The Early Edition: November 21, 2016

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Retired Marine Corps general and former head of US Central Command James Mattis is in the running to be defense secretary, President-elect Donald Trump indicated Saturday. Sam Fleming reports at the Financial Times.

Sen. John McCain doesn’t care what President-elect Donald Trump says, the US will not reinstate waterboarding, he said Saturday, Michael Crowley reporting at POLITICO.

Senators have promised to take a firm line with Russia next year, in possible conflict with President-elect Trump’s warming relations with President Putin, the Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.

The incipient battle will be the first test of whether Trump can “fundamentally reorient US foreign policy against the wishes of the establishment,” suggests Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.

Trump’s understanding of the modern Middle East is “both a monochromatic caricature of the war on terror (“bomb the shit out of them”) and a semi-conscious regurgitation of authoritarian propaganda and disinformation,” Michael Weiss writes at The Daily Beast.

Two nuclear deterrence challenges will demand Trump’s immediate attention when he accedes to the presidency: stopping the Islamic State from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and the threat posed by Russia to the US’s almost-obsolescent nuclear triad. [Wall Street Journal’s Franklin Miller and Keith B. Payne]

“We consider Trump the American Putin,” influential Russian intellectual Alexander Dugin, one of the main proponents of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, told the Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari.

The election of Donald Trump could work out “surprisingly well” for Iran’s leaders, suggests Thomas Erdbrink at the New York Times, recalling Trump’s campaign promise to “tear up” the landmark nuclear deal, and his statements that the US should stop backing rebels in Syria and focus on the Islamic State – effectively shifting support to Iran’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO allies are bracing for demand by the Trump administration to increase military spending when they are already under pressure from the EU to tighten their budgets, Julian E. Barnes and Richard Boudreaux write at the Wall Street Journal.

What does new CIA Director Mike Pompeo have to say about torture, Muslims, terrorism, the Iran nuclear deal and NSA spying? Lindsay Wise at the Miami Herald provides examples.

SYRIA

The Assad regime refused a UN proposal to grant rebels in eastern Aleppo autonomy to restore calm to the besieged city, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem saying that the militants must be expelled from Aleppo and the government’s institutions “restored.” [AP]

The death toll in eastern Aleppo rose to almost 300 yesterday as Syrian regime forces continued to bombard rebel-held areas for a sixth straight day, CNN’s Angela Dewan, Steve Visser, Kareem Khadder and Merieme Arif report.

At least 61 people were killed in eastern Aleppo on Saturday as Assad regime forces and their allies attacked rebel-held parts of the city,  Louisa Loveluck reports at the Washington Post.

Over a quarter of a million people in eastern Aleppo have been left without access to hospital care now that the remaining hospitals in the area have been forced to close due to bomb damage sustained in the intensified bombardment, according to the World Health Organization, Alissa J. Rubin and Hwaida Saad reporting at the New York Times.

Shi’ite militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan who are loyal to Iran are leading the siege on Aleppo, not Syrian government troops, Hugh Naylor reports at the Washington Post.

President Obama tried to make headway on Syria at the first formal session of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Sunday, telling reporters afterward that he is “not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria,” Juliet Eilperin reports at the Washington Post.

Obama urged Russian President Putin to increase efforts to end violence in Syria when he spoke to him briefly before the summit, AFP reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed Obama for not taking the Syria conflict seriously and for undermining Turkey’s ability to defend itself in an interview aired yesterday, the Hill’s Jessie Hellmann reports.

Erdoğan called on the US and other nations to reassess his proposal for the creation of a no-fly zone in northern Syria today, speaking at a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting. [AP]

The revival of talks aimed at ending the Syrian war were called for by French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault following a meeting with the opposition Syrian High Negotiation’s Committee in Qatar yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

IRAQ

Iraq’s Shi’ite militias were massing troops to cut the last supply routes to Mosul today, Reuters reports.

Iraqi troops searched house-to-house for Islamic State militants and looked for potential car bombs in the eastern outskirts of Mosul today, Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports at the AP.

The biggest hindrance to the Iraqi troops’ advance into Mosul is civilians, Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi told the AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra, explaining that “we are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks.”

A US-led coalition airstrike killed eight Iraqis in the village of Fadiliya four weeks ago, according to the family of those killed and local officials. The US-led coalition is currently investigating. [Reuters]

YEMEN

A two-day truce in Yemen will not be renewed, the Saudi-led coalition said today after the truce came to an end. [Reuters]

The cessation of hostilities began at 12:00 Yemen time on Friday and was intended to be “renewed automatically if respected” according to the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, who said that he had received assurances from all parties of their recommitment to the terms of the cessation of hostilities of April 10. [UN News Centre]

Houthi rebels are blocking humanitarian aid from accessing the besieged Yemeni city of Taiz, according to Yemeni security officials. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber has killed at least 27 inside a Shia mosque in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, according to the interior ministry, Al Jazeera reporting that no group has yet claimed responsibility.

The devastating effect of drone warfare on victims and whistleblowers is explored in new documentary, “National Bird,” focused on a drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, which killed 23 civilians, according to a military investigation. [The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain]

EUROPE

A terror plot was foiled and seven people arrested in the French port city of Marseille and the eastern city of Strasbourg, Reuters reports.

Russia will deploy its S-400 air missile defense system and ballistic Iskander missile to Kaliningrad, Russian media reported today, quoting the head of the defense committee in the Russian upper house of parliament as saying that the deployment was a response to Washington setting up a US missile shield in Europe. [Reuters]

TURKEY

China would be willing to consider an application by Turkey to join a Russia and China-led security bloc, China’s Foreign Ministry said today, responding to Turkish President Erdoğan’s statement that his country could join. [Reuters]

“My people” believe that the US was behind the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, President Erdoğan said in an interview aired yesterday, the Hill’s Jessie Hellmann reports.

SOUTH SUDAN

Japanese peacekeeping troops with a mandate to use force have arrived in South Sudan, the AP reports.

The soldiers will join UN peacekeepers to help build infrastructure in the country following years of civil war, Reuters reporting that critics say the move could see Japan embroiled in its first overseas fighting since World War Two.

THE POST-9/11 “SLEEPER CELL” CASE

“A bagful of lies.” The case against Hamid Hayat, a cherry picker accused of being a member of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in rural America in the weeks after 9/11, relied on the testimony of an FBI informant whose mother now says was a “deceitful character,” writes The Intercept’s Abbie VanSickle.

Hayat did not want to believe that his closest friend, Naseem Khan, was an FBI informant. Abbie VanSickle at The Intercept reports on ‘part two’ of her investigation into the sleeper cell case.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The publication of internal DNC emails did not ultimately influence the outcome of the US presidential election, according to the head of the NSA and Army Cyber Command Navy Adm. Mike Rogers. [The Daily Beast]

It is unlikely that he will pardon former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, President Obama said last week. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

While Obama won’t pardon Snowden, President-elect Donald Trump’s CIA pick Mike Pompeo wants him dead, Alex Emmons and Naomi LaChance write at The Intercept.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Staff in charge of medical care at Guantánamo Bay’s secretive Camp 7 prison have been ordered to testify in both death-penalty cases at the war court in December hearings, in one case in relation to how much pain an alleged 9/11 plotter suffered following rectal reconstruction surgery, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

New measures to strengthen the Iran nuclear deal are being considered by the Obama administration in its final months in office, Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Almost 300 suspects allegedly linked to the Islamic State have been referred to a military tribunal in Egypt over attacks and an alleged plot to assassinate President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the AP reports.

A car bombing in central Benghazi, Libya, killed two and wounded 17 today, the AP reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his administration’s decision to purchase three German-made naval submarines which he said were required to ensure the “very existence of Israel for decades to come,” the Financial Times’ John Reed reports.

Britain’s Royal Navy is “woefully low” on warships and could lack the “maritime strength” to meet potential future threats, parliamentarians have warned in a report. [BBC]

Vietnam has constructed  new hangars and extended a runway on a disputed Spratly island, apparently enabling it to accommodate surveillance aircraft, according to satellite imagery. Hrvoje Hranjski at the AP reports on this and other recent developments in the South China Sea. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE