TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 25

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Iraqi premier refuses calls to form broader government; U.S. sanctions on Russia could be delayed; Sen. Thad Cochran wins Mississippi primary; Rep. Charlie Rangel in the lead

  • “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused Wednesday to bend to international appeals to form a more broad-based government to curb the country’s swelling Sunni Muslim insurgency.” [WSJ]
    • “Iran is flying unarmed surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed a unit there to intercept communications…” [NYT]
  • “Sanctions aimed at key economic sectors in Russia because of its threatening moves in Ukraine might be delayed because of positive signals from Russian President Vladimir Putin…” [AP]
  • “Sen. Thad Cochran narrowly won Mississippi’s Republican primary election Tuesday, prevailing over a Tea Party challenger in a hard-fought runoff vote that was seen as a proxy for the intramural fight between the GOP establishment and conservative insurgents.” [TIME]
    • “After trailing the lesser known McDaniel in the June 3 primary, Cochran, in three weeks time, managed to: a) grow the electorate in his favor by, among other things, recruiting African Americans to his cause b) run successfully on a message of keeping his seniority in Washington and c) win despite, quite clearly, being the less naturally skilled candidate on the stump.” [WashPost]
  • “New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel held a slim lead in a primary race against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat early Wednesday, as the longtime incumbent looked for a victory that would give him what he’s said will be one last term in Congress.” [TIME]
  • Boehner Planning House Lawsuit Against Obama Executive Actions [Roll Call]
  • “The Obama administration cleared the way for the first exports of unrefined American oil in nearly four decades, allowing energy companies to start chipping away at the longtime ban on selling U.S. oil abroad.” [WSJ]
TIME Iraq

The First U.S. Special Forces Have Arrived in Baghdad

Members of the Iraqi security forces take their positions during an intensive security deployment west of Baghdad, June 24, 2014.
Members of the Iraqi security forces take their positions during an intensive security deployment west of Baghdad, June 24, 2014. Ahmed Saad—Reuters

They are there to consult and not engage in combat, although Washington has not ruled out air strikes

A number of U.S. military advisers landed in Baghdad on Tuesday to establish a strategic base in the city, from which they will conduct intelligence evaluations of the crisis in northern Iraq.

They are the first of 300 Special Forces troops deployed by President Barack Obama to aid the Iraqi army in its defense against the Sunni militant forces quickly encroaching southward toward the capital.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that approximately 90 troops had landed in Iraq, to be followed by 50 more from within the Central Command region. “These teams will assess the cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces, higher headquarters in Baghdad, and examine the most effective and efficient way to introduce follow-on advisers,” he said.

The deployment accompanies an effort by Washington to fortify intelligence operations in the country, which for now may be the extent of direct U.S. engagement in the ongoing conflict. The President and other Administration officials have stressed that the troops stationing themselves in Baghdad this week are there in a strictly consultative capacity — at least for the time being.

“American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well,” Obama said in a press conference last week.

The Commander in Chief’s reluctance to send troops to the front lines has prompted criticism of his approach to foreign policy, including a controversial essay in the Wall Street Journal by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wrote that Obama’s military inaction in Iraq since withdrawing troops in 2011 has enabled “American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

According to a New York Times poll published on Monday, Americans are split on whether air strikes are prudent, though a majority oppose direct combat by ground troops.

Nearly 70% of those surveyed, however, felt that the President had been vague in explaining his Administration’s goals in Iraq. His next move is likewise uncertain, although he maintains that air strikes are not entirely out of the question.

“Going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine the situation on the ground requires it,” Obama said.

TIME Iraq

Sorry, Jihadis, but You Won’t Be Able to Buy ISIS T-Shirts on Facebook

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holds an ISIS flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 Reuters

T-shirts for terrorists get a ton of dislikes

Facebook has blocked the attempted sale of ISIS hoodies, T-shirts and toy figurines on the social network.

The shirts include the Sunni militant group’s logo and slogans like “We Are All ISIS” and “Fight for Freedom, Until the Last Drop of Blood,” and cost around $10.

The group is currently embroiled in all-out insurgency in Iraq, where it has seized several key areas.

Facebook was swift to respond. “Where hateful content is posted and reported, Facebook removes it and disables accounts of those responsible,” a spokesperson told CNN via email.

ISIS merchandize is also available on Twitter, but CNN reports that the microblogging site declined to comment.

Many of the manufacturers selling ISIS paraphernalia come from Indonesia, where there is some support for the extremist group, but it’s not clear whether revenue from the merchandise is going to sympathizers, opportunistic entrepreneurs or ISIS itself.

Terrorism researcher J.M. Berger says he wouldn’t be surprised if profits go to the latter. “ISIS has a big base of support in Southeast Asia — a long history with Islamism and jihadism. A number of foreign fighters come from the region,” Berger stated to CNN.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict published a report in January stating that conflict in the Middle East is attracting fighters from Indonesia.

“Indonesian extremists are more engaged by the conflict in Syria than by any other foreign war in recent memory, including Afghanistan and Iraq,” the report said.

[CNN]

TIME Foreign Policy

Dick Cheney Says Iraq War Was ‘the Right Thing’

Dick And Lynne Cheney Participate In Book Discussion In Washington
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington Win McNamee—Getty Images

No regrets from the former VP

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday stood by the Bush Administration’s decision to wage war in Iraq, saying he has never second-guessed the decision even with Iraq once again descending into chaos.

“I was a strong advocate of going into Iraq,” Cheney told PBS in an interview, a week after launching a new political group designed to boost his foreign policy and national-security policies. “I think that was the right decision then, and I still believe that today.”

“I think we did what we had to do,” Cheney added, saying he is still not convinced Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion. “And you don’t get to go back and say, well, we would have — what if we’d ignored all the intelligence?”

Cheney blasted President Barack Obama’s handling of the situation in Iraq, saying he should have more forcefully pushed to keep U.S. troops in the country after 2011 to help keep the country stable. “For me, the bottom line was, when we left office, Iraq was in good shape,” Cheney said. “And now we’re in a situation where obviously we’ve got another big problem.”

But the former Vice President largely agreed with Obama’s handling of the current crisis that has seen the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria make significant gains in the country. Cheney called for the deployment of additional U.S. military advisers and a swift transition for the Iraqi government, and he warned that American air strikes could have unintended complications. Cheney said the U.S. response to the Iraq crisis must be part of a broader strategy for the volatile region that he says Obama has not yet developed. He also called on Obama to halt the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

“I would stop talking about withdrawing from Afghanistan,” Cheney said. “We ought to stay in Afghanistan. We shouldn’t be scaling back.”

Cheney also called for Obama to swiftly work to boost Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the former military leader who deposed the elected Muslim Brotherhood–led government before his election this year. “I’d help al-Sisi every chance I got,” Cheney said.

Cheney said he was unaware of the conviction of three al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt this week, which has been condemned by the U.S. and by European governments. “I haven’t seen that. I’m not familiar with it,” Cheney said of the news that dominated the front pages of national newspapers on Tuesday. “I missed that one.”

TIME Military

Pentagon Sending a Message to Iraq by Dragging Its Boots

US Fighters patrol the No Fly Zone over Iraq
A heavily armed U.S. F-16 patrols the "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq in 1998. USAF / Vincent A. Parker / Getty Images

Slow-motion U.S. reaction is designed to push Baghdad to compromise

During the first lull—1991 to 2003—in the now-23-year-old Iraq war, U.S. war planes would routinely destroy missile sites operated by Saddam Hussein’s forces if American pilots deemed them threatening.

Now that the U.S. is amid a second lull, since pulling its forces out in 2011, it has adapted a different strategy. While it’s flying 30 or more manned and unmanned airplanes daily over Iraq to chart the progress of the rebels belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as they bulldoze across western Iraq and threaten Baghdad, the U.S. has numbed its trigger finger.

“No truth to rumors in media today that US drones struck [ISIS] targets in Iraq,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, tweeted to his 27,000 followers mid-day Tuesday.

What’s going on here?

It’s simple: the U.S. military generally “sends messages” by attacking. Now it is sending messages by not attacking. And its target this time around isn’t the enemy, but its purported ally running the country.

While the Pentagon officially denies it, the U.S, government is dragging its feet when it comes to defending Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s government in Iraq. This Goldilocks approach surfaced at Tuesday’s Pentagon briefing, where Kirby said ISIS is a “legitimate threat to Baghdad,” and said the first 90 U.S. troops have arrived in the Iraqi capital to set up a command post and figure out how the U.S. might be able to help. President Obama said Thursday that as many as 300 advisers could end up in Iraq offering intelligence and guidance to the Iraqi security forces trying to defeat ISIS.

“This is a measured, deliberate approach to help us and [the Iraqi government] get better eyes on the situation,” Kirby said. “This isn’t about making assistance and advice hinge purely and solely on political gains.”

But Kirby described a Pentagon that is in no rush to save the Iraqi capital:

The teams will begin their assessments immediately and provide their findings through the chain of command within the next two to three weeks…we continue to fly routine and regular ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions over Iraq to the tune of about 30 to 35 flights per day to help us gain better insight about the security situation on the ground. This continued effort will no doubt aid our assessment teams as they begin their important work…then we’ll make decisions, follow-on decisions, about the second joint operations center in northern Iraq at a later date…Right now we’re sort of in the assessment phase, and standing up the joint operations center is a key part of that. Eventually we’ll move to, you know, a more active advise-and-assist phase.

Washington is trying to hit the sweet spot: promise to deliver enough help in the form of air strikes and on-the-ground advisers to preserve Maliki’s government, but make sure it arrives slowly enough that he feels compelled to compromise with the Sunnis and Kurds who are now tearing the country apart.

It’s a gamble, for both Obama and Maliki.

It isn’t clear yet whose side time is on. The final U.S. troops left South Vietnam on Mar. 29, 1973. Saigon fell to North Vietnam, and South Vietnam ceased to exist, 762 days later, after the U.S. Congress refused to pay for additional fighting. It has been 919 days since the last U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, to wage the war that started with the 2003 invasion, headed for home.

TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Says U.S. Air Strikes in Iraq Would Be ‘Act of Irresponsibility’

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Erbil, Iraq on June 24, 2014.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Erbil, Iraq on June 24, 2014. Hamit Husein—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Top American diplomat warns against strikes in a power vacuum

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday ruled out U.S. air strikes in Iraq so long as its government remains fractured along sectarian lines and incapable of combating extremist Sunni militants who are capturing towns in the country’s north.

Kerry told CBS News that the U.S. military was prepared to provide assistance to Iraqi troops, but launching air strikes at this moment would constitute “a complete and total act of responsibility.”

“There’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military, there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success,” Kerry said.

His remarks appeared to walk back comments made the day before, when he suggested the progress my fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) could force U.S. action. Kerry is in Iraq this week meeting with the country’s leaders and urging them to form a more inclusive government.

[CBS]

TIME Foreign Policy

White House Doesn’t Rule Out Iraq Partition

Spokesman doesn't close the door on possible partition

The White House declined to rule out an eventual breakup of Iraq on Monday, as Sunni extremists in the war-torn country continue to make gains on the road to Baghdad.

With fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seizing more territory, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it’s up to the Iraqi people to decide how their maps should be drawn, adding that the Obama Administration believes the best course would be for Iraq’s political leaders to come together to find a political solution.

“I’m not going to be in a position to offer a proposal for how they should draw up their map,” Earnest said Monday when asked about a 2006 proposal by then-Senator Joe Biden to partition Iraq into Sunni, Shi‘ite and Kurdish states. “The most direct way for — in the view of this Administration — for Iraq to confront the threat that they face from [ISIS] is to unite that country around a political agenda that gives every single citizen a stake in that country’s future and that country’s success.”

When asked about this week’s TIME cover story, “The End of Iraq,” Earnest acknowledged that partition is hardly a new concept. “But I think that we have also seen the danger of trying to impose solutions from the outside about what anyone thinks is in the best interests of the Iraqi people,” he said.

“It is the view of this Administration that the best way for us to confront this challenge is to empower the Iraqi people to make the kinds of decisions that demonstrate their vested interest in the success of that country, and that starts by having political leadership, elected political leadership, that ensures that the rights and interests and aspirations of every Iraqi citizen is incorporated into their governing agenda,” Earnest added. “That’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t want to paper over that. But it is critical to the success of that country.”

TIME Foreign Policy

A ‘Chilling’ Verdict in Egypt After U.S. Floats More Aid

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry hold a joint press conference regarding developments in Syria and Iraq on June 22, 2014 in Cairo.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry hold a joint press conference regarding developments in Syria and Iraq on June 22, 2014 in Cairo. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Cairo was quickly followed by the conviction of 3 Al Jazeera journalists, prompting Kerry to denounce the "chilling, draconian" just after he looked forward to a resumption of military aid

You’ll be hearing a lot in the coming days about John Kerry’s visit to Baghdad Monday, where the Secretary of State held meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders in an effort to prevent the country’s explosion into a new sectarian civil war. But Washington has limited influence in Baghdad, and it’s not clear what Kerry’s visit can accomplish.

That’s why it’s worth focusing on Kerry’s earlier stop in Cairo, which was more revealing about U.S. policy in the region. After his Sunday meeting with Egypt’s military ruler Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, he signaled the Obama Administration wants to fully restore U.S. military aid to Cairo—choosing the priorities of influence and stability in Egypt over a principled defense of human rights under a government that a top U.S. Senator recently branded “a dictatorship run amok.”

That’s a retreat from Obama’s earlier, and half-hearted, punishment of al-Sisi’s repressive regime, which has showed no signs of moderation. To the contrary: Hours after Kerry left Cairo, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others people for alleged collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood. That prompted Kerry to issue a statement from Iraq denouncing the “chilling, draconian” sentences.

“Egyptian society is stronger and sustainable when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success,” Kerry said in a statement. “Today’s verdicts fly in the face of the essential role of civil society, a free press, and the real rule of law.”

Kerry’s trip to Egypt was the clearest statement yet that President Barack Obama would rather work with al-Sisi than punish him, and his conciliatory words in Cairo before the verdict were not surprising, says Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official and Egypt expert now with the Brookings Institution. “I think the trajectory has been clear for a while.”

Meeting with reporters in Cairo, Kerry said he and al-Sisi discussed their “mutual determination for our countries to work together in partnership in order to deal with the challenges that we face.” Kerry also noted America’s support for political freedoms and “a vibrant civil society.” But his overall tone was supportive of the military general who led the July 2013 coup against Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government and was elected the country’s president this month.

Put an asterisk after “elected,” though. Sisi won in a phony “campaign” carefully restricted by his military regime with a comical 97 percent of the vote. That tells you a lot about the nature of Egypt today: a politically repressive dictatorship which has banned its main political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and wantonly imprisons its critics. Once home to the stirring mass protests on Tahrir Square, Egypt now quashes virtually all political dissent.

Last fall, the White House announced a partial suspension of the $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid Egypt receives each year, an enduring legacy of the country’s 1979 peace deal with Israel. Even at the time, an Obama official explained that the suspension “is not meant to be permanent; this is meant to be the opposite.” (The Obama Administration never officially recognized al-Sisi’s seizure of power as a coup; doing so would have automatically triggered a full aid cutoff under U.S. law.)

That move didn’t exactly prompt moderation from al-Sisi. His crackdown against Islamists continued, punctuated by a court’s recent death sentences for a Muslim Brotherhood cleric and 182 of his supporters who were accused of inciting violence that killed a single police officer.

But Obama wants to maintain a strong relationship with Cairo, not least for strategic reasons like access to the Suez Canal, and U.S. officials believe that continued military aid buys us influence over the country’s future. The U.S. also has little love for the Muslim Brotherhood, which, although it governed peacefully, has radical Islamist elements and allies.

And so, speaking to reporters in Cairo, Kerry explained that the Obama Administration supports fully restoring U.S. aid to Egypt—despite a recent move by Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy oto chop $650 million from America’s annual aid package and halt the shipment of 10 Apache attack helicopters the Egyptians say are vital to battling militants in their Sinai region, a goal very much shared by Washington.

“We will work that out, and I am confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid for precisely the reasons that I describe—because it is strategic and it is important for us to be able to work together,” Kerry said, adding that he had spoken to Leahy from Cairo. “I am confident… that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.”

Unfortunately, the same probably can’t be said for political reform in Egypt, which Wittes calls essential to reforming Egypt’s shattered economy, currently propped up by billions in aid from Gulf Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It’s very hard to see how with [al-Sisi] could make the really painful economic choices needed to revitalize Egypt’s economic growth, and address the needs of Egypt’s young men without broader political support,” says Wittes. “You cannot separate the economics from the politics.”

And with the U.S. aid spigot likely to reopen in full, it’s also hard to see what might make al-Sisi seek that broader support.

TIME The Brief

Former Baylor Star Isaiah Austin Reveals Career-Ending Diagnosis

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

+ READ ARTICLE

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Monday, June 23.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with top political leaders in Iraq after fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria captured key crossings at the Syria-Iraq border over the weekend.

More auto recalls, but this time they’re not from GM, as Honda, Mazda and Nissan are calling back vehicles due to defective airbags.

Sunday’s dramatic World Cup tie game between the U.S. and Portugal means that all Group G teams have a chance to advance after Thursday’s matches.

And finally, a career-ending diagnosis for former Baylor player Isaiah Austin, who will no longer pursue a career in the NBA.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Iraq's struggling army; Domestic drones; Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's views on Ex-Im and immigration; Chris Christie's compassionate conservatism; Scott Walker's "unelectable whiteness"; New Yorker's 9,000 word profile of Ted Cruz

  • “As Iraqi Army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has ceded.” [NYT]
    • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to push for a more inclusive government, even as Baghdad’s forces abandoned the border with Jordan, leaving the entire Western frontier outside government control.” [Reuters]
    • What’s the Pentagon’s endgame in Iraq? [TIME]
  • Crashes mount as as military flies more drones in U.S. [WashPost]
  • “Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday he wouldn’t support reauthorizing the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, placing in doubt the future of a major agency that facilitates U.S. exports.” [WSJ]
    • McCarthy’s role is debated in his land of immigrants [NYT]
  • How Rep. Steve Scalise smoked Rep. Peter Roskam in the House Whip race [Breitbart]
  • Paul Ryan Hammers the IRS [Slate]
  • Inside the Vast Liberal Conspiracy [Politico]
  • The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker [New Republic]
  • Ted Cruz, The Far Right’s Most Formidable Advocate [New Yorker]
  • “New Jersey governor Chris Christie has a new cause: treatment, not prison, for nonviolent drug addicts. Can it soften his image—and the Republican Party’s?” [Atlantic]

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