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.
US STRIKES SYRIA
The US military launched 59 cruise missiles at the Syrian air base from which this week’s deadly chemical attack was launched last night, the first direct American assault on the Assad regime. Michael R. Gordon, Helene Cooper and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times; Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the Washington Post; Gordon Lubold and Dion Nissenbaum report at the Wall Street Journal.
A second attack on the Syrian town hit by chemical weapons was carried out this morning following the US strikes, according to a local witness and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reporting.
“It is in the vital national security interests of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” President Trump explained his decision to strike on Syria last night, Jordan Fabian reporting at the Hill.
The full transcript of Trump’s statement on Syria is provided at POLITICO.
“There has been no change” in the US’ policy toward Syria as a result of the strikes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday, Brooke Seipel reporting at the Hill.
There “was an effort to minimize risk to third country nationals” – read Russians – and there were “measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas there,” National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster said yesterday, according to a tweet from France 24’s Philip Crowther.
US STRIKES SYRIA: INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
US “aggression” undermines Syria’s counterterrorism operations and there will be consequences for “those who would take such a tragic and unfounded action,” Syrian officials were reported as saying, Louise Loveluck, Kareem Fahim and Heba Habib reporting at the Washington Post.
The strikes are “a significant blow to US-Russia relations,” the Kremlin said. The Guardian’s Jamie Grierson and Claire Phipps provide live updates.
Russia will pull out of an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between US and Russian aircraft over Syria in response to the US strikes, David Filipov reports at the Washington Post.
No Russian servicemen were hurt in the strike, Russia’s foreign minister confirmed. [AP]
The US’ intervention could be “an opportunity to end” Syria’s war, a representative of Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Coalition told Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia “fully supports” the strikes, it said, calling it a “courageous decision” by President Trump. Israel and Turkey’s responses were also positive, while Iran “strongly condemned” the strikes, saying they would strengthen terrorists in Syria and complicate the situation there. Al Jazeera reports.
The UK government “fully supports” the “limited” and “wholly appropriate” US strikes, which Britain was kept informed of throughout but was not asked to join, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said today, the BBC reporting.
US STRIKES SYRIA: LEGAL JUSTIFICATION
The Trump administration is invoking Article 2 of the Constitution as its legal basis for the strikes, asserting that the president has the power to defend the US national interest, which is described in this instance as “promoting regional stability, which the use of chemical weapons threatens” and for which “no authorization from Congress is necessary,” the White House legal office stated in supplementary talking points issued late last night and explained by Josh Rogin at the Washington Post.
“The United States was not attacked.” Congressional authorization was needed for military action in Syria, Sen. Paul Rand (R-Ky.) said last night via Twitter.
Congress was split on the strikes, leading advocates for military intervention Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) praising the strikes and calling for an even broader response, while other lawmakers insisted that, although Trump was right to act this time, he would require congressional approval for subsequent action, while others still said that the President acted without authority. Siobhan Hughes writes at the Wall Street Journal.
US STRIKES SYRIA: MEDIA REACTION and OPINION
A reality Americans were led to believe they would never see: Trump used elective military action for humanitarian purposes last night, without congressional approval, after a campaign spent deriding US military involvement in the Middle East at the end of which the US elected a man who promised to use force in a very circumspect manner, writes Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.
Trump’s actions last night were an important step in saving lives, enforcing global order and improving the strategic outlook for the US and its allies, concludes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The strikes demonstrate that the President is willing to act “forcefully and quickly,” his change of course on his Syria policy just 48 hours after seeing photographic evidence of the chemical weapons attack a sign of his flexible approach to foreign policy, according to Carol E. lee and Louise Radnofsky at the Wall Street Journal.
This is a chance for Trump to change the perception of disarray in his administration and an opportunity for him to demand that Russian President Putin either contains or removes Assad on pain of further immediate American military action, suggests David E. Sanger at the New York Times.
“It never works.” Trump’s bombs on Syria will not help Syria, writes Simon Jenkins at the Guardian, recalling the “ignominious history” of US presidents interfering in Middle Eastern affairs.
Trump said nothing about sustained military intervention in Syria, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson downplayed such expectations, yet the strikes have had a lasting effect on Trump’s presidency in other ways : it is now less likely that he will be able to bring about the improvement in US-Russia relations he envisaged, and he has made it clear to his friends and foes alike that he is prepared to make sudden U-turns on foreign policy – and then drop bombs, observes The Economist.
The real test for Trump is what comes next. While he was right to react as he did to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in blatant violation of a basic norm of international conduct, he has so far shown a complete disinterest in helping to end Syria’s war, writes former Obama administration deputy secretary of state Anthony J. Blinken at the New York Times.
The main question is how does Russia respond? A question Greg Jaffe examines at the Washington Post.
TRUMP CABINET RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is stepping aside from the panel’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, citing the need to deal with a congressional ethics inquiry into allegations that he improperly disclosed classified information to the public. Byron Tau and Paul Sonne report at the Wall Street Journal.
The House Ethics Committee’s investigation into Nunes alleged unauthorized disclosures of classified information was announced yesterday, a joint statement from House Ethics Committee Chairwoman Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and the panel’s ranking Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.) saing that the panel would focus on whether Nunes violated federal law and the chamber’s rules. The Hill’s Cristina Marcos and Katie Bo Williams report.
Former House Ethics Committee chairman Rep. Mike Conway (R-Texas) will take over from Nunes, Kyle Cheney and Martin Matishak reminding us that this was the man who once said that Russian meddling in the US election was comparable to Democrats enlisting Mexican entertainers to campaign for Hillary Clinton in Nevada at POLITICO.
The CIA had information indicating that Russia was colluding with Donald Trump to get him elected as president as far back as last summer, but did not disclose this finding publicly until after Trump’s victory, former government officials said. Eric Lichtblau reports at the New York Times.
Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner omitted to mention dozens of contacts with foreign leaders or officials in recent months including a December meeting with the Russian ambassador when seeking the top-secret security clearance needed to give him access to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets, Jo Becker and Matthew Rosenberg report at the New York Times.
What can – and can’t – Trump associates do when it comes to Russia? The Washington Post’s latest podcast in its “Can He Do That?” series explains.
The US government’s foreign surveillance incidentally collects information on lawmakers and staff members as often as once a month, Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter report.
Nunes’ real offense is trying to investigate both sides of the Russia story, alleged Trump team collusion with Russia and the question of whether Trump’s predecessor had Trump’s team surveilled, according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
President Trump hopes to secure a commitment to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear program from China, he said yesterday as he headed for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., for meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Peter Nicholas, Carol E. Lee and Bob Davis report at the Wall Street Journal.
China “can be part of a new strategy to end North Korea’s reckless behavior,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday after greeting the Chinese President at the airport. David Nakamura reports at the Washington Post.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping “developed a friendship” as they sat for dinner at Mar-a-Lago last night, the BBC reports.
Could Trump’s hints about his North Korea policy indicate that he intends to enlist Beijing in ousting leader Kim Jong-un? Speculates Roderick MacFarquhar at the New York Times.
The much-anticipated meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart has been overshadowed by the US missile attack on Syria last night and what it might say about Trump’s preparedness to use military force to achieve his goals, write Tom Mitchell and Demetri Sevastopulo at the Financial Times.
A suspected US strike killed three al-Qaeda operatives on Thursday in the southern Yemeni province of Bayda, including the brother of the Yemeni affiliate’s late leader, according to Yemeni tribal and security officials. Ahmed Al-Haj reports at the AP.
Somalia’s newly-elected president declared war on al-Shabaab yesterday, offering amnesty to its fighters – “brainwashed youth” – if they surrendered within 60 days, Hussein Mohamed reports at the New York Times.
Israel is “studying” a Russian statement that reaffirms “the status of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state … we regard west Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel,” the AP reports.
The Philippines is going to upgrade existing facilities on its inhabited islands and reefs in the South China Sea, not occupy new territories, defense and military officials clarified today. Manuel Magato reports at Reuters.
South Africa has defended its decision not to arrest Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir during his visit two years ago despite the fact that he was subject to an ICC arrest warrant, telling the International Criminal Court today that it believed it was under no obligation to do so. Stephanie van den Berg reports at Reuters.
UN peacekeepers are being denied access to a town in South Sudan where soldiers allegedly killed civilians this week, according to a UN spokesperson. [Reuters]
A lawyer in New York says he has found a link between Saudi officials and the 9/11 hijackers, but the US government refuses to do anything about it. Caleb Hannan describes one man’s quest to prove Saudi Arabia bankrolled 9/11 at POLITICO MAGAZINE.