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.
The MUSLIM BAN
The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security has directed personnel to preserve all documents related to the travel ban as part of an internal investigation into the roll-out of the executive order following a request from Congress, according to an internal document obtained by The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, Murtaza Hussain and Alice Speri.
House Homeland Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) would not rule out using his committee to make legislative changes to Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the resettlement of refugees in the US, he said yesterday, the Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis reporting.
The measures “violate our basic principles” and are “not the way to best protect the United States or any country” from the threat of terrorism, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his first detailed remarks on the ban yesterday, Somini Sengupta reports at the New York Times.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan defended the travel ban yesterday, saying it was not Islamophobic and does not target any one religion, Al Jazeera reports.
Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia are telling their citizens not to speak up about the travel ban, Preeti Jha and Krithika Varagur report at Foreign Policy.
Cybersecurity researchers are not working with law enforcement agencies in response to Trump’s travel ban, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.
Trump’s travel ban is probably legal, concludes Charles Lane at the Washington Post.
OTHER EXECUTIVE ACTIONS and CABINET CONFIRMATIONS
Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State in a 56-43 vote in the Senate yesterday, Gardiner Harris reports at the New York Times.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly anticipates that the Mexican border wall will be completed in two years, he said yesterday, the Hill’s Max Greenwood reports.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) announced legislation yesterday that would redefine who serves on the National Security Council and would require the White House to seek congressional approval of all but a minority of council members and attendees, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
The Strengthening Oversight of National Security bill is a direct response to Trump’s order appointing Stephen Bannon to the N.S.C.’s “principals committee,” writes Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept.
MATTIS’ ASIA TRIP
Defense Secretary James Mattis criticized North Korea for its provocative acts and said he would consult South Korean and Japanese officials about the adequacy of the current strategy for trying to get the North to stop is nuclear and missile programs in his first official public comments abroad, Robert Burns reports at the AP.
North Korea’s “provocative behaviour” is the only reason the THAAD missile defense system will be deployed, Mattis said after arriving at the Osan Air Base outside Seoul today, CNN’s Brad Lendon reports.
Mattis’ trip is the first opportunity to see what happens when the President’s rhetoric on China meets the real world, writes Michael Auslin at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY
The Trump administration wants to rename the “Countering Violent Extremism” program designed to counter terrorism the “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” progam, turning its focus solely onto Islamist extremism, Julia Edwards Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke report at Reuters, citing five people briefed on the matter.
Trump has placed his “dark vision” of an America under attack by “radical Islam” at the center of US policy-making, write Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Lipton at the New York Times.
Trump called an agreement with Australia to take 1,250 refugees a “dumb deal!” in Twitter post yesterday, suggesting he could back out of the deal made between Australia and the Obama administration to transfer people from Australia’s offshore detention centers to the US, Damian Paletta and Rob Taylor report at the Wall Street Journal.
A phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday may develop into a diplomatic rift between two longstanding allies after the two leaders exchanged strong words over refugee policy before Trump abruptly ended the call, Glenn Thrush and Michelle Innis report at the New York Times.
Trump bragged about the size of his electoral college win during the call, and told Turnbull that this was the worst call he had made “by far” that day after speaking to four other world leaders, according to senior officials, suggesting that Trump is willing to subject his foreign counterparts to the same level of vitriol he displays in speeches against news agencies and political adversaries and on Twitter, suggest Greg Miller and Philip Rucker at the Washington Post.
Reports that Trump told his Mexican counterpart that US forces would handle “the bad hombres down there” if the Mexican authorities don’t were denied by both the US and Mexico, the Hill’s Nikita Vladimirov reports.
In the time it has taken for Rex Tillerson to get his Senate confirmation as secretary of state, Donald Trump has managed to create a host of looming new crises for him to deal with, alienating allies in the Arab and Islamic world and prompting a wave of dissent from over a thousand US diplomats, writes Julian Borger at the Guardian.
Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for a border wall is a dark episode in US foreign policy and tells the world that America “no longer believes in fair play or the rule of law,” writes Ioan Grillo at the New York Times.
The US could help reshape regional arrangements in Afghanistan that would do more to stabilize that country and stop terrorism than “a thousand drone strikes,” but not if America sees its presence only as part of a global war on Islamist terrorism, making it impossible to engage with Afghanistan’s neighbors, writes director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Program at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University Barnett R. Rubin at the New York Times.
Civilians were likely among those killed during a US military raid on an al-Qaeda target in Yemen last weekend, the Pentagon said in a statement. Ben Kesling and Asa Fitch report at the Wall Street Journal.
The raid in Yemen was “risky from the start and costly in the end,” explain Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
Saudi Arabia’s investigation into its own alleged humanitarian law violations in Yemen is “like marking your own homework.” Former UK international development secretary Andrew Mitchell told members of Parliament on returning from Yemen that an independent investigation of alleged abuses during the two year conflict in Yemen was needed, the Guardian’s Karen McVeigh reports.
The US is “putting Iran on notice” after its recent ballistic missile launch, national security adviser Michael T. Flynn said yesterday, Mark Lander and Thomas Erdbrink reporting at the New York Times.
Iran is “rapidly taking more and more of Iraq” despite US efforts, Trump tweeted at 3a.m. this morning, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.
If Trump and his team are looking for a pretext to rip up the Iran nuclear deal, they will certainly seize the one created by Iran’s missile test – or Trump could follow through on his own statement last year that he would police the deal “so tough that they don’t have a chance” rather than rip it up – the latter being the correct approach, suggests George Perkovich at POLITICO MAGAZINE.
President Trump is progressing a “combative and iconoclastic” foreign policy that seems to do away with traditional diplomacy and concentrate decision-making among a small group of aides intent on projecting their “America First” approach to the world, Anne Gearan writes a the Washington Post.
Recent advances against the Islamic State northeast of Aleppo are a starting point for more operations to drive the insurgents back and increase government control of the areas, Assad forces said today. [Reuters]
Two powerful rebel groups Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham have turned on each other in Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held province, in the past week, threatening to further weaken an already fragile opposition, Dylan Collins reports at Al Jazeera.
Turkish warplanes killed 51 Islamic State militants in operations over the past 24 hours, Turkey’s military said in a statement today. [Reuters]
Upcoming talks in Geneva between the Assad regime and rebel groups must focus on core issues including a transitional government if they are to be a success, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 1. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
RUSSIA and UKRAINE
The US will never accept Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, Ukraine’s UN envoy said US Ambassador Nikki Haley had reassured him, the AP reports.
NATO canceled a meeting with Ukrainian officials about the alliance’s missile-defense system, a new sign that it is trying to avoid provoking Russia, Julian E. Barnes and Nathan Hodge report at the Wall Street Journal.
Two more Ukrainian troops were killed in clashes with pro-Russian separatists, Ukraine’s government reported this morning. Inna Varenytsia reports at the AP.
Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) made a last-minute request to Defense Secretary Ash Carter that he send his copy of the CIA “Torture Report” to Guantánamo Bay war court for safe keeping just before the transfer of power, Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
Germany’s foreign minister is meeting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice-President Pence in Washington today, the AP reports.
Five East Libyan force soldiers were killed in clashes with Islamist-led rivals on the edge of a recently recaptured district of Benghazi, Reuters reports.