Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 2:29 PM

The THAAD missile defense system deployed by the United States to South Korea is now operational, Reuters writes. According to U.S. officials, the system now has initial capabilities but will not be fully operational for several months. Beijing has been sharply critical of the deployment, voicing concerns that the system could be deployed against China rather than simply defending against a North Korean threat. The Washington Post has more.

President Trump has issued White House invitations to the leaders of Thailand and Singapore—in addition to his controversial invitation to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte—to shore up support against the North Korean regime, the Wall Street Journal reports. The prime ministers of both nations announced that they had accepted Trump’s invitation, though a potential visit from Duterte is still up in the air. Meanwhile, the New York Times takes a look at how Trump’s erratic approach to diplomacy in Asia is raising concerns within Australia over whether the nation will be dragged into an unpredictable conflict by the United States.

The Post examines Trump’s unusual warmth toward dictators around the globe, from Rodrigo Duterte to Vladimir Putin. The President’s willingness to praise authoritarian leaders represents a major shift from the United States’ usual commitment to publicly advocating democratic values, concerning human rights activists.

The Times provides further reporting on a recent Human Rights Watch assessment that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used a nerve agent three times in recent months in addition to the widely publicized attack on April 4. Human Rights Watch has also confirmed eight uses of chlorine gas by the regime this year. The incidents suggest that the Syrian government has retained and is continuing to use a stockpile of chemical weapons despite the 2013 agreement under which it agreed to give the weapons up.

Witnesses and survivors of a U.S. airstrike in Mosul say that ISIS was not responsible for pushing civilians into a house targeted by U.S. forces, as U.S. officials initially claimed, the AP writes. According to residents of the city, civilians congregated in the house as a safe place away from the fight. The incident emphasizes the difficulties faced by U.S. and Iraqi forces in pushing ISIS fighters out of Mosul while keeping civilians safe in the dense urban landscape. U.S. Central Command is currently conducting an investigation into the strike.

Eli Lake writes in Bloomberg View that the Trump administration has reached agreement on a strategy for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, deciding on a plan that would require extensive support for Afghan security forces and an increase in U.S. forces in the region, with troop withdrawals linked to the achievement of specific battlefield goals. On that note, the Post reports on the reappearance of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has resurfaced after decades in hiding to call for peace between the government and the Taliban—a welcome development for President Ashraf Ghani.

But the Post also tells us that according to a report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan security forces are facing “shockingly high” casualties, with corruption and weak leadership limiting the country’s ability to fight back against a resurgent Taliban. And the AP writes that the Pakistani army pushed back an incursion from the Afghan Taliban in South Waziristan, in an incident that Taliban forces claimed as payback for a recent U.S. drone strike targeting fighters nearby.

During a meeting in Vienna last week to discuss Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear agreement, Iranian and American officials discussed the several U.S. citizens currently detained in Iranian prisons, the Times reports. The conversation was the first face-to-face meeting between officials from both nations under the Trump administration. Nevertheless, negotiations for the release of the prisoners do not appear to be underway.

A new document of principles released by Hamas seeks to present the group in a more moderate light, accepting a provisional Palestinian state and limiting anti-Semitic language. The group maintained its refusal to officially recognize Israel, however, and does not reject the use of violence. Hamas’ effort to appear less radical stems in part from an attempt to increase support among Palestinians against the Fatah movement. Foreign Policy has more.

The budget agreement reached by Congress over the weekend includes provisions withholding $2.5 billion in defense spending until the Trump administration releases a plan for U.S. action against ISIS, along with several reminders to the White House of the importance of the War Powers Resolution—a reference to the fact that the administration did not seek prior congressional approval before conducting strikes against a Syrian airbase in April. Politico reports on the (largely symbolic) pushback.

In a joint press conference held by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin today, Putin denied any Russian interference in the U.S. elections or other elections worldwide, saying such reports were “simply rumors.” Merkel stated that Germany would conduct “decisive measures” if it determined that Russia had interfered in its upcoming election, the AP writes. Previous reports have indicated that Merkel is likely facing a Russian disinformation campaign similar to that which the Kremlin used to target the U.S. presidential election.

In the Cipher Brief, General Michael Hayden talks through the NSA’s recent halt to “about” collection under Section 702, reviewing what the changes are and what they mean for intelligence gathering.

And finally, in the Military Review, Major General Charlie Dunlap writes on the meaning of “lawfare” in twenty-first-century conflict.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic ran through the week’s upcoming events.

Adam Klein considered NSA’s decision to end “about” collection under Section 702.

Herb Lin weighed the impact of emerging technologies on cybersecurity.

Jane Chong announced the launch of a new Lawfare resource page collecting developments and news on what’s known about L’Affaire Russe.

In conjunction with the resource page, Jane, Quinta, and Benjamin Wittes set out seven different possible explanations for the web of connections between the Trump team and the Kremlin.

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.