The Early Edition: November 23, 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

President-elect Donald Trump backed away from some of his most provocative campaign promises yesterday including torturing terrorism suspects, Karen Tumulty reports at the Washington Post.

Trump expressed reservations on the use of torture yesterday, but he did not disavow the practice, observes the New York Times’ Gregg Bloche. If he does bring it back, the CIA may be the US’s last defense against a “return to savagery,” but first it will need to break with what it did last time around.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has accepted President-elect Trump’s offer to serve as the US ambassador to the UN, Trump’s first female appointment to a cabinet-level post, whose views on military and national security matters usually fall within the GOP’s  “hawkish mainstream,” bringing little foreign policy experience to the post according to Robert Costa at the Washington Post.

Trump is “seriously considering” James Mattis as head of the Department of Defense, he said yesterday, adding that he was “surprised” that Mattis does not favor waterboarding, POLITICO’s Madeline Conway reports.

Mitt Romney is seriously considering the position of Secretary of State, even as questions remain as to whether Trump considers his nomination as plausible, CNN’s Theodore Schleifer and Jim Acosta report.

“I wouldn’t even think about hiring” Steve Bannon “If I thought he was a racist or alt-right.” Trump defended his appointment of Bannon as his White House chief strategist yesterday, the Guardian’s Amber Jamieson reports.

Trump would “love” to reach a peace deal between Israel and Palestine and may use his son-in-law Jared Kushner to help broker the agreement, he told the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman yesterday.

What does Donald Trump’s election mean for the Middle East? David Ignatius at the Washington Post reports on the Sir Bani Yas forum, including representatives from nearly every Arab country, the US, Europe, Russia, China and the UN, which met last weekend to explore this issue.

UN human rights officials are reportedly gearing up for a four- or eight-year battle with the Trump administration over the President-elect’s “ghastly campaign pledges,” NBC News’ Alex Johnson reports.

Trump’s foreign policy decisions could have an impact, negative or positive, on his global financial holdings, writes Greg Myre at NPR, the question being whether those holdings will influence his decisions.

Let’s hope that Donald Trump has a better sense of the actual hand he has to play in negotiations with Iran, previous US presidents having approached the theocracy with a sense of defeatism, Davina Miller writes at the Hill.

SYRIA

States opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will meet in Paris soon, France said today, accusing Syria and its allies of exploiting political uncertainty in the US to launch “total war” against rebel-held parts of the country. [Reuters’ John Irish]

The Syrian army has formed a new volunteer corps, it announced yesterday, a move which Louisa Loveluck at the Washington Post suggests underscores the extent to which its forces have crumbled.

Volunteers are being called to help achieve “the final victory against terrorism,” but the announcement yesterday did not specify where the new troops would be deployed, Al Jazeera reports.

Rebels are preventing civilians from leaving eastern Aleppo amid the intensified bombardment by Assad regime forces and their allies, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Philip Issa and Sarah El Deeb report at the AP.

Senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria Abu Afghan al-Masri was killed in a US airstrike last week, the Pentagon confirmed.

Assad’s military is best positioned to combat terrorism in Syria and to restore stability to the country, according to Egypt’s president. [AP]

Over 1,000 Iranian fighters have been killed in the Syrian war so far, according to an Iranian semi-official news agency. [AP]

The siege on Aleppo is a “war of extermination,” a doctor in eastern Aleppo has said, adding that “everything is being exterminated with the collusion of the United Nations” who “all see and hear” but “will not answer.” Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

IRAQ

Tens of thousands of civilians fled Tal Afar as Shi’ite paramilitary groups closed in on the Islamic State-held city, Isabel Coles and Saif Hameed report at Reuters.

“Our mission in Iraq won’t end as Mosul falls,” Rear Adm. James Malloy, commander of the USS Eisenhower strike group targeting the Islamic State in Iraq, told the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Nov. 21. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

Russia sent new anti-ship missiles to Pacific islands under its control but also claimed by Japan, the AP reports.

The deployment should not influence efforts to settle the long-running territorial dispute between Mosco and Tokyo over the islands, the Kremlin said today, Christian Lowe reporting at Reuters.

NATO accused Russia of “aggressive military posturing” over its deployment of missiles in its Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad yesterday, Shaun Walker reports at the Guardian.

Think of the deployment as Putin’s first test of Donald Trump’s mettle as Commander in Chief, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

TURKEY

There is “no value” to an upcoming European Parliament vote on whether to freeze membership talks with Turkey over the country’s unprecedented crackdown following the failed July 15 coup, Turkey’s President said today, the AP’s Suzan Fraser reporting.

A proposal to amend Turkey’s constitution to allow President Erdoğan to remain in power until 2029 was lent support by nationalists in Turkey’s parliament, Kareem Shaheen reports at the Guardian.

INDIA and PAKISTAN

The civilian death toll following artillery fire and shelling from India targeting several villages and hitting a passenger bus in Pakistan-administered Kashmir today has risen to 12, the Pakistani military and officials said. Three Pakistani and seven Indian soldiers have also died. [AP]

Firing between the two countries was continuing at the scene, preventing ambulances from reaching those injured, a local administration official told Al Jazeera. The incident comes a day after India said it would seek “retribution” for the deaths of three of its soldiers at the hands of Pakistani troops.

COLOMBIA

FARC rebels and Colombia’s government will sign a new peace accord tomorrow, which will then be put to Congress for approval rather than to a popular vote, the BBC reports.

The deal will be signed despite strong resistance from former President Alvaro Uribe, Cesar Garcia reports at the AP.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are pushing back after the Department of Justice provided what they see as an insufficient response to questions posed about changes to government rules on hacking as a law enforcement technique, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.

The extradition of a Russian man arrested in the Czech Republic and indicted in the US for hacking computers belonging to LinkedIn and other companies has been requested by the US and Russia. [Reuters]

Virtual private network (VPN) operators are seizing the opportunity presented by the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill in the UK to promote their wares, which prevent internet service providers from being able to keep a log of everywhere a customer has visited, the BBC reports.

The “Snoopers’ Charter” which retroactively legalizes the electronic spying programs exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was approved by the UK Parliament this week, Ryan Gallagher writes at The Intercept. The Act authorizes the British government to serve internet service providers with “data retention notices” forcing them to store for up to a year records of all the websites visited by their customers.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s actions can only fairly be judged against a backdrop of Washington power plays, diminishing rights for intelligence community contractors and retaliation against those who spoke up through institutional channels, Tom Devine writes at the Hill, making the case for pardoning Snowden.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A pact that removes the need for the US as a go-between with military intelligence on North Korea was signed by Japan and South Korea, Alastair Gale reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The identity of one of the Islamic State operatives believed to have been an overseer of last November’s attacks in Paris was revealed by the US yesterday, Rukmini Callimachi reports at the New York Times.

The International Criminal Court’s investigations into alleged war crimes would not be impacted by the planned withdrawal of three African countries, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said, Anthony Deutsch reporting at Reuters.

China is increasing its role in UN peacekeeping missions overseas as the US rethinks its global role, Lucy Hornby reports at the Financial Times. 

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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