Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, August 4, 2015, 2:09 PM

Yesterday, during a visit to Qatar from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders formally announced their support for the nuclear accord reached with Iran by the P5+1 group. “This was the best option among other options,” declared Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah.

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Yesterday, during a visit to Qatar from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders formally announced their support for the nuclear accord reached with Iran by the P5+1 group. “This was the best option among other options,” declared Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah. “We are confident that all the efforts that have been exerted make this region very secure, very stable.” The announcement, made in no uncertain terms, puts to rest the misgivings, which GCC states had previously expressed regarding the deal. It seems a bit of diplomatic elbow grease may have helped ease the way for such support. Secretary Kerry has promised to expedite weapons sales to the region, increase intelligence-sharing, and deliver $62 million in humanitarian aid for displaced Iraqis. Israel now remains the only country in the Middle East to oppose the agreement, notes the Washington Post.

Back home, the deal has won over another important skeptic - Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA). Following an “extensive review” of the accord, he decided, “I could not find an alternative that would turn out in a better way than the deal. Rejection of the deal would not lead to something credible. And I think that there are enough ways to mitigate the risks associated with the deal that it makes sense to me to move forward.” Indeed, “the risks associated with rejection of the deal are quite a bit higher than the risks associated with going forward.” Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with Congressman Schiff and in Defense One, outlined the legislator’s position on specific aspects of the agreement. Congressman Schiff also appeared on NPR this morning.

The Post takes a look at the statements and actions of a number of Democratic lawmakers as they try to determine where they come down on the nuclear accord. Each vote will be highly consequential when it comes time for Congress to act on the agreement in September.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) offers a “cheat sheet” on the timing of sanctions relief, as outlined in the nuclear deal.

According to the New York Times, U.S. government officials are locked in debate over which extremist group - al Qaeda or the Islamic State - poses the greatest threat to U.S. and its interests. The divisions reflect largely “a shift in emphasis” - with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security focused more on the Islamic State and the Defense Department, intelligence agencies, and the National Counterterrorism Center concerned more by al Qaeda - but the argument has implications for “how the government allocates billions of dollars in counterterrorism funds, and how it assigns thousands of federal agents, intelligence analysts, and troops to combat a multipronged threat.”

The U.S. has begun launching armed planes over Syria from Incirlik base in Turkey. Strikes have yet to be conducted, but the shift in take-off location allows American jets to remain in the air for a greater period of time, “collecting intelligence or dropping munitions.” The Post notes that this news represents “just one element of expanded U.S.-Turkish cooperation against the Islamic State.”

Indeed, yesterday, Washington and Ankara announced an agreement that would keep Kurds out of the proposed Islamic State-free zone in northern Syria. Ethnic tensions in Turkey had led to concerns that routing the Islamic State from the new safe zone would “clear the way for Kurdish fighters to move in.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. has sought to reassure Ankara that they will not partner with Kurdish fighters in that area.

The Guardian reports that Syria is headed toward a de facto partition as the depleted forces of the Assad government retreat from large swathes of territory.

Agence France-Presse informs us that the British Parliament has voted to extend airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State through March 2017.

On Sunday, a coalition of Arab nations sent 2,800 troops to Yemen in hopes of securing the port city of Aden and retaking the nearby military base Al-Anad from Houthi rebels. According to Defense News, most of the Arab force was comprised of Saudi special operations, logistics, and intelligence personnel, though troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and trained Yemeni fighters also participated.

The Arab coalition successfully recaptured Al-Anad military base yesterday, though resistance fighting has continued today. According to the Associated Press, the base served as rebels’ “main encampment in the country’s south.” The Arab force now marches on to another Houthi-held military base, Labouza.

The Times reports that previously peaceful Palestinians in the West Bank are participating in vigilante activities and criticizing their Palestinian Authority (PA) representatives, following an arson which left an eighteen-month-old boy dead and his family severely burned.

A year after “Black Friday” - “one of the deadliest and most controversial days in last summer’s Gaza war” - the Post recalls what happened, noting the results of Amnesty International’s recently released report.

Reuters reports that Boko Haram may have conducted an overnight attack in northern Cameroon. At least seven people are dead and some twenty others have been kidnapped from the village of Tchakarmari by gunmen from Nigeria.

The Times explains that factional in-fighting has begun plaguing Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Last year, in the early days of the rebellion, Cossacks joined eastern Ukrainians in the fight against the Kiev government. “They lent a steely organization to the often ragtag separatist forces.” After the violence had mellowed, Cossack forces took de facto control of a number of towns, establishing “Cossack Republics” which brought them “closer than ever before to realizing a long-held dream of having an independent Cossack state.” Now, eastern Ukrainian rebels have begun disarming Cossack fighters and staging ambushes against their one-time comrades-in-arms. The in-fighting worsens “an already grave humanitarian situation and... [could potentially complicate] matters for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom the West accuses of arming and supporting the separatists.”

According to the Times, “President Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, has become the secretary of reassurance.” Since assuming office in February, Secretary Carter has been traveling around the world, visiting U.S. allies concerned about their security situations. In April, he was in Japan; in June, Estonia; and in July, Israel. America’s partners seek assurances of military support, should security conditions deteriorate, and “by sending the defense secretary to calm fretful allies, the administration can give the appearance of robust military support without actually committing American troops.”

During a stop in Singapore today en route to Malaysia, Secretary Kerry noted that “good progress” was made during Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations last week, although some issues remain. Reuters has more.

A new study, put forth by the College of William and Mary and the University of Wisconsin, shows the gap between academics and the general public with regard to decision-making on when to go to war. It seems that average citizens are far more hawkish than scholars are. When presented with identical hypothetical scenarios and asked whether they supported military intervention as a response, a random sample of the general public was almost always more likely to support military intervention than a random sample of academics was. According to Michael Horowitz of the University of Pennsylvania and Idean Salehyan of the University of Texas, Dallas, experts’ understanding of theories of international relations and knowledge of current events and foreign treaty obligations may explain the discrepancies. Vox shares more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stephanie Leutert covered the plight of displaced Ukrainians, examining the case study of Vladymyr Khlepitko and Yana Marek, a young and trendy couple.

Paul shared this week’s Bits and Bytes.

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Tara Hofbauer previously was an intern with Lawfare. She is majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, with a minor in Legal Studies and History.

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