The Early Edition: December 5, 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

Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson has been added to the list of candidates for the post of Donald Trump’s secretary of state, according to one transition adviser, Carol E. Lee and Peter Nicholas observing at the Wall Street Journal that choosing a secretary of state with no foreign policy background like Mr Tillerson could further unnerve government officials serving in an institution that functions on strict protocols.

A running list of the key positions Trump has filled so far is being maintained by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service.

Trump’s controversial phone call Friday to Taiwan’s leader was planned weeks in advance as a provocative stunt to demonstrate that Trump is a radical change from previous presidents, Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Simon Denyer report at the Washington Post.

Trump is clear about China’s position on Taiwan and China has maintained contact with his team, the Chinese foreign ministry said today, Ben Blanchard and Roberta Rampton reporting at Reuters.

The President-elect took to Twitter to rail against China’s military and economic policy Sunday, David Smith reports at the Guardian.

Trump is overhauling US foreign policy without a strategy, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said via Twitter on Friday, warning that “that’s how wars start.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Trump’s conversation with Taiwan’s leader demonstrated why his presidency has the potential to restore “badly-needed credibility to a host of global challenges,” Rupert Hammond-Chambers argues at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump may have taken the first steps to stabilize East Asia, according to Gordon G. Chang writing at The Daily Beast.

The Pentagon will review its strategy for defeating the Islamic State for President-elect Trump, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford said. Connor O’Brien reports at POLITICO.

Iran and China’s foreign ministers urged governments not to violate the Iran nuclear deal today in remarks the AP suggests were directed at Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

Russian President Putin’s concerns that Trump could be an unpredicable partner were signalled by his recent comments about the difference in level of responsibility for Trump as a businessman and as the President of the US, writes Andrew Roth at the Washington Post.

The election of Donald Trump as president raises the possibility of a dramatic shift in the US’s approach to Syria next January, while major losses by rebels fighting in Syria have scrambled US policy calculations at this crucial moment in Syria’s war, Jay Solomon, Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz write at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s contradictory messages to nuclear-armed arch rivals Pakistan and India tell us something about how the President-elect operates: he tells whoever is listening exactly what they want to hear, observes Dana Milbank at the Washington Post.

Trump’s economic nationalism will redefine America’s global role in “a fundamentally deceptive and destructive way,” US leaders having embraced the idea that trade can foster prosperity and promote democratic societies ever since World War II, Robert J. Samuelson writes at the Washington Post.

Homeland security secretary candidate and current House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) is going public with detailed and relatively workable plans to turn Trump’s ideasextreme vetting of immigrants and refugees, a border structure with Mexico, and deporting criminal illegal immigrants – into reality, writes Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Assad regime forces pushed deeper into rebel-held parts of Aleppo yesterday, around half of the rebels’ enclave now under government control, Anne Barnard reports at the New York Times.

Leave Aleppo or face “inevitable death,” the Syrian army warned rebels in the besieged city. [AP]

Russia and the US will hold talks on rebel withdrawal from Aleppo in Geneva on Tuesday or Wednesday, and Secretary of State John Kerry has sent his proposals on routes and timing of the withdrawal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, telling a news conference that any rebels who refused to leave would be treated as terrorists. [Reuters]

Russian and Syrian warplanes have escalated their assaults on the rebel-held province of Idlib, according to local activists. [AP]

Airstrikes killed 73 people in Idlib province yesterday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. [Reuters]

The US and the UK are considering ways to airdrop food and medical supplies to eastern Aleppo and other besieged parts of Syria, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Why is Iran backing Syrian President Assad? Al Jazeera’s Medhi Hasan asked the Iranian Vice President to explain why, despite its support for the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain following the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran continues to take sides with President Bashar al-Assad.

How the Islamic State returned to Syria. Roy Gutman delivers the third and last chapter in his investigation of President Assad’s contributions to the creation of the Islamic State at The Daily Beast.

Assad has been able to maintain the allegiance of a good portion of his citizens by offering them a thin veneer of normalcy, despite waging a relentless counterinsurgency campaign that has led to the deaths of 430,000, displaced half the population and destroyed vast swaths of its cities, Barak Barfi writes at POLITICO.

IRAQ

Iraqi forces have begun shelling parts of west Mosul, residents reported, in preparation for opening a new front against the Islamic State there. [Reuters]

After quick progress at the start, the operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State is becoming harder, as the realization that the terrorists will not surrender the city sets in, Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.

While the fight to capture Mosul may be difficult, it is “possible” it could be finished before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today. Idrees Ali reports at Reuters.

Fighters in northern Iraq insist that the sand berms and trenches that are stretching across the region toward Syria, some accompanied by newly-paved roads with streetlamps and checkpoints covered with Kurdish flags, are not the border of a newly independent state – but that could change, Brian Rohan and Balint Szlanko write at the AP.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Right-wing Israelis are deliberately thwarting efforts to broker a peace deal with Palestine, Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday, AFP reporting.

Kerry does not rule out US support for action at the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before President-elect Donald Trump takes over, he also said, speaking at a Middle East forum in Washington. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz]

Chilean judges rejected lawsuits filed against three current or former Israeli Supreme Court justices for endorsing the construction of the West Bank separation barrier and the seizure of lands and property from Palestinians, Patricia Luna reports at the AP.

GUANTANAMO BAY

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Shawqi Awad Balzuhair was delivered to Cape Verde, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday. He was held captive for 14 years, categorized as a “forever prisoner” until he was downgraded in recent years, the Periodic Review Board calling him a “low level fighter” when it approved his release in July. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl asked President Obama to pardon him before leaving office for allegedly endangering comrades by deserting his post in Afghanistan, the AP’s Eric Tucker and Jonathan Drew report.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Retired Gen. David Petraeus shared information that was “far more highly classified than I ever did,” former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said yesterday, criticizing the “two-tiered” US justice system for meting out “very light punishments” to “well-connected” individuals. [The Hill’s Mallory Shelbourne]

Where are we now on encryption, a year after the San Bernardino mass shootings and the subsequent Apple-FBI fight over access to one of the terrorist’s iPhone? Alina Selyukh asks at NPR.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The security situation in eastern Ukraine remains extremely serious and the ceasefire is violated daily, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. [Breaking News]

Flaviu Georgescu was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for helping organize a complicated weapons deal involving DEA informants pretending to be members of the FARC, a designated terrorist organization, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Trevor Aaronson report.

Japan’s Prime Minster will visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first Japanese leader to go to the US Naval base in Hawaii since it was attacked by Japan in 1941, prompting the US to join World War II, the AP reports.

Indian and Afghan leaders urged countries in the region to stop supporting armed militants yesterday at a meeting in northern India as part of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Pricess initiative to promote Afghan peace efforts, the AP reports.

The US coast guard wants to play a bigger role in patrolling the disputed waters of the South China Sea, Hrvoje Hranjski reporting on this and other recent developments in the South China Sea at the AP.

Why does the US have a higher tolerance for torture than any other country on the UN Security Council? The US’ willingness to use torture was part of a worrying growing belief globally that enemies can be tortured for information identified by the International Committee of the Red Cross in a report released today. Kevin Sieff reports at the Washington Post. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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