News Roundup and Notes: January 21, 2015

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

STATE of the UNION ADDRESS

President Obama used his State of the Union address last night (full text) to call on the country to “turn the page” on years of economic crisis, terrorism, and lengthy wars. [AP’s Julie Pace]

“Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

The president urged Congress to pass legislation authorizing the war against the Islamic State, but provided no indication of whether he would send Congress draft language for a new AUMF. Instead, White House officials told reporters earlier in the day that they were “working through” the question of whether to send authorization language to Congress. [Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery]  Many Republicans and some Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine, expressed disappointment with Obama’s lack of details. [Politico’s Philip Ewing and Jeremy Herb]  Meanwhile, Bryan Bender reports that while the White House and Republican leaders have pledged to work together on a new AUMF, they will face opposition from lawmakers on both sides who are wary of U.S. involvement in another open-ended conflict. [The Boston Globe]

A strong push for cybersecurity also featured in the president’s address, which called on Congress to pass the legislation needed “to better meet the evolving threat of cyberattacks.” [Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta]  However, Dan Froomkin reports that the administration’s cyber proposals will likely “erode, rather than strengthen, information security for citizens and computer experts trying to protect them.” [The Intercept]

Surveillance reform has not been forgotten, Obama said last night, pledging to issue a report next month on how to “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

Congress should begin work to lift the Cuba embargo, the president stated during his address, advocating the end of a policy “that was long past its expiration date.” [ABC News’ Jim Avila and Meghan Keneally]

President Obama repeated his pledge to veto new Iran sanctions, which he said would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]  Obama added:

“There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.”

The president “will not relent in [his] determination” to shut Guantanamo, declaring that the prison is contrary to American values and too costly. [Miami  Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

On torture and drones, Obama cited the respect for human dignity for “why [he has] prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.” [Check out Just Security’s Ryan Goodman’s transparency check list of what is and is not public about U.S. lethal operations.]

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Obama stated:

“The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.”

The set of national security ambitions outlined in the State of the Union address will be greatly limited if the president is unable to secure “a modicum of support from the Republican-controlled Congress,” reports Missy Ryan. [Washington Post]

The focus on domestic issues in the President’s address is “striking, given international developments in the past year,” writes the Washington Post editorial board.

YEMEN

Shi’ite Houthi rebels have taken control of the presidential palace in the country’s capital, Sana’a. The takeover comes as a cease fire and negotiations between the central government and the group broke down on Tuesday. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari]

In a televised address, the Houthi leader described the country as being at a defining moment, and accused the president and other leaders of failing to put the Yemeni people’s interests first. [BBC]

Houthi gunmen have reportedly replaced the guards outside of the president’s private residence, and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is said to still be in his home. [Reuters]

The Pentagon has ensured it is in a position to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, despite there being no decision made to do so thus far. [CNN’s Barbara Starr]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on an end to all hostilities in Yemen and urged all sides to abide by their commitments to resolve difficulties through peaceful avenues. [UN News Centre]

An official of Yemen’s AQAP has called on Muslims to carry out lone-wolf attacks in Western states, after the group claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris two weeks ago. [Reuters]

Two Yemeni men have been charged with conspiring to attack U.S. soldiers in the Middle East by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn; both men have suspected ties to al-Qaeda. [New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford]

“The consequences of instability in Yemen extend far beyond its borders.” The Economist discusses the “rolling coup” which has been “a long time gathering.”

The “U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen were already facing an uphill battle” but are a “disaster now.” Jamie Dettmer explains why the Houthi takeover of the presidential palace will ultimately be of most benefit to AQAP. [The Daily Beast]

The New York Times profiles the Houthis of Yemen, a Shi’ite insurgent group said to be backed by Iran.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Iraqi Premier Haider al-Abadi appealed to the U.S.-led coalition and international community to take more action to assist his country defeat the Islamic State during an interview with the AP today. The Iraqi premier noted that while a lot is being said, very little assistance is taking place on the ground.

Canadian special forces have been helping Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq by directing airstrikes against Islamic State fighters, a role considered dangerous because it necessitates close range to the battle on the ground. [AP]

Japan is trying to contact the Islamic State to explain the nonmilitary nature of its aid to nations fighting the group, following the release of a video showing two Japanese hostages held by the terrorist group. [Wall Street Journal’s Magumi Fujikawa and Alexander Martin]  The hostage situation may “bolster” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “agenda to re-militarize the nation,” writes Jake Adelstein. [The Daily Beast]

“Scores” of execution-style killings have been carried out in Iraq by Islamic State militants this month, according to the United Nations. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

The release of the U.K.’s Chilcot inquiry will be delayed until after the general election in May; the six-year-long inquiry covers the 2003 Iraqi invasion and its aftermath. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt]

EUROPE’S TERROR THREAT

Post-Charlie Hebdo, the EU is considering a data-retention law to replace the measure struck down by the bloc’s highest court last year. Paul Hockenos explores the landscape and warns against “knee-jerk reactions” at The Intercept.

Germany and France have demanded that U.S. tech firms assist them in policing terrorism on the Internet, an escalated effort from Europe to “wrangle” greater law-enforcement help from Silicon Valley, reports Sam Schechner. [Wall Street Journal]

A returned jihadist fighter to Britain has pleaded guilty to four terrorism related offenses; the man had returned from Syria after faking his own death. [New York Times’ Stephen Castle]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A stabbing attack on a Tel Aviv bus today injured 12 people; the attack was conducted by a Palestinian who has since been apprehended by Israeli forces. [Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson et al]  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the Palestinian Authority for the attack, citing the Authority’s “venomous incitement” to violence against Jews. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid et al]

The highest commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has issued a threat against Israel following the death of an Iranian general in Syria by an Israeli airstrike. An Iranian analyst said the threats were mostly for domestic consumption, reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times]

Israel’s government watchdog announced the opening of an investigation into decisions made by the military and political leadership during the Gaza war last summer; the move is the latest Israeli attempt to hold off an ICC inquiry into the state’s conduct. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Almost every U.S. weapons program tested in 2014 displayed “significant vulnerabilities” to cyberattacks, the Defense Department’s chief weapons tester said in his annual report released yesterday. [Reuters’ Andrea Shalal]

The contents of the classified Panetta Review, the internal review into the CIA’s interrogation and detention program, are now “central to simmering battles over the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the efficacy of torture” and other internal feuds. Mark Mazzetti offers further details.  [New York Times]

A Qatari man jailed for suspected al-Qaeda ties has been released from a maximum security prison and deported to Qatar, ending a 13-year episode of one of only three terror suspects held as enemy combatants on U.S. soil. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

Ukraine has accused Russia of attacking its forces in the Luhansk region on Tuesday, much of which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists. [BBC]  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he will seek an immediate ceasefire in east Ukraine during talks today in Berlin with Ukraine, Germany, and France. [Reuters]

Afghanistan’s vice president is looking to expand his influence over security in the country’s north, according to Afghan and foreign officials, which could pose a new threat to the country’s shaky unity. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri]  The selection process for the new Afghan cabinet has faced a range of problems and clashing interests, reports Rod Nordland. [New York Times]

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for this month’s deadly attacks on Baga. In a newly released video, a man purporting to be the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau said his fighters were behind the attack; the video has not yet been verified. [BBC]

The Ugandan rebel commander has been taken into ICC custody; the Lord’s Resistance Army commander surrendered earlier this month in the Central African Republic. [AP]

Terror groups as well as Russia and North Korea are united by their “rejection of modernity,” writes Garry Kasparov, noting that their “natural target is often the traditional champion of the rights that threaten them: the United States.” [Wall Street Journal]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security