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
Trump will enter the White House tomorrow with most national security positions unfilled, threatening to cripple the incoming administration from the beginning and creating the risk that it will present confused or contradictory policies to the rest of the world, Dan De Luce and John Hudson observe at Foreign Policy.
The NATO mission will continue as the Trump administration takes office, Vice President-elect Mike Pence insisted following Trump’s comments that the transatlantic organization is “obsolete.” Mallory Shelbourne reports at the Hill.
Trump’s pick for UN ambassador departed from him on several foreign policy issues at her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday, voicing skepticism on Russia and optimism about NATO, Anne Gearan and Sean Sullivan report at the Washington Post.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pushed back against Trump’s comments that the organization is “obsolete” yesterday, insisting that NATO is constantly evolving to meet security threats, Michael Birnbaum reports at the Washington Post.
The Iran nuclear deal is working and must be maintained. The UN, the EU and key players in the Iran nuclear deal delivered a united message to President-elect Donald Trump yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
The US military is ready to present options to the new Trump administration to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters including Julian E. Barnes at the Wall Street Journal.
The US can “be great again” if it shows leadership in a worldwide response to the cyber threat posed by Russia, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said yesterday, Stephen Adler and Sujata Rao reporting at Reuters.
The Senate Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly recommended that retired Gen. James Mattis be the next defense secretary yesterday, Jeremy Herb and Connor O’Brien report at POLITICO.
Sen. John McCain is still undecided whether he will support the nomination of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, he said yesterday. POLITICO’s Burgess Everett reports.
Department of Energy head pick Rick Perry reportedly did not realize that the job involved maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile when he agreed to take it, Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.
Sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea should remain tied to that issue and not be repealed in return for a reduction of nuclear arms as President-elect Trump suggested, President Obama said yesterday, Louis Nelson reporting at POLITICO.
Trump deserves the space to pursue his agenda, outgoing President Barack Obama said yesterday in his final scheduled news conference, while suggesting that he tread carefully on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Carol E. Lee and Damian Paletta report at the Wall Street Journal.
An annotated version of Obama’s final press conference speech yesterday is provided at NPR.
The Obama administration has written 275 briefing papers for the incoming Trump administration including nearly 1,000 pages on North Korea, the military campaign against the Islamic State and tensions in the South China Sea, – and nobody knows whether anyone in Trump’s team has read them, Mark Landler writes at the New York Times.
Ten views from ten countries: CNN compiles the opinions on the incoming Trump administration from commentators from around the world.
European leaders’ insistence that the ties underpinning the world since World War II will endure in Trump’s new world order will be put to the test as “tweets and interviews turn into policy and action,” write Griff Witte, Michael Birnbaum and James McAuley at the Washington Post.
Trump will inherit a conflict in Afghanistan that is a “stalemate” after eight years of the Obama administration, write Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan at the Washington Post, discussing how Trump might approach this particular foreign policy challenge.
Trump’s all-but-abandonment of human rights as a foreign policy principle has raised the prospect of once “unimaginable” alliances for some Middle Eastern countries, writes the AP.
Trump and the Republicans are right to emphasize a stronger military defense following years of budgetary uncertainty, though much depends on how they go about increasing military spending – one of five policies Trump might get right – writes the Washington Post editorial board.
Trump is clearly likely to upset the prevailing norms of US foreign policy when he takes office, but whether that disruption will be strategic or beneficial to US interests is seriously in doubt, Mark P. Lagon and Ross Harrison write at Foreign Policy.
Don’t make any sudden moves on foreign policy, is Richard Haas’ advice to the incoming president. Writing at the Wall Street Journal, Haas argues for a foreign-policy equivalent of the legal principles of stare decisis – “let it stand.”
Forget ideology – this is about “democracy and fascism, war and peace, life and death.” Charles M. Blow writing at the New York Times asks his fellow Americans “Are you not alarmed?” as the Trump inauguration approaches.
Assad believes that peace talks in Kazakhstan will lead to local “reconciliation” deals with rebels, Reuters reports.
Russia and Turkey conducted coordinated strikes against Islamic State targets in the northern city of al-Bab yesterday, the first such operation according to Russia’s defense ministry. Thomas Grove reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Islamic State executed at least 12 people in Palmyra, which they recaptured from the Assad regime in December, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today. [Reuters]
Why are thousands of Iranians fighting in Syria? Shenaz Kermalli explains at Al Jazeera.
The Islamic State lost a quarter of its territory in 2016, according to analysis by HIS Markit. [BBC]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 17. Separately, partner forces conducted six strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
France’s attempt to get the EU to back the results of Sunday’s Paris conference on the Middle East peace process was blocked by a UK-led opposition, Laurence Norman reports at the Wall Street Journal.
The Paris peace conference was a failure, making untenable territorial demands on Israel and giving Palestinians the false hope that they can achieve their aims without making compromises, summarizes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The death toll resulting from the mistaken bombing of a camp for displaced people in Nigeria by Nigeria’s military has risen to 70, aid groups said yesterday, Dionne Searcey reporting at the New York Times.
At least 46 severely injured people are still at the camp, raising the possibility of further fatalities, the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday. [AP]
Tens of thousands of displaced people in Nigeria have no plans to return home despite government claims that Boko Haram has been defeated, the insurgents’ enduring threat underlined Monday by double suicide bombs at a university in Maiduguri, writes Ben Quinn at the Guardian.
Algerian Guantánamo Bay detainee Sufyian Barhoumi lost a last minute legal maneuver to go home before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, the AP reports. Barhoumi was cleared for release on Aug. 9 last year.
CHELSEA MANNING PARDON
President Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning was “entirely appropriate,” he insisted during his final White House conference yesterday, Sabrina Siddiqui and Ed Pilkington report at the Guardian.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he would face extradition to the US if Manning was granted an immediate pardon, his lawyers said, a condition that was not met by the commutation of Manning’s sentence. Raphael Satter reports at the AP.
Manning will lose her military healthcare benefits following the commutation of her prison sentence, the Army confirmed. The Hill’s Mark Hensch reports.
President Obama had considered “proportionate sentences” in evaluating Manning’s case long before Manning’s lawyers submitted a second clemency request in November, explain Missy Ryan, Sari Horwitz and Julie Tate at the Washington Post.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
The FBI and five other intelligence agencies are working on an investigation into whether the Russian government financed hacking operations against the US presidential election and have been for months, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon report at McClatchy.
Russia’s actions against the US aren’t about hacking or cybersecurity, or even about Donald Trump: the leaders in the Kremlin want America as a nation to lose. But Russia’s aggressive campaign against the American people has also exposed its vulnerabilities, writes Molly K. McKew at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
Only President Obama can prevent former NSA contractor Edward Snowden from potentially becoming a pawn in a deal between Donald Trump and Russian President Putin, and there are a number of reasons why he should, suggests Alan Rusbridger at the New York Times.
Snowden should at least been offered a plea agreement that would allow him to return home, writes the New York Times editorial board.
Russia reportedly signed off a new three-year visa for Snowden, The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher reports.
The pardon of Gen. James Cartwright sets a new precedent in which a well-connected leaker of classified information who lied to the FBI is spared jail, writes Peter Maas at The Intercept, agreeing with Just Security’s Steve Vladeck that Cartwright’s pardon is far bigger news in this respect than the commutation of Manning’s sentence.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY LEGACY
“I will at leave office convinced that most global trends remain in our favour and that American leadership and engagement are as essential and effective today as ever.” Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry offers his reflections on the Obama administration’s tenure at the New York Times.
While there have been some positives – the Iran nuclear deal, the removal of US troops from Iraq and their significant reduction in Afghanistan – Obama’s presidency in other respects is a “tragedy,” reflects Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy.
Obama is the first US President to preside over American wars during every single day of an eight-year tenure, points out David Welna at NPR.
A case brought by Muslims detained in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks is being reviewed by the US Supreme Court, Al Jazeera reports.
North Korea has placed long-range missiles on mobile launchers, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reports, citing military officials. [CNN’s James Griffiths and Paula Hancocks]
A Shi’ite rebel strike in the Yemeni city of Taiz killed six civilians, Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.
Philippine President Duterte will visit China in May to attend a multilateral summit, China’s foreign ministry said today. [Reuters]
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for a truck bomb that killed at least 60 people in Mali yesterday as the country tries to implement a peace deal after Islamist groups took over major northern cities, Kevin Sieff reports at the Washington Post.
The prospect of military intervention in Gambia by regional forces approaches as a last-ditch attempt to compel Yahya Jammeh to step down as president after he lost a Dec. 1 vote to Adama Barrow failed, Al Jazeera reports.
What was Obama thinking when he ordered the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, the head of a Chicago-based cell of the Armed Forces of National Liberation which waged a futile but violent struggle to win independence for Puerto Rico in the 1970s? Asks Charles Lane at the Washington Post.
The Obama administration’s strategy in South Sudan is in tatters today, its starkest diplomatic defeat coming last month when UN ambassador Samantha Power was unable to persuade the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country and sanctions on key leaders, writes Somini Sengupta at the New York Times.