Fordham Law School banner photo

Morning Brief- 12/11/12

Today's Top Story

The U.S. State Department has designated the Syrian Islamist rebel group known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, confirming media speculation in recent days. Analysts say Washington’s move to isolate the group, which is allegedly tied to al-Qaeda in Iraq, aims to bolster western support for the rebellion against the Assad regime and allay fears that financing and arms will end up in the hands of jihadi groups. However, many Syrian rebels consider the Nusra Front a potent ally that despite its relatively small numbers, has punched well above its weight, providing the resistance with some of the most aggressive, effective, and battle-hardened fighters.

The U.S. decision to designate the group was reportedly made on November 20, but its publication was timed to coincide with a Wednesday meeting of top international diplomats in Morocco to discuss a post-Assad political transition in Syria. In conjunction, many analysts expect the United States to formally recognize the Syrian opposition coalition, a move that has already been taken by U.S. allies including France, the UK, Turkey, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. ( NYT, Bloomberg)

“It makes sense to isolate the [Nusra Front] and try to dry up its resources, but the designation by itself isn’t sufficient,” says a New York Times editorial. “American officials have to make a case directly to the countries or actors that are believed to be most responsible, either directly or as a conduit, for the weapons and other assistance to the Nusra Front: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.”

The United States

A new report issued by the U.S. intelligence community says Asia will collectively wield more power than the United States and Europe combined by 2030, noting that China’s economy will likely surpass that of the U.S. in two decades. The National Intelligence Council’s quadrennial report, “Global Trends 2030,” aims to outline a broad spectrum of “megatrends” transforming the world. The four trends highlighted by the 140-page document are “the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a rising middle class whose demands challenge governments, and a Gordian knot of water, food and energy shortages,” notes Bloomberg.  ( BBC, Bloomberg)

Padilla Torture: The ACLU will ask the Organization of American States to investigate the U.S. government for allegedly torturing convicted terrorism plotter Jose Padilla. The civil liberties advocacy group is expected to file a petition today to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which serves as the human-rights investigation arm of the Washington-based OAS. ( AP)

Pentagon Spies: A military spending bill approved by the Senate last week effectively bars the Defense Department from financing an expansion of its overseas spy network until it has provided policymakers with more details on what the program will cost and how it will be managed. ( WashPost)

Torture Debate: Washington’s debate over torture is set to take center stage this week, as the Senate plans to approve its long-awaited report on “enhanced interrogation techniques.” However, the findings are not expected to be made public, but will prompt a lengthy review process involving the White House, the intelligence community and lawmakers to determine what should be declassified. ( The Hill)

SEAL Killed: A member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, was killed in Afghanistan during a raid to rescue a doctor kidnapped by the Taliban. ( BBC)

Conflict Zones

A new Defense Department progress report on the security situation in Afghanistan raises concerns about the pace of the U.S. drawdown, scheduled for completion in 2014. The biannual report, which some analysts characterized as “bleak,” notes that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently, and states that violence in the country is higher than it was before the U.S. troop surge two years ago. Additionally, the assessment says the Taliban remain resilient, corruption continues to hamper the government in Kabul, and Pakistan remains a critical supporter of the insurgency. ( NYT)

Af-Pak Row: Afghan President Hamid Karzai plans to confront his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, at a trilateral summit in Turkey today over the wounding of his intelligence director in a suicide attack last week. Karzai has said the bombing was orchestrated in Pakistan. ( Reuters)

Yemen: Yemeni authorities say a senior intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ba Ramada, has been killed by two unidentified assailants on a motorcycle in one of the country’s southern provinces. Yemeni officials believe al-Qaeda is waging a retaliation campaign for a U.S.-backed military offensive last summer, which pushed militants out of several southern towns. ( AP)

World News

International sanctions imposed on Iran over its controversial nuclear program have pushed the country into recession, according to a new report from the Washington-based Institute for International Finance. The United States and its allies suspect Iran is enriching uranium to weapons grade, and the Senate is mulling a larger set of economic sanctions on the country’s energy, port, and shipping sectors. Tehran denies the allegations and claims its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. According to the report, Iran’s GDP in 2012 is expected to shrink by 3.5 percent, from 1.2 percent growth in 2011, while inflation will average around 50 percent in 2012, up from 26.5 last year. ( Reuters)

Egypt: The capital of the world’s most populous Arab state is preparing itself for competing rallies prompted by a referendum on a new constitution ordered by President Mohammed Morsi. The protests have been called by largely secular opposition groups and Islamists backing Morsi. Meanwhile, the president has called in the army to keep security and protect state institutions ahead of Saturday's vote. ( BBC)

Mali: Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra announced his resignation today after being arrested by soldiers while trying to leave the divided West African nation for France. Analysts say the incident is likely to complicate international efforts to plan a military intervention to reclaim the country’s north from militant Islamist groups. ( Reuters)

Top Op-Eds

U.S. Chemical Weapons Testing: Colonel James S. Ketchum “became the military’s leading expert in a secret Cold War experiment: to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals...Next year, a class-action lawsuit brought against the federal government by former test subjects will go to trial, and Ketchum is expected to be the star witness,” writes Raffi Katchadourian for the New Yorker.

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Review
: “The compelling story told in the film captures a lot that is true about the search for al Qaeda's leader but also distorts the story in ways that could give its likely audience of millions of Americans the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA...were essential to finding bin Laden,” writes Peter Bergen for CNN.

Out of Control Drone War
: “The use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists has become a trademark of the Obama administration,” writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. “Yet while Guantánamo attracted worldwide condemnation, the use of drones is much less discussed,” he notes.

Editor's Pick

CRS: The Detention of U.S. Person as Enemy Belligerents