Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Zachary Burdette
Friday, November 18, 2016, 3:14 PM

President-elect Donald Trump has offered key national security positions to conservative hardliners, the Washington Post reports. Trump will nominate Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to head the CIA and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as attorney general. Lieutenant General (RET) Michael Flynn will be Trump’s national security advisor, a position that does not require congressional confirmation. Not all appointments may go to hardliners, however: there are rumours that Trump plans to meet with Mitt Romney and General (RET) James Mattis to discuss positions as secretaries of State and Defense, respectively. And the Wall Street Journal tells us that NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers is the most likely to become Trump’s Director of National Intelligence.

The Post profiles Pompeo, who has served on the House Intelligence Committee and vocally criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her handling of Benghazi. His policy stances include rolling back the Iran deal as well as ending or radically changing U.S. covert support for Syrian rebels. Notably, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden expressed support for Pompeo’s selection. Others have criticized him for his lack of intelligence experience. The Journal has more.

The Journal also profiles Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama before being forced out in 2014. Flynn claims Obama was unhappy with his assessment that the president had become overly complacent with the threat from a resurgent al-Qaeda, but others claim that Flynn’s departure was due to poor management and abusive behavior. General Flynn has become well-known for his Islamophobic statements and his associations with the Kremlin and RT.

The U.S. Navy announced that Rear Admiral Edward Cashman will take command of Guantanamo Bay next year, the Miami Herald tells us. Cashman is assuming control of the facility in a period of flux. President Obama transferred many of Guantanamo’s detainees in his unsuccessful bid to close the facility, but President-elect Trump has promised to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

Iraqi forces moved deeper into eastern Mosul today, Reuters reports. Iraq’s elite counterterror forces are still fighting Islamic State militants in the Tahrir district and face growing numbers of suicide bombers. Government fighters are struggling to differentiate civilians from enemy combatants, reportedly to the point of shooting at any car driving down Tahrir’s main road on sight—even if there is a family inside—because it is so likely the Islamic State will be using cars as suicide bombers. Government troops are relying on local civilian informants to figure out who the Islamic State militants are and where they are operating. And as the city’s residents flee, the Sunnis in particular fear reprisals.

The humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo continues unabated, Reuters tells us. A quarter of a million civilians are trapped in the rebel-held territory without humanitarian supplies while the Syrian regime blocks further U.N. aid convoys. Regime airstrikes continue to pound the city and have hit numerous civilian targets, ranging from a children’s hospital to bakeries.

The U.N. Security Council has decided to continue an investigation into the attribution of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Reuters writes. Russia emphasized the need to focus on the “terrorist chemical threat” while trying to shift attention away from the Syrian government’s known use of chemical weapons against civilians. The inquiry does not include mechanisms to punish those it finds responsible for employing chemical weapons.

Jabhat al-Nusra has continued its public relations campaign to try to convince the world that it has severed ties with al-Qaeda. The group rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in an attempt to avoid reprisals from foreign states fighting al-Qaeda and potentially to secure external backing. The New York Times profiles Abdallah Muhammad al-Muhysini, a senior Fateh al-Sham leader, and his “surprise” to learn that the U.S. Treasury Department had labeled him a terrorist.

President Obama and several European counterparts expressed support for continuing sanctions against Russia until it complies with its commitments in the Minsk agreements, the Times tells us. Russia is backing proxies in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite two consecutive political agreements to end the fighting. Neither the Ukrainians nor the Russians are complying with the nominal ceasefire. European states have been pressuring Russia to negotiate a durable agreement, and the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Spain joined Obama in saying they have “unanimously agreed” to maintain sanctions.

The announcements comes, in part, to assuage European fears that the incoming Trump administration will reverse American policy toward Russia. Much of Obama’s current trip to Europe has been focused on reassuring the United States’ transatlantic partners that the U.S. will not abandon its international commitments and that its allies should expect and push for further cooperation in the future. The Journal has more.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, announced in Moscow that the Kremlin is working on developing next-generation weapons to keep pace with the United States, the Times notes. These include directed energy weapons, new maneuverable warheads, hypersonic delivery vehicles, and robotic advancements. Putin did not reference the United States by name, but his comments did address threats from missile defense and prompt global strike capabilities—both of which the United States is investing in.

The French government has begun an online campaign designed to counter domestic radicalization, the Times reports. Frances hopes to counter the Islamic State’s successful social media recruitment campaign by creating its own material to dissuade would-be jihadists.

The United States and China held a joint drill to simulate disaster relief, the Times observes. The exercise comes amid a period of heightened tension over regional territorial disputes in the South China Sea, as well as significant uncertainty as the Trump administration comes to power without a clearly defined strategy for dealing with China. Both Chinese and American military officers emphasized their desire to build on military-to-military ties during the next administration.

The Philippine jihadist group known as Abu Sayyaf is resurgent after conducting a systematic campaign of kidnappings and ransoms that has bolstered the organization's resources, the Journal writes. The group affiliated itself with the Islamic State in 2014, and has since become significantly more active. Its numbers are still depleted compared to the immediate post-9/11 era, but the influx of capital has increased its capabilities. It may also benefit from the spat between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the United States if the former makes good on his promise to kick U.S. special forces targeting Filipino terrorists out of the country.

The United States announced its support for an arms embargo on South Sudan, the Times tells us. A civil war has ravaged the African country for three years, and the United Nations has warned about the possibility of genocide. The proposed U.N. Security Council resolution would halt arms transfers to the country and sanction South Sudanese perpetrating violence.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ashley Deeks and Benjamin Wittes discussed the ramifications of a Trump administration for the Baltic states.

Jimmy Chalk asked if Trump could actually dismantle the Iran deal.

Brandon Storm raised the same question for the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement.

Benjamin Wittes posted the latest episode of Rational Security, The “Welcome to the New Not Normal” Edition.

Florian Egloff flagged the risks of cyber privateering as a U.S. policy choice.

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