openly support intervention. Amid scrutiny of the Obama Adminstration's strategy against ISIS, Richard Fontaine and Vance Serchuck of CNAS offer suggestions, ranging from redoubling efforts to training a moderate rebel force to developing a stronger civil-military campaign. In the Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov suggests that the lack of U.S. action against Assad has led to the refugee crisis that recently stunned Europe.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a Syrian military source told reporters that the Syrian army has begun using Russian weapons and that Russian troops have been engaging in military operations. For several weeks, Russia has been sending two military cargo flights each day to an air base in Latakia. Even so, Russia may see the military route as a path to diplomacy, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that Moscow had proposed talks between the United States and Russia on Syria. Part of the conversation would be in order to de-conflict Syrian airspace in order to prevent an exchange of fire between Russian and American forces. The Times also shares that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to travel to Russia next week to discuss the crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin. For his part, Netanyahu is primarily worried about the potential flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

Back on the battlefield, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombs that killed 21 people in Baghdad. ISIS tweeted that it had targeted Shiite paramilitary forces and police.

The Journal reports on Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah‘s return to Aden following six months of exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The move is considered the first step toward re-establishing the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who remains in Riyadh. The crisis in Yemen has created a security vacuum in the region; it has united neighboring Gulf countries who fear Iranian influence in the area.

Thomas Erdbrink of the Times writes of the Iran, which, having reached its historic nuclear compromise, is now wrestling with how to deal with the (former?) Great Satan. In contrast with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's pledge to maintain the status quo, President Hassan Rouhani considers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to be a landmark that paves the way for "an an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation with various countries.” An Iranian economist suggested that Iran “should use ‘lesser Satan’ now or something like that” to refer to the United States. Even so, the acting undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Adam Szubin, told a crowd yesterday that the United States would continue to actively enforce its sanctions against Iran’s support of terrorism, missile proliferation, and human rights abuses. Mr. Szubin also made clear that any entity that facilitates a “significant transaction” with anyone still under sanctions risks losing access to the U.S. financial system.

The Washington Post discusses the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s concern over the quantity of weapons and equipment the U.S. government is sending to Afghanistan. Special Inspector General John Sopko expressed his concern in a letter to General John F. Campbell, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying that the weapons “exceed the needs” of Afghan Security Forces and could cause “the premature disposal” of equipment that is still usable.

The bill to expand the role of the Japanese military has been courting controversy, both at home and abroad. Largely unpopular in Japan, the bill would enable the country’s government to deploy forces in support of its allies even if Japan itself is not under threat of attack. Having gained approval from the lower house, the bill is now under consideration by the upper house, where the leading coalition has the majority. Fighting broke out in a parliamentary session as opposition leaders attempted to physically seize the bill and microphone from the chairman. BBC has the story.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko predicted yesterday separatist rebel elections in the eastern part of the country would pose a great danger to the peace process. In condemning the elections, President Poroshenko also announced sanctions on over 400 individuals and 90 entities that Ukraine blames for enabling the conflict. Some of the sanctions target journalists, sparking outrage from various advocates of media freedom. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a comment stating that Ukraine’s actions were "not the way to ensure security." In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon's influence has waned, as diplomats have taken the lead in maintaining relations between the United States and Russia.

Reports from Burkina Faso suggest that government officials been detained following a coup just weeks before the country was scheduled to hold elections. Announcement of the coup sparked violence in the capital; world leaders responded with outrage and demands for the release of the detained persons.

The Journal discusses a recently announced partnership between General Electric and a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, Sinomach, for clean-energy projects in Africa. The news comes in advance of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States.

North Korea is preparing for its 70th anniversary, raising questions about how exactly the country will mark the occasion. The Post speculates, calling Pyongyang the “undisputed goose-stepping capital of the world.” Following massive military parades in Russia and China, we’ll see if the DPRK is up to the challenge of maintaining that title.

The case against Army Sgt. “Bowe” Bergdahl is set to begin today. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The Post notes that if convicted, Bergdahl could be sentenced to life in prison.

Carol Rosenberg breaks news that Younis Chekkouri was released from Guantánamo Bay yesterday after being approved for release in 2009. Chekkouri participated in the 2013 hunger strike in the detention facility that sparked further controversy after guards resorted to force feeding detainees. Chekkouri, 47, was released to Morocco, his home country. There are now 115 detainees held in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter scolded Congress for its inaction in the defense budget, calling the lack of action “a tax on how we plan and operate.” In his remarks, Secretary Carter also called on China to stop its buildup on islands in the South China Sea.

Parting shot: Politico outlines some of the major findings from yesterday’s release of presidential daily briefings from 1961-1969, sharing 13 especially juicy PDB secrets that you will not want to miss.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

As reported above, the CIA released a collection of presidential daily briefs from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, totalling almost 2,500 documents. Cody posted the briefs on Lawfare.

Ben shared remarks from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on “Achieving our Homeland Security While Preserving our Values and our Liberty.”

Finally, Nicholas Weaver wrote a piece “in contempt of bulk surveillance,” noting that it’s jus too easy.

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