Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, December 5, 2016, 2:54 PM

Donald Trump created major diplomatic waves and risked endangering the U.S. relationship with China on Friday afternoon by speaking by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-Wen, the first time that the President or President-elect has contacted a Taiwanese leader since 1979, when the United States ceased diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and embraced the “One China” policy. The Washington Post reports that far from being accidental, the call was the result of “months of quiet preparations and deliberations” among members of Trump’s team aiming to recalibrate the U.S. relationship with Taiwan.

The Chinese government’s response has so far been measured, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blaming Taiwan for incident. And the Wall Street Journal reports that the Foreign Ministry struck a cautious tone in its first press conference following the call. But in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s newsletter, the paper denounced the call and proclaimed that “creating troubles for the China-U.S. relationship is creating troubles for the U.S. itself.” The New York Times has more.

The President-elect followed up the controversy with multiple strings of tweets attacking China over the weekend, incorrectly criticizing the Chinese government for currency devaluation and its construction of a “massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.” While it’s not clear quite what Trump was referencing in the latter case, The Diplomat reviews what Trump’s tweets might mean for U.S. policy toward the South China Sea.

The fake news that proliferated during the election presented immediate danger in Washington, D.C. this weekend when an armed man entered a local pizza restaurant to “investigate” an online conspiracy theory baselessly asserting that the restaurant was the hub of a child trafficking ring linked to Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton. Notably, these theories were propagated by Michael Flynn Jr.—the son and chief of staff of Trump’s national security advisor General Michael Flynn, who has himself been criticized for promoting conspiracy theories—who continued tweeting about the supposed conspiracy even after the Sunday’s incident. Foreign Policy reports on Flynn Jr.’s controversial role in the transition team.

According to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, the military will “review” its strategy to defeat the Islamic State in connection with the Trump transition team. “The president-elect has indicated he wants to” look over the counter-ISIS strategy, Dunford stated. Politico has more.

It’s “possible” that the battle to retake Mosul may be complete before Trump takes office, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Monday, though he cautioned that “it is going to be a tough fight.” Reuters reports on Carter’s comments and also tells us that Iraqi troops have opened a new front in the attack on Mosul by shelling the city’s west. Coalition forces have surrounded the city from north, south, and east and have been able to retake many of Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods from ISIS control.

Russia and China have vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a full ceasefire and humanitarian access to Aleppo. Meanwhile, circumstances in Aleppo continues to worsen as government troops push deeper into rebel-held areas, drawing near Aleppo’s Old City. Roughly half of the territory that had previously been held by the rebels is now under government control, the Times writes, while Reuters notes Russia’s stated intention to treat “armed groups who refuse to leave eastern Aleppo” as “terrorists.” Shelling and airstrikes have continued over Aleppo and in Idlib Province, where about forty people were killed in rebel-held towns.

As the humanitarian situation in Syria’s besieged cities grows increasingly dire, U.S. and U.K. proposals to airdrop food and medical supplies—including through the use of “edible drones”—have foundered amidst diplomatic disagreements, the Guardian reports. And with the future looking bleaker and bleaker for the Syrian rebel movement, the Journal reviews the possible changes in U.S. policy toward Syria that we might expect to see under a Trump administration.

Two Russian warplanes have now crashed off the coast of Syria within a month, the Post tells us. However aggressive Putin’s new adventures abroad, these malfunctions suggest that aging Russian military technology may not be quite up to the task.

Libyan forces are finally close to securing the city of Sirte from ISIS control after months of fighting, Reuters writes. A handful of ISIS fighters have remained within the city after the initial offensive this past summer. The Islamic State’s conclusive loss of the city would put an end to the group’s territorial control in Libya, despite its presence throughout the country.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Shawqi Awad Balzuhair has successfully been resettled in the West African island nation of Cape Verde, the Miami Herald reports. Guantanamo’s Periodic Review Board determined in July that Balzuhair, who was never charged, was a “low-level fighteR” and not an al-Qaeda operative. 59 detainees now remain at Guantanamo, of whom 20 are cleared for relief and 29 are “forever prisoners.”

The Post writes that the Obama adminsitration has released a major 61-page review of the law and policy governing the United States' use of military force around the globe. President Obama issued the report in connection with a Presidential Memorandum encouraging the White House to update the document regularly and release it to the public, though there is no legal requirement to do so. The document represents the most thorough compilation of the administration's understanding of restrictions on the use of force yet put forward by the White House.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Chris Mirasola reviewed why Donald Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan was a diplomatic bombshell.

Zachary Burdette provided Lawfare’s week in review.

Quinta Jurecic posted the Lawfare Podcast, featuring Charlie Savage and Bobby Chesney on reports that the Obama administration now interprets military action against al-Shabaab as authorized by the AUMF.

Jack Goldsmith flagged Senator Tim Kaine’s speech last week on the AUMF and the “Forever War.”

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Sloane Speakman debunked four myths about the Kurds.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.