The Early Edition: December 7, 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

The US will “stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about” and instead focus on “defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS.” President-elect Donald Trump laid out his military policy last night, Sabrina Siddiqui and Ben Jacobs reporting at the Guardian.

Promising both to scale back interventions in the Middle East and step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East is contradictory, observes Edward-Isaac Dovere at POLITICO.

Trump could meet his “minimally defined” objectives – defeating the Islamic State – by ensuring that its main rival al-Qaeda cannot exploit the power vacuum that will come with the collapse of the Islamic State, which necessarily involves maintaining small but effective US garrisons in Syria and Iraq, argue Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan at The Daily Beast.

Incoming national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn will meet with current national security adviser Susan E. Rice for the first time today at the White House, Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.

Former Senator Bob Dole acted as a foreign agent for the Taiwanese government, working behind the scenes over six months to establish high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and Donald Trump’s staff, efforts which culminated in the telephone call between Trump and Taiwan’s president, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Eric Lipton report at the New York Times.

Donald Trump formally introduced Gen. James Mattis as his choice for defense secretary last night, Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

Congressional Republicans are using a short-term government funding bill to lower the waiting period for retired service members to hold a senior level civil position with the Department of Defense from seven to three years, easing the path of Trump’s pick for Defense secretary Gen. Mattis, the Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.

Japan’s alliance with the US will continue under the Trump administration because it benefits both countries, Japan’s defense chief said today, Robert Burns reporting at the AP.

Donald Trump flunked his first foreign policy test with his erratic and in many ways self-defeating initial dealings with China, the US’s most important long-term rival according to many analysts, David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post.

Is the US becoming a rogue state? Dana Milbank at the Washington Post suggests that the incoming Trump administration plans to handle its domestic and foreign affairs in a manner that meets the dictionary definition of “rogue state,” a provocative phrase previously used to describe such nations as Iran and North Korea.

SYRIA

Rebel forces left the last areas of Aleppo’s old city today as Assad’s forces took full control, Syrian government forces now controlling around 75 percent of eastern Aleppo, the BBC reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Hamburg today, Russian media reported. [Reuters]

A five-day ceasefire for the medical and civilian evacuation from eastern Aleppo is being proposed by Syrian rebels today, the AP reporting that there was no immediate response from the Syrian government on the proposal.

Turkish warplanes killed 23 militants in airstrikes on 12 Islamic State targets in the al-Bab region of northern Syria today, Turkey’s military said. [Reuters]

Israeli rockets hit around the Mezzeh military airport near Damascus around 3 a.m. this morning, according to a Syrian military source. [Reuters]

A US-Russia deal to allow rebels to safely leave Aleppo is still on the agenda, though nothing is currently on the table, the Kremlin said today. [Reuters]

IRAQ

The Islamic State launched an overnight attack on security forces in southeast Mosul, the Iraqi army said today, resulting in “heavy losses,” Susannah George reports at the AP.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out five airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 5. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

LIBYA

The gains against the Islamic State in Libya are real but not irreversible, the UN’s special envoy to Libya said yesterday, Michael Astor reporting at the AP.

Libya could become even more chaotic now that the Islamic State has been cleared from its former stronghold Sirte, according to analysts, the remaining militants still capable of undermining the fragile US-backed unity government. Sudarsan Raghavan reports at the Washington Post.

YEMEN

The Saudi-led military coalition mistakenly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen killing 19 people and forcing the international group to pull out from the north of the country, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team – or JIAT – has reported. [AP’s Maggie Michael]

AFHGANISTAN

The security situation in Afghanistan remains difficult but NATO will maintain its support, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. [TOLO]

Saudi Arabia is on both sides in the Afghan conflict, backing Pakistan’s promotion of the Taliban, with some of its wealthy sheikhs and philanthropists privately funding the insurgents, while officially supporting the US mission and the Afghan government, Carlotta Gall writes at the New York Times.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Western allies must maintain diplomatic pressure on Russia until it adheres to the peace agreement in Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg told reporters today following talks with NATO and Ukraine foreign ministers. Lorne Cook at the AP reports.

Extensions on sanctions against Russia are expected in the face of a lack of significant progress in implementing the Minsk agreement, Germany’s foreign minister said. [Reuters]

GUANTANAMO BAY

There was confusion over whether an unclassified 2008 document offering speculation about five secret CIA detention and interrogation “black sites” could be discussed in open court at the 9/11 pretrial hearing at Guantánamo Bay yesterday, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FINAL NATIONAL SECURITY ADDRESS

President Obama defended his counterterrorism legacy in his final planned address on national security, delivered yesterday, saying that no foreign terrorist had successfully planned and executed an attack on American soil, Gardiner Harris and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

Obama argued that he had avoided “overreach” and implicitly urged incoming President Donald Trump to do the same, using his final speech as an opportunity to present a “highly selective” account of his record in office, particularly as regards mass surveillance and drone strikes, writes Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would be compelled to report to Congress anytime it disagreed with the intelligence committee under a new version of the annual intelligence policy and budget bill, which Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept argues will further cripple the agency’s ability to protect privacy and civil liberties.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and six ranking members urged the Obama administration to brief Congress on Russian interference in the US election in a letter to President Obama, as Senate Democrats also kept up pressure to make more information about the alleged Russian hacking of the election public. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

The FBI “deeply damaged” its credibility through its conduct during the presidential election and would find it hard to repair it under a Trump administration, congressman Adam Schiff told reporters, adding that he did not support calls for the FBI to disclose more Hillary Clinton emails as a remedy. The Guardian’s Julian Borger reports.

US and UK spy agencies intercepted data from phone calls made on board civil aircraft, Jacques Follorou writes at Le Monde.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his statement to Swedish prosecutors in which he asserts his innocence of the rape he is accused of committing six years ago, in defiance of those investigating him, the Guardian’s David Crouch reports.

A new plan to defend itself against stepped-up cyberattacks and “information-psychological” methods by foreign intelligence agencies was published by the Kremlin yesterday, Andrew E. Kramer reports at the New York Times.

While his disclosures have improved privacy in the US, things are not yet fixed, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden told the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger, who asked him about his possible pardon, facing trial in the US, and other matters.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A report released Monday summarizing the Obama administration’s view of the legal barriers and policies limiting the president’s military power paints a picture of an administration that is far more restrained than it is in practice, writes Alex Emmons at The Intercept.

Congress called for a hearing on a Pentagon study that found there had been $150 billion in wasteful back-office spending, also calling for the report to be made public, the Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.

China encircled Taiwan with nuclear-capable bombers as part of its first long-range surveillance mission, Tailwanese officials said yesterday. [NBC News’ Christine Chen and Dawn Liu]

The UK will work with Gulf states to counteract Iran’s “aggressive regional actions,” UK Prime Minister Theresa May will say in Bahrain today, also stressing the importance of the nuclear deal, which “neutralized” the possibility of the country acquiring nuclear weapons. [BBC]

Japan has established itself as one of the world’s foremost military powers despite a US-imposed constitution following World War II that limited its forces to defensive purposes only, writes Brad Lendon at CNN.

A man carrying a gas can and matches was arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats outside New York City’s Rockerfeller Center yesterday afternoon, reports DNA Info’s Ben Fractenberg. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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