Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Thursday, December 21, 2017, 12:41 PM

On Thursday, The U.N. General Assembly voted 128-9 to condemn President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the New York Times reports. The vote, which included 35 abstentions, is a stinging rebuke of Trump’s decision. U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement after the vote that “the United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for an attack in the General Assembly. We will remember it when called upon to again to make the largest contribution to the United Nations.” The vote went against the United States despite President Trump’s threats to cut billions of dollars in aid to countries who voted for it. “We’ll be watching those votes. Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump said during a cabinet meeting ahead of the emergency session. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed the Trump administration’s rhetoric, calling the U.N. a “house of lies” ahead of today’s vote, Reuters writes. The decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has caused daily protests by Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with eight killed so far.

The Pentagon has issued new policy guidance to military recruiters for how to enlist transgender recruits into the armed forces, intensifying the fight over Trump’s ban on military service by transgender people, according to the Post. Lawyers challenging Trump’s ban have since included the new policy guidance in their filings on appeal. The guidance states that the government will comply with federal court orders directing the military to begin accepting transgender recruits as of Jan. 1 of next year. The court order also raises the possibility that a handful of transgender individuals who were denied their commissions after graduating from the military academies may be able to receive them.

Senior national security officials are embracing a proposal to send an American citizen who has been detained in Iraq since mid-September to Saudi Arabia, says the Times. The man, who is believed to be a low-level Islamic State fighter, was born in the United States to visiting Saudi parents. The Trump administration has struggled to come up with a plan to deal with the detainee, whose name it refuses to release, since he was captured. The pressure to resolve his fate has increased with the filing of a habeas corpus suit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The government initially wanted to prosecute him in a civilian court, but the FBI could not produce sufficient evidence against him.

Defense Secretary James Mattis will become the first Pentagon chief to visit Guantanamo since 2002, as he travels there to offer holiday greetings to troops today, ABC News tells us. He will not be touring the detention facilities or discussing detainee options, but his visit comes amid uncertainty over the administration’s policy on continued use of the nearly 16-year-old military detention facility.

The Pentagon confirmed for the first time that “multiple ground operations” involving U.S. troops have taken place in Yemen, noting that the Islamic State’s presence there has doubled, according to NBC News. The statement by U.S. Central Command in explained that U.S. forces have conducted more than 120 strikes in 2017. Before the announcement, knowledge of counterterrorism operations in Yemen under the Trump administration was sporadic, with the administration acknowledging very few operations, such as the January raid that left Navy SEAL William Owens dead.

South Korean soldiers fired 20 machine gun rounds as warning shots against North Korean soldiers apparently pursuing a defecting comrade who made it across the DMZ into South Korean territory, CBS News reports. South Korean officials reported hearing gunfire after the warning shots were fired, but it is unclear whether the shots were retaliatory. Neither side reported casualties. The escape by the purportedly 19-year-old soldier marks the fourth such defection this year.

Josh Rogin of the Post examines the Trump administration’s approval of the first ever U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, in what amounts to a clear break with from the de facto ban on arms sales dating back to the Obama administration. The move was heavily supported by senior Trump national security officials, but may complicate Trump’s ambition to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The State Department approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. Congress authorized such sales with the Ukraine Freedom Support Act in 2014.

The Trump administration added five new names to the list of Russian nationals sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act, which targets officials engaged in corruption. The list includes Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of human rights abuses in tamping down on Chechen extremists. BBC reports that the Kremlin has called the sanctions “illegal” and “unfriendly,” with Kadyrov saying he is “proud” that he is “out of favor with the special services of the USA.”

Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, issued a warning to President Trump to not interfere with the special counsel’s “critical investigation” and called on fellow senators to protect the probe, The Hill writes. Warner said he believed it was up to both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to make clear that any attempt to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller “would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of Executive branch responsibilities and authorities,” adding that any interference would cause a “constitutional crisis.” The remarks come amid speculation that Trump may remove Mueller, speculation that Trump has dismissed.

The Associated Press reports that a decision to place Dan Meyer, the director of the Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection program, on administrative leave has alarmed whistleblower groups and members of Congress. Intelligence officials have refused to answer why Meyer was put on leave, insisting that they support whistleblower programs. Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has begun an investigation, sending a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about allegations that intelligence officials are taking steps to hamper the program, and calling on the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, Wayne Stone, to ensure the contents of Meyer’s office are secured.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Philip Bobbitt explained why China would want to offer extended deterrence to North Korea.

Bob Bauer analyzed the president’s removal power in response to Josh Blackman’s posts on Congress’s impeachment power and obstruction of justice charges against the president.

Scott Anderson flagged his post on the Lawfare@FP feed examining the ambiguity in Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Susan Landau discussed the use of threat modeling in the context of Apple’s encryption policy and the FBI’s need to access phones.

Vanessa Sauter posted the Lawfare postcast, featuring Christine Fair on terrorism in Bangladesh.

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