The Early Edition: February 22, 2017

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.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOREIGN POLICY

“Toxic” fearmongering by Trump and other anti-establishment politicians worldwide is contributing to a global pushback against human rights, according to Amnesty International’s annual report “The State of the World’s Human Rights.”

Vice President Pence tried to convey the message that the established order the US has led since World War II remains in place on his first trip to Europe, in contrast to his campaign trail rhetoric attributing Donald Trump’s popularity to a popular revolt against the established order, observes Matthew Nussbaum at POLITICO.

Trump’s “much bigger deal” on the Israel-Palestine conflict fails the reality test on nearly all counts, explains David Gardner at the Financial Times.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is keeping a low profile so far, leaving some foreign diplomats speculating as to how much influence he has with the White House, writes Michele Kelemen at NPR.

The State Department – responsible for explaining US foreign policy to the nation and the world – has been silent since Jan. 19, allowing other countries to create their own narrative about US policy, Nicole Gaouette writes at CNN.

The TRUMP CABINET’S RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA

Ukrainian prosecutors are investigating lawmaker Andrii v. Artemenko who worked with Trump associates to produce a peace plan for Ukraine for treason, accusing him of conspiring with Russia to commit “subversive acts against Ukraine” in a court filing yesterday, Michael Schwirtz reports at the New York Times.

“No time for freelancing.” The New York Times editorial board examines the “back-channel” peace plan for Ukraine given to Trump’s lawyer by an obscure Ukrainian opposition legislator and a Russian-born American who has done business with Trump.

We need an independent investigation that reports publicly on Russian interference in the US election and leaks of secret intelligence to discredit an elected president, not a replay of Cold War hysteria that stifles debate and undermines efforts to explore areas of agreement with Russia, writes Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER H.R. McMASTER

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster could face a Senate vote if he wants to keep his current military rank, point out Rebecca Kheel and Jordain Carney at the Hill.

McMaster’s appointment creates a “powerful troika of senior officers who served in Iraq” along with Mattis and Kelly and means that the Trump administration is the first to have all three security jobs filled by senior military veterans at the same time, write Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.

McMaster is the latest, but not the only, demonstration that Trump seems to be picking top officials that are not in his own image and who may be the President’s “best protection from himself,” writes Mary Dejevsky at the Guardian.

In an open letter to McMaster, Daniel W. Drezner writing at the Washington Post reminds the new national security adviser of things he wrote in the past highlighting the need for “military campaigns to be subordinate to a larger strategy that integrates political, diplomatic, economic and strategic communication efforts.”

Unlike his predecessor, McMaster has emphasized the need to work constructively with foreign Muslim populations throughout his career, but his presence only attracts more attention to the deep divide among President Trump’s top policy advisers, on the other side of which are “inexperienced radical ethno-nationalists who shrug of international norms,” write Zaid Jilani and Murtaza Hussain at The Intercept.

NEW IMMIGRATION REGULATIONS

Department of Homeland Security memos on the Trump administration’s new immigration orders and how they affect Mexican citizens in the US are “a serious issue,” the Mexican ambassador to the US told senators after the memos were made official by DHS Secretary John Kelly yesterday, the Hill’s Rafael Bernal reports.

The guidelines were released on the eve of Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Mexico City, timing that threatens to seriously undermine what might have been a “diplomatic make-up session,” writes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.

A “streak of cruelty” runs through the new immigration policy, predicated on Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s claims of “a surge of illegal immigration” in the region that has “created a significant national security vulnerability” at a time when the number of undocumented migrants apprehended on the southwestern border of the US is significantly lower than in 2000, writes the Washington Post editorial board.

The new policies are a rejection of Trump’s predecessors’ aim of balancing protecting the nation’s borders with fiscal, logistical and humanitarian limits on the exercise of laws passed by Congress, write Michael D. Shear and Ron Nixon at the New York Times.

Major elements of the new immigration policies are explained by Nicholas Kulish, Vivian Lee, Caitlin Dickerson, Liz Robbins, Fernanda Santos and Jennifer Medina at the New York Times.

The MUSLIM BAN

The court rulings against President Trump’s travel ban were “flawed, erroneous and false,” White House policy adviser Stephen Miller protested yesterday, insisting that “nothing was wrong with the first executive order.” Mark Hensch reports at the Hill.

SYRIA

The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces advanced into the mostly Islamic-State held province of Deir Az Zor for the first time, a Kurdish military sources said yesterday, Al Jazeera reporting.

There has been a slight shift in the US’ stance toward an operation in Raqqa and the role of a Syrian Kurdish militia as a result of Turkey’s persistence on the issue, Turkey’s defense minister said today. [Reuters]

A UN Security Council resolution calling for a political transition will be the “main guidance” for the first Syrian peace talks in 10 months set to begin in Geneva on Thursday, a top adviser to the UN envoy for Syria said yesterday, Bassem Mroue reporting at the AP.

Will justice be sacrificed in the name of peace? This is the burning questions for many Syrian observers of the latest round of Syrian peace talks, writes Dominique Soguel at the AP.

The Islamic State’s rapid loss of territory in Syria and Iraq is putting pressure on its finances, according to a new report from the UK-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. Merrit Kennedy reports at NPR.

IRAQ

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu-Zakariya al-Britani died near Mosul in Iraq when he detonated a car bomb at an Iraqi army base on behalf of the Islamic State, the BBC reports.

Iraqi government forces launched a new push to take villages west of the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, a spokesperson for the forces said today. [AP]

A rapidly accelerating campaign of armed drone strikes by the Islamic State in northern Iraq is prompting fears of future attacks against civilians, reports Joby Warrick at the Washington Post.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted nine strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

RUSSIA

President Trump was pressured to buy more icebreakers for the Coast Guard to counter Russian moves in the Arctic by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) yesterday, the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley took the middle road as other Security Council diplomats were divided on the role of Russia in Europe’s peace and security yesterday, Farnaz Fassihi reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The US rejected Ukraine’s call for new sanctions against Russia over its decision to recognize passports issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine yesterday, a move Russia characterizes as a humanitarian effort to help residents of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine who are suffering from a blockade by Ukrainian nationalists, Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the AP.

Russia’s Federal Security Service was involved in a failed coup in Montenegro last October, according to Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor, Milena Veselinovic and Darran Simon report at CNN.

CHINA

China has almost finished building almost two dozen structures apparently designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles on artificial islands in the South China Sea, two US officials told Idrees Ali at Reuters.

“We have done our part in enforcing sanctions. Over to you, Mr. Trump.” China’s message to North Korea to abandon its nuclear program was also a message to President Trump, suggests Jane Perlez at the New York Times.

NORTH KOREA

A senior diplomat in the North Korean Embassy is wanted for questioning in the poisoning of Kim Jong-nam, brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Malaysian police said today. Richard C. Paddock and Gerry Mullany report at the New York Times.

Malaysian police are also searching for an airline employee, bringing the total number of North Koreans suspected in the murder to eight, Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

Two women held in connection with the killing are “innocent” and should be released, North Korea’s Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said today, Al Jazeera reports.

The suspected assassins were trained to wipe poison on Kim Jong-nam’s face, then wash their hands, the AP reports.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A plan to improve support for cyber operations and information management was requested from the Pentagon by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a memo on organizational and structural reforms last week, the Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.

Privacy protection group the Electronic Privacy Information Center scored wins in a court battle with the FBI over access to studies the agency has done of how its own record-keeping system could impact personal privacy yesterday, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Judicial Watch cannot have State Department records on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state because those documents do not show evidence of government malfeasance, a federal judge ruled yesterday. Bianca Padró Ocasio reports at POLITICO.

The INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

The South African government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court without parliament’s approval was unconstitutional, a South African court ruled today, Christopher Torchia reports at the AP.

The son of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi should be turned over to the International Criminal Court to be tried for war crimes, the UN said yesterday. But who will hand him over? Asks Nick Cumming-Bruce at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Australia for defending the UN’s “one-sided resolutions” against Israel during a visit to Sydney, the first trip to Australia by a sitting Israeli Prime Minister, the BBC reports.

Yemen’s deputy chief of staff was killed in a Houthi ballistic missile attack on an army camp on the Red Sea coast today, according to a military source. [Reuters]

Tukey’s anti-terrorism police detained 35 people suspected of links to the Islamic State in raids on homes in two Istanbul neighborhoods, Turkish state media reported today. [AP]

A former CIA undercover officer whose extradition has been sought by Italy for her role in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric as part of a secret US rendition program has been detained in Portugal, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Elisabetta Povoledo report at the New York 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