Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari
Monday, February 27, 2017, 12:27 PM

The New York Times reports that President Donald Trump plans to submit a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes large increases to the Department of Defense that will be partially offset by drastic cuts to other federal agencies, such as the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. This move will mark Trump’s first major foray into the gritty deals of legislation.

In an interview on the Today Show, President George W. Bush criticized Trump’s attacks on the media and said that “I think we all need answers” regarding the Trump campaign’s connections to the Kremlin, indicating willingness to support an independent investigation. Bush emphasized the role of the media as “indispensable to democracy” and said that “the bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely” in response to a question about Trump’s travel ban on refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Another wave of bomb threats targeted Jewish centers across the United States this morning, forcing evacuations Haaretz reports. Numerous Jewish centers have been the target of threats over the last two weeks; last Monday, at least ten centers were evacuated due to bomb threats. In recent weeks, two Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized in high-profile incidents. The Anti-Defamation League has reported a spike in hate crimes following Trump’s election.

The Washington Post tells us that President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden has withdrawn his name after claiming that he could not comply with U.S. ethics rules without disrupting his family’s finances. Bilden, a private equity magnate, represents the second of Trump’s service secretary nominees to withdraw over business issues after Vincent Viola, a billionaire and Army veteran, also bowed out.

The Hill discloses that former Indiana Senator Dan Coats, Trump's nominee for intelligence chief, will face Congress in the coming week as the intelligence community and the White House continue to spar over damaging leaks. Coats will testify in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday while congressional committees will hear about America’s strategy on cybersecurity and a hearing on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer enlisted CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senator Richard Burr, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to inform Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporters that recent reporting on connections between Trump associates and the Kremlin was overblown. CNN previously reported that FBI Director Jim Comey rejected White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s request to speak with reporters on the issue, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation.

The father of the commando killed in a Special Operations raid in Yemen last month said in an interview published this weekend that he had refused to meet with President Trump on the day his son’s body was returned home. The father, William Owens, said the U.S. government owes his son an investigation into the botched mission, in which three other U.S. servicemen were injured and Yemeni civilians were also killed. The New York Times has more.

The Times profiles the challenges facing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who has assumed the role of a reassuring figure to rattled allies in Europe and Asia. Mattis’s largest challenge will come in the Middle East as he plans to pitch a strategy for defeating the Islamic State to the president.

The Times also writes that U.S. forces are playing a critical role in the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Iraqi forces’ push into Mosul, the Islamic State’s second-largest city after Raqqa, has been facilitated by U.S. and French artillery support. But the Wall Street Journal adds that the Islamic State’s drones have terrorized Iraqi ground forces and targeted civilians and aid workers in Mosul.

Reuters fills us in on another clash between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and the Syrian government near the city of al-Bab, which the rebels had seized from the Islamic State last week. Both the rebels and Damascus are fighting the Islamic State yet this marks the second clash between the groups.

The Guardian reports that suicide bombers stormed two Syrian security offices in Homs, killing dozens with gunfire and explosions, including the head of military security. A United Nation envoy decried the attack as a deliberate attempt to wreck the ongoing peace talks in Geneva.

Admiral James Stavridis urges Trump in a Foreign Policy essay to cultivate stronger ties between Cairo and Washington. The retired admiral said Egypt’s strategic interests converge with the United States’ on a number of fronts including economics, Mediterranean security, and shaping positive regional attitudes towards Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Darrell Issa, a leading Republican Congressman from a moderate district in California, called over the weekend for a special counsel to investigate Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. Issa’s position highlights the growing fracture in the GOP between elected officials from swing seats who are facing intense pressure from constituents to stand up to Trump and those whose districts form the basis of the president’s support.

South Korean intelligence officials disclosed that two North Korean ministries orchestrated the plot to kill Kim Jong Nam on the orders of his half-brother, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, CNN reports. Meanwhile, the Journal also writes that the regime has executed at least five officials with antiaircraft guns for “false reports” made to Kim Jong Un.

CNN also tells us that the Trump administration has nixed high-level bilateral talks with North Korea that had been scheduled for next week. The White House cancelled the talks after the revelation of Kim Jong Nam’s assassination even though the State Department supported still conducting the informal Track II talks.

The Washington Post reveals that Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist group in the Philippines with links to the Islamic State, posted a video on Monday purporting to show the beheading of a 71-year-old German hostage after a deadline for his ransom had expired. Manila has denounced the Abu Sayyaf group as a terrorist organization that also operates more like a criminal gang, engaging in kidnapping for ransom, extortion and drug trafficking, among other crimes, and the group claims it is fighting on behalf of all Muslims in the predominantly Catholic country.

Manila is also the scene of heightening political tensions after authorities arrested Senator Leila de Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s harshest critics, on charges that De Lima took money from drug dealers to finance her political career. De Lima rejected these accusations as a sign of Duterte’s growing authoritarianism. The Wall Street Journal has more.

Agence-France Presse writes that the French government will send 50 to 100 special forces troops to Niger at the country’s request following militants’ ambush of Nigerien troops on Wednesday. 16 Nigerien soldiers were killed in the attack, which took place near the Mali border, and the country’s security forces have struggled to defeat Boko Haram.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Jane Chong analyzed reports that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI Director James Comey to refute the New York Times’ reporting of links between senior members of the Trump campaign and Russian agents publicly.

Quinta Jurecic posted the latest episode of the Lawfare Podcast, in which Ben Wittes interviewed Paul Lewis, President Barack Obama’s special envoy at the Defense Department for closing down the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

In the Foreign Policy Essay, Jacques Berlinbauer warned that Trump’s foreign policy may signal a return of religion into U.S. foreign policymaking calculus.

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