Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Friday, February 3, 2017, 2:32 PM

The New York Times and the Washington Post report that President Trump has imposed sanctions on 25 Iranian official and entities, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile test. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, announced the sanctions, which were levied against those who were “involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program.” OFAC’s acting director, John Smith, stated that the sanctions were part of “Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA.” Trump has repeatedly bashed the JCPOA, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as a bad deal that ignores continued ballistic missile tests. The sanctions come days after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn announced that Iran was “on notice” about its missile tests and support of terrorism.

The Times tells us that the Trump administration has amended its ban on the entry of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries at the urging of the Pentagon to allow the families of Iraqi interpreters into the United States. The ban originally applied to holders of the Special Immigrant Visas given to Iraqi interpreters who worked with U.S. forces from 2003-2011 during the occupation period, often at great personal risk to themselves and to their families.

The Huffington Post informs us that the ban has also affected Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Prime Minister of Norway. The former premier was forced to wait nearly an hour in Dulles Airport after he was detained by TSA agents due to a travel stamp showing he had traveled to Iran three years ago. The passport also clearly identified him as a former Prime Minister of Norway. Bondevik was reportedly shocked, and questioned how the reputation of the U.S. would fare if other world leaders were treated similarly.

The Wall Street Journal writes that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that although the Trump administration does not believe that Israeli settlements were an impediment to peace, he acknowledged that Israeli settlements “may not be helpful,” in achieving a goal of peace in the Middle East. The statement by the administration came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to build a new settlement “as soon as possible,” in place of the now-demolished settlement of Amona. The administration still has not established its official position on Israeli settlements according to Spicer.

The Times reports that the White House has defended the botched Special Operations raid in Yemen by providing an unusually detailed chronology of the effort, which was designed to recover valuable information such as laptops and cellphones that could provide intelligence. A tribal sheikh was tipped off to the presence of troops as they advanced into the village, apparently by a drone flying lower and louder than usual, and the assault force found itself under fire from all directions. The timeline and defense of the raid did not quell calls from human rights groups and at least one lawmaker for an investigation into the allegations of civilian casualties, which U.S. Central Command says it is doing.

The Daily Star informs us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the branch of al Qaeda operating in Yemen, overran three southern towns in the wake of the raid, before withdrawing from two of them. The extremists faced opposition from ordinary Yemenis, but was helped by the pullout of Yemeni government forces angry over the late payment of their wages.

The Post writes that the Trump administration has thrown out the Obama administration national security team’s painstaking work on the planning of an assault of Raqqa, Syria by arming Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The plan, which the former President Obama handed over to Trump in the waning days of the administration, was detailed enough that it included talking points for Trump to explain the move to arm the Kurds to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was sure to be furious. The abandonment of the plan highlights Trump’s style of going with his gut, in contrast to Obama’s deliberative style.

BBC reports that the water supply in Raqqa has been restored after an airstrike by U.S. fighter jets caused temporary cuts. The airstrikes were part of the U.S.-led coalition’s push into Raqqa.

The Times writes that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley condemned Russia for its recent “aggressive actions,” in eastern Ukraine. While Haley remarked that the United States does want closer relations with Russia, she made clear that American sanctions on Russia would remain in place due to the “dire situation in the Ukraine.” Haley’s comments come as Reuters reports that the German Foreign Ministry said that there had been a lull in fighting, but that the ceasefire violations were still happening too often.

The Times also examines Trump’s seeming embrace of some of the key pillars of the foreign policy of the Obama administration, including warning Israel on settlements, demanding that Russia withdraw from Crimea, and issuing sanctions against Iran for testing ballistic missiles. While this may be due in part to the difference between statecraft and campaigning, these apparent changes in policy are particularly stark due to the actions and rhetoric displayed in the opening days of the administration.

The Times also informs us that Gina Haspel, the new Deputy Director of the CIA, oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects in 2002 and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting brutal interrogations in Thailand while she was a clandestine officer.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes wrote a note to readers, new and old.

Bobby Chesney posted Episode 2 of the National Security Law Podcast: Immigration Constraints, Ground Ops in Yemen.

Bobby also highlighted four key issues from the Yemen raid.

Jack Goldsmith and Ben provided the precedent of Senator Lindsey Graham and Justice Elena Kagan as classy way for Democrats to handle Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings.

Peter Margulies examined Judge Gorsuch’s misplacement of his characteristic empathy in Kerns v. Bader.

Ben posted the Rational Security podcast: The “Huddled Masses” Edition.

Peter Spiro expressed optimism that courts would strike down the Trump administration’s refugee travel ban based on a set of unprecedented circumstances.

Quinta Jurecic posted the OLC Memorandum assessing the legality of the refugee ban, and the memorandum from White House counsel to the State Department on the status of green card holders.

Suzanne Maloney described the impact of the executive order for Iranians.

Ben flagged posts from contributors to Just Security covering the executive order.

Quinta posted a letter from two government watchdogs requesting that the Office of Special Counsel investigate White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments on the State Department dissent memo.

Jane Chong expressed alarm at systematic alt-right world-building by Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn as indicated by changes in the CVE program.

Russell Spivak and Jordan Brunner recounted the history of the National Security Council to demonstrate that Steve Bannon’s role is truly unprecedented.

General Michael Hayden and Ben explained the special responsibility advocates of strong national security measures have.

Carrie Cordero described how appointing members to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would be an easy win for the Trump administration.

Samuel Cutler reassured sanctions-watchers that Trump has not relaxed Russia sanctions.

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