Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 22, 2014

October 21, 2014

Reading the Tea Leaves on North Korea After U.S. Prisoner Release

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday confirmed that North Korea has released one of the three U.S. citizens it has been holding prisoner.

Jeffrey Fowle, an American tourist and father of three, was arrested in May on accusations of leaving a Bible behind in a hotel. He was allowed to depart North Korea on a U.S. military transport plane, according to a department press release that did not say when he was released into U.S. custody. The department did not provide many details about how the prisoner release came to transpire other than thanking the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang for its “tireless efforts” as the United States’ “Protecting Power in the DPRK.”

The Kim Jong Un regime continues to hold two other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.

Since North Korea never makes a good-faith gesture without an ulterior motive, it can be an interesting exercise to try to predict what Pyongyang has up its sleeve this time.

“We know they grab people to trade them,” said Jeffrey Lewis, who directs the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “They clearly think they’re going to get something in exchange for this release. It’s very doubtful that it is a purely humanitarian gesture.”

Lewis emphasized how difficult it is to accurately guess at the intentions of the famously closed-off Kim regime. Still, he said Pyongyang could have freed Fowle in order to give its chief benefactor, China, a “deliverable” ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing next month. The North might also be seeking to build-up some goodwill ahead of its next potential provocation, Lewis said.

A number of arms control observers have speculated that the next provocation could involve the launch of another satellite. Earlier this month, 38 North, an expert website that uses satellite image analysis to track weapons development in North Korea, reported that the Stalinist state had evidently completed a key construction effort to expand its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which was the site of a successful space launch in December 2012. Pyongyang’s development of a satellite launch program is a serious concern to the international community as rocket technology can also be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“North Korea is now ready to move forward with another rocket launch,” reads the analysis by 38 North image expert Nick Hansen. “Should a decision be made soon to do so in Pyongyang – and we have no evidence that one has – a rocket could be launched by the end of 2014.”

Iran Nuclear Deal and Congressional Politics

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on Sept. 26. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration planned to bypass Congress on sanctions relief resulting from multi-party talks to strike an Iran nuclear deal. Suffice it to say hardly anyone thinks that’s going to go well, if he tries it. Full story

By Tim Starks Posted at 2:33 p.m.
Foreign Policy

Backlash Against Leon Panetta, Robert Gates Over Memoirs

President Obama’s former Defense secretaries are coming under fire in light of their memoirs that criticize the commander-in-chief while he’s still in office. Full story

By Tim Starks Posted at 8:33 a.m.
Personnel

October 20, 2014

Video: John Oliver Shreds U.S. Over Afghan Translators on ‘Last Week Tonight’

On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Sunday, John Oliver ripped into the backlog of Afghan translators awaiting special U.S. visas. The deadly threats against those translators were the subject of what has become the defining trait of Oliver’s show: a 15-minute plus segment where he lays waste to one particular problem. Full story

Transgender Military Service, Ebola, China’s Navy in the Week Ahead

It’s another slow-ish week in Washington, D.C., with elections nearing, but one House committee is back in town for a hearing, and some other hot topics — including the subjects in the headline and cybersecurity — are on the agenda.

Full story

October 17, 2014

Weekly Recap: Elections, Interrogations, Revolts

The holiday made it a shorter week at Five By Five, so this weekly recap won’t hit as many highlights as usual — and will spend a little more time on what others were up to. Full story

Five By Five Friday Q&A: Mark Gunzinger, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

mgunzinger 105x147 Five By Five Friday Q&A: Mark Gunzinger, Center for Strategic and Budgetary AssessmentsMark Gunzinger is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This week, he co-wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed with another CSBA senior fellow, John Stilton, entitled “The Unserious Air War Against ISIS.” The piece argues that the United States has been too “timorous” in its number of air strikes compared to other campaigns. He answered questions from Five By Five Friday about the piece, and about the campaign against ISIS in general. Full story

October 16, 2014

Shake-Ups Due on Congressional Defense Panels

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Shaheen in September. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Just like autumn leaves, the congressional defense panels are in for change. Megan Scully has an item today for CQ.com’s subscribers on the CQ on Defense blog about how the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Democratic leadership is due for a shake-up of potentially monumental proportions. And they’re not the only faction. Full story

National Security (and James Foley) Making a Prominent Appearance in GOP Ads

Just a few months ago, the only time national security or foreign policy came up in political ads was in relation to things like the economy — a candidate hyping his role in keeping a military base open, say. Now, the subjects have become a prominent part of the GOP’s midterm ads in their own right. Full story

October 15, 2014

Twitter Reviews of ISIS War Name ‘Inherent Resolve’: Mainly Funny and/or Mean

After weeks of consideration, the name for the Pentagon’s operation against ISIS is now officially “Inherent Resolve,” a moniker that had initially been rejected within the Pentagon for being too “bleh.” Naming wars is a bit of an art, but it seems that most of Twitter — to be sure, often an outlet for snark — isn’t impressed. Consider these highlights from Twitter reviews, and you’re welcome to come up with your own war names in the comments section. Full story

By Tim Starks Posted at 2:59 p.m.
Terrorism, War

Chemical Weapons Might be Another Gift for Militants

The New York Times’ blockbuster story about how U.S. forces discovered chemical weapons in Iraq and suffered injuries due to chemical exposure — unbeknownst to the public — is almost sure to provoke congressional overseers of the armed forces and veterans’ affairs. But the story also contains some worrying information that has implications for future U.S. action against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State or ISIL.

American troops found thousands of warheads after the 2003 invasion, and a large number remain in Iraq — in easy reach of ISIL, the Times reports. Many of the chemical incidents and discoveries took place around a chemical weapons plant known as the Muthanna State Establishment, which was operational in the 1980s.

“Since June, the compound has been held by the Islamic State, the world’s most radical and violent jihadist group,” the Times reported. “In a letter sent to the United Nations this summer, the Iraqi government said that about 2,500 corroded chemical rockets remained on the grounds, and that Iraqi officials had witnessed intruders looting equipment before militants shut down the surveillance cameras.”

The military contends those weapons are old and pose no threat, but the story notes that Iraqi chemical munitions have a habit of staying dangerous after their expiration dates.

The reporting could prove to be another black mark for the government of Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister until this year, that gave ISIL an advantage. The al-Maliki government was also in charge of maintaining the Iraqi armed forces that collapsed as ISIL advanced.

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October 14, 2014

Six Months After Boko Haram Kidnappings, Hope, Despair

457208332 445x295 Six Months After Boko Haram Kidnappings, Hope, Despair

Protesters with the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign shouts slogans during a demonstration in front of the Nigerian consulate in New York on Tuesday to mark the six month anniversary of the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants. (Jewel Samad /AFP/Getty Images)

There’s been a minor revival in the past couple days on the profile of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, given the six month anniversary of the abductions. There was a time when it was a daily or at least weekly subject of this reporter’s inbox, with news releases from those trying to rile the Obama administration into stronger action. Now, it’s been more than a month since any lawmaker sent a news release with the word “Boko Haram” in it.

Six months from the abductions, the Obama administration has mentioned the kidnappings more frequently than its critics — including Tuesday. Elsewhere, especially in Nigeria, the situation offers a mix of hope and despair. Full story

The Army, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan in the Week Ahead

levin002 033114 445x295 The Army, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan in the Week Ahead

Levin on March 31. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

All the hot spots get some attention this week in Washington, D.C., and there is a pair of big multi-day conferences — one of which is already underway. Full story

October 10, 2014

Weekly Recap: Syria Air Strikes, Operation Blue Spoon, Hawk Vs. Drone

This week, we recap the subjects in the headline, plus some Guantanamo, some politics, some cybersecurity, some Iran and more. Full story

Curious Timing on This ‘Close Guantanamo’ Story, No?

493344533 445x296 Curious Timing on This Close Guantanamo Story, No?

Protesters demand the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center on May 23 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

[Update at 3:18 p.m.: The White House has issued a denial of its reported plans.]

Writing of President Obama’s consideration of closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detainee facility “by overriding a congressional ban on bringing detainees to the U.S..,” the Wall Street Journal on Friday added that “It would likely provoke a sharp reaction from lawmakers…”

There’s no “likely” about it: It definitely would, and the mere idea already has. And it has thrown red meat to the GOP in an election season when it already had plenty. One wonders why this came out now. Full story

By Tim Starks Posted at 1:02 p.m.
Navy, Terrorism

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