Posts Tagged ‘H.R. McMaster’

Aides warned Trump not to attack North Korea’s leader personally before his fiery U.N. address

September 23, 2017

By Brian Bennett

Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.

Trump’s derisive description of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” on “a suicide mission” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea were not in a speech draft that several senior officials reviewed and vetted Monday, the day before Trump gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, two U.S. officials said.

Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.

But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.

Some advisors now worry that the escalating war of words has pushed the impasse with North Korea into a new and dangerous phase that threatens to derail the months-long effort to squeeze Pyongyang’s economy through sanctions to force Kim to the negotiating table.

A detailed CIA psychological profile of Kim, who is in his early 30s and took power in late 2011, assesses that Kim has a massive ego and reacts harshly and sometimes lethally to insults and perceived slights.

It also says that the dynastic leader — Kim is the grandson of the communist country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and son of its next leader, Kim Jong Il — views himself as inseparable from the North Korean state.

As predicted, Kim took Trump’s jibes personally and especially chafed at the fact that Trump mocked him in front of 200 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and diplomats at the U.N.

Kim volleyed insults back at Trump in an unprecedented personal statement Thursday, calling Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and a “gangster” who had to be tamed “with fire.”

Kim’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, threatened to respond with “the most powerful detonation,” a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

Trump lobbed another broadside Friday, tweeting that Kim “is obviously a madman” who starves and kills his own people and “will be tested like never before.”

The clash may undermine Trump’s other efforts on the sidelines of the General Assembly meetings.

He spent much of Thursday meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in an effort to carve out new ways to pressure Kim to freeze or roll back his nuclear program.

On Thursday, Trump announced new U.S. sanctions against other countries, foreign businesses and individuals that do business with North Korea, a move likely to chiefly affect China, Pyongyang’s largest trading partner.

John Park, a specialist on Northeast Asia at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the tit-for-tat insults have created a “new reality” and probably have shut off any chance of starting talks to curb North Korea’s fast-growing nuclear arms program.

“If the belief centers around sanctions being the last hope to averting war and getting North Korea back to the negotiating table, it’s too late,” Park said.

Since taking office, Kim has pushed the nuclear and missile programs far faster than U.S. experts had expected, sharply accelerating the pace of development and tests. Kim has conducted four of the country’s six nuclear tests.

U.S. officials now believe that North Korea has fully one-third of its economy invested in its nuclear and missile programs.

Trump and his senior aides say Kim has used foreign assistance, including trading subsidies from China, to offset such massive spending. They believe the latest U.S. sanctions, on top of the U.N. sanctions, will help choke off some of that income.

In recent months, Pyongyang has tested its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles, conducted an underground test of what it claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb, and fired midrange ballistic missiles over northern Japan.

U.S. experts assess that North Korea is six to eight months away from building a small nuclear warhead robust enough to survive the intense heat and vibrations of an intercontinental ballistic missile crossing the Pacific and reaching the continental United States.

Given Kim’s record of putting political rivals and dissenters to death, including members of his own family, his public statement blasting Trump makes it highly unlikely that other North Korean officials would participate in talks about ending the country’s nuclear program, Park said.

“There is no one on the North Korean side who is going to entertain or pursue discussion about a diplomatic off-ramp, because that individual would be contradicting the leader, which is lethal,” Park said.

Trump has returned to rhetoric he’d used during the campaign, when he called Kim a “madman playing around with nukes” and a “total nut job.”

But Trump also praised Kim at the time, saying during a Fox News interview last year that Kim’s “gotta have something going for him, because he kept control, which is amazing for a young person to do.”

The president has been fixated on the threat from Pyongyang since taking office.

Trump “rarely lets me escape the Oval Office without a question about North Korea,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in July at a national security forum in Aspen, Colo. “It is at the front of his mind.”

But Trump also has expressed frustration at the failure of previous administrations to block North Korea’s advances in ballistic missile and nuclear technology despite negotiations, sanctions, export controls, sabotage and other efforts.

President Clinton, and then President George W. Bush, engaged in two major diplomatic initiatives to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons efforts in return for aid. Both initiatives ultimately collapsed. President Obama reportedly tried cyber-sabotage.

Obama warned Trump before he took office that North Korea would be his most pressing international concern, and the new president was alarmed to learn how close Kim was to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to U.S. soil.

Despite all of that, Trump rarely derided Kim by name after he entered the White House.

In May, he said he’d be “honored” to meet Kim under the right circumstances.

In August, after U.S. intelligence analysts became convinced Pyongyang had miniaturized a nuclear warhead, Trump said the country would face “fire and fury” if it made more threats against the United States. But he stopped short of hurling personal insults.

Matthew Kroenig, a political scientist at Georgetown University and expert on nuclear deterrence, said Trump’s threat this week to “totally destroy” North Korea comes out of the U.S. playbook for preventing a nuclear attack.

“The point is to deter a North Korean attack, and the art of deterrence hasn’t changed,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “It is to convince your adversary that the benefit of committing an attack would be outweighed by the costs.”

“That’s what Trump was making clear — it is not in Kim Jong Un’s interest to attack the U.S.,” Kroenig said.


Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, regarding the escalating crisis in North Korea’s nuclear threats. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


Why The U.S. Opposes The Kurdish Independence Referendum — And Ended Up on the Same Side as Iran

September 19, 2017
 The Jerusalem Post
SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 05:46


The US now finds itself in the awkward position of being on the same side as Iran.

Why the US chose to oppose the Kurdish independence referendum

KURDISH PEOPLE attend a rally to show their support for the upcoming September 25th independence referendum in Duhuk, Iraq.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Iraqi Vice President Nuri al-Maliki joined the chorus opposing a Kurdistan independence referendum.

“We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in the north of Iraq,” he said on Sunday.

Maliki’s allies in Iran have also threatened the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, pressuring it to cancel the September 25 referendum.

The US, which opposes the referendum, now finds itself in the awkward position of being on the same side as Iran.

The US position on Kurdish aspirations for independence from Iraq has been contradictory. Historically, Washington has supported self-determination in places such as South Sudan, Kosovo and East Timor as they sought independence. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt made this value central to the war effort. The UN enshrined the principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples” in its charter. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized these values in a speech to a meeting of the Community of Democracies in Washington. “We must support emerging democracies in the struggle to become nations that respect human rights regardless of ethnicity,” he said.

A key ally of the US against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and against the Iraqi insurgency and Islamic State, Kurds have been trying since June to convince Washington to apply this view to their region.

Hopes were dashed when the White House released a statement on Friday saying the US “does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum.”

US Special Presidential Envoy to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk went further in a press conference in Erbil, asserting: “There is no international support for the referendum, really, from anybody.” He described the referendum as “ill-timed and ill-advised” and “risky.”

Why has the US taken this stand, when it could have remained silent on the issue, as it has done with the controversial referendum in Catalonia?

Kurds had high hopes for the administration of Donald Trump. One man even named his fish store after the president. In May, Kurdistan Region Security Council Chancellor Masrour Barzani met with Jared Kushner and H.R. McMaster.

KRG President Masoud Barzani authored a piece in The Washington Post in June arguing that Baghdad had not adhered to the post-2003 constitution.

An independent Kurdistan would be a great neighbor to Iraq, “cooperating against terrorism and sharing resources,” he wrote. “We ask that the United States and the international community respect the democratic decision of Kurdistan’s people.”

A person familiar with the administration’s view explained that Trump’s team had already set priorities for national security crises, and those involved Iran, North Korea and Russia. They preferred that Kurdish issues be put off until after the upcoming Iraqi elections. They feared that moves by Kurdistan could distract from efforts to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq and unite Sunni and Shi’a Arabs against Kurds. They didn’t reject the referendum but suggested postponing it.

The problem is that Barzani had heard that before, in 2008, from US ambassador Ryan Crocker and other US officials, who always suggested more dialogue.

The administration already had problems with Turkey over its support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, who were its main partners fighting ISIS. For the administration the KRG referendum was another headache and would distract from the war on ISIS.

Because the Kurds are a close ally of the US, receiving more than $400 million in direct aid to their Peshmerga armed forces in a July 2016 agreement, the US expects them to toe the line. This is similar to the US-Israel relationship, in which the US is a close ally but also expects cooperation and sometimes gives “tough love.” In a July meeting between US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman and Masoud Barzani, the US emphasized that support for the KRG would continue.

This puts the US in a bind. The administration wants to stabilize Iraq without playing into Iran’s hands. Iranian-backed Shi’a militias have been an official part of the Iraqi security forces since 2016. The US is attached to the status quo in Iraq, as it is when dealing with Jerusalem. Coupled with more pressing crises in North Korea and the Iran deal, Washington thinks the Kurds can wait.

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that the administration could consider issuing a kind of “Balfour Declaration,” asserting that “the US government views with favor the self-determination of the Kurds, not talking about specific territories or Iraqi politics.” That would offer a vague notion that the US is open to exploring the referendum next year, he argued.

There may be a silver lining. Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that the threats and pressure against the referendum may not change anything the day after. “The Kurdistan independence referendum may be… anticlimactic afterward.”


Nikki Haley Says U.N. Has Exhausted Options on North Korea — Could she replace Tillerson?

September 17, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the matter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. “We’re trying every other possibility that we have but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken)


Tillerson heads to U.N. gathering with Haley waiting in the wings

The former South Carolina governor is widely seen as a leading candidate to succeed the Texas oilman as secretary of state should he leave the Trump administration.

Nikki Haley is pictured. | Getty Images
As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, now-Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted that it maintain the Cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The disagreement among Trump administration officials and Washington’s foreign policy intelligentsia is not about if but rather when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley eclipsed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as America’s top diplomat.

As President Donald Trump heads to New York for his first United Nations General Assembly, the weeklong gathering is being viewed as the most public test yet for the shrunken diplomat at Foggy Bottom – an opportunity for Tillerson to reassert himself by the president’s side as something more than a bean-counter, or risk being overshadowed by Haley on the most high-profile stage to date.

It would be unprecedented for a U.N. ambassador to upstage a secretary of state at the diplomatic Super Bowl. UNGA is typically a frenetic week of parties, speeches, bilateral meetings and Manhattan traffic jams, during which the ambassador cedes the yearlong spotlight she enjoys at U.N. headquarters to officials higher up the food chain.

But “unprecedented” is the Trump administration’s unofficial slogan. And Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is seen as one of its most ambitious players, competing for prominence against a former Exxon Mobil CEO, who has been criticized for accepting the lead role at the State Department only to oversee a dramatic shrinkage of its budget and influence.

“[John] Kerry and [Hillary] Clinton were big names and would get a lot of attention” at UNGA, said Ned Price, a former National Security Council official in the Obama administration. “The U.N. ambassador would, in some ways, serve as the emcee and have a more behind-the-scenes role. Now, I have a feeling we’ll see Nikki Haley much more engaged in the substance in a higher profile way.”

Haley is expected to attend almost all of the bilateral meetings with Trump and Tillerson, an amped-up role for the ambassador. She has also been involved in reviewing the remarks Trump is expected to deliver Tuesday, which will mark Trump’s main event of the week.

On Friday, speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room, Haley noted that in the speech, the president “slaps the right people, he hugs the right people.”

Her presence behind the podium was notable. Tillerson was returning from closed-door meetings at the British Foreign Ministry in London, leaving Haley fielding questions about North Korea and America’s foreign policy priorities for the week alongside National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

It is Tillerson, however, who is scheduled to address the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in a rare speech in front of the Security Council this week, a State Department spokesman said. Haley has no scheduled speaking role.

But Haley’s large and growing profile has made her the most-discussed candidate to eventually succeed Tillerson.

“Nikki Haley gave up being the governor of a really important state for this position,” said Kori Schake, a former official in the George W. Bush State Department who has also co-authored a book with Defense Secretary James Mattis. “I don’t see the logic of the U.N. ambassador position as the end state of that decision.”

Tillerson was a onetime favorite of Trump’s, someone he viewed as a peer and spent more one-on-one time with at the White House than any other cabinet official. But the Texas oilman has clashed with senior White House aides, killed morale in the agency and walled himself off among a small group of top aides.

While Tillerson has not spoken openly about departing, speculation in White House circles about who might replace him has focused on two candidates: Haley and CIA director Mike Pompeo, another favorite of Trump’s. But Pompeo, a former congressman, is not seen as eager to leave a job he loves, while Haley has been asserting herself as someone ready for something bigger since she joined the administration.

As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, Haley insisted that it maintain the cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration.

She does not view herself as someone who reports to Tillerson, people who have worked with both principals said. She regularly video-conferences into National Security Council meetings and speaks freely with the press, often charting her own course without seeking sign-off from the White House or the State Department.

That course is often notably at odds with Trump’s America First vision of the world. Haley’s tough talk about human rights, Russian malfeasance and the need to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is more in line with the hawkish takes of Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. She has won praise from conservative outlets like the National Review that have been outright hostile to Trump.

So far, it seems to have cost her nothing. In an administration where most officials see only downside to cultivating a public profile in the media, Haley has become the face of the administration’s foreign policy apparatus — without chafing the president, at least so far, even when she contradicts him or seems to hog the media glare.

On Friday, for instance, she touted the latest U.N. sanctions resolution that unanimously passed last week as a major accomplishment, even after Trump referred to them as “just another very small step, not a big deal.”

“We have cut off now 90 percent of trade going into North Korea,” she said. “It was a massive sanctions bill.”

Taking on extra press briefings and television interviews is a role that some of her colleagues are more than happy for her to fill. McMaster, aides said, loathes the Sunday show circuit, venting privately that he feels like the appearances only serve to “box him in.” Tillerson and Mattis have both made it clear they would prefer to work off-camera.

“Diplomacy isn’t a competition,” said State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond. “There are people with different styles of communicating and leadership.”

In the opening months of the administration, Haley’s go-it-alone style made for some detractors in the West Wing. “She took a major foreign trip while the president was on his inaugural trip abroad,” said one former administration official, referring to her visit to refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan as Trump touched down in Saudi Arabia last spring. “It was borderline disrespectful,” the former official said. “We’d joke that we needed to be worried about her in 2020, and not John Kasich.”

But with growing frustration surrounding the missing-in-action Tillerson, more administration officials are boosting Haley as someone who at least is clear about what she is trying to achieve.

For Haley, it’s been a quick build from foreign policy novice to lead envoy on the international stage. “It could be that foreign policy experience is overrated and political experience is underrated,” said Schake, noting that the Trump administration is testing theories of what outside skills are transferrable to government positions. “Are business skills easily transferable to government leadership? Apparently not. Are political skills transferrable to foreign policy skills? Apparently so.”

Some White House advisers point to the speech Haley delivered earlier this month on the Iran nuclear deal as “the final nail in Tillerson’s coffin.”

The speech, in which Haley floated the idea that the president could force the Iran deal into Congress’ lap by simply declaring Iran noncompliant, marked the most substantive Iran comments to date from any administration official. Haley was a surprising messenger, given that the U.N. plays a limited role in the 2015 nuclear agreement, and it was Tillerson’s predecessor, Kerry, who typically managed the issue. They were also delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington — Tillerson’s home turf.

Others shrugged off the speech, saying that was just words delivered to a friendly neo-conservative think tank audience. It was passing U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea that marked Haley’s “moment,” they say, a demonstration that she can deliver real outcomes on the international stage.

A third role reversal that administration officials point to was Haley’s trip to Vienna, last month, instead of Tillerson, to review Iran nuclear activities.

Another camp looks at the dynamic and does not see Haley as the abnormal player on the international scene, but more like the latest in a long line of ambitious U.N. ambassadors like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice.

Instead, they point at Tillerson, who’s been overseeing a top-to-bottom reorganization of the 75,000-person State Department since taking over. “The more unusual piece is him,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry. “The only thing he seems fixated on is this review.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even expressed confusion about Tillerson in an interview last week with NBC’s Rachel Maddow. “Why take a job that you’re not willing to dive in and learn about,” Clinton said, expressing dismay that he has never reached out to any of his predecessors for any historical context on diplomatic relations, and calling him “largely invisible.”

The friction between the ambitious, public-facing Haley and the isolated, media-wary Tillerson has become noticeable in meetings.

Cabinet officials have remarked at Tillerson’s disrespectful tone toward Haley during meetings, as well as her refusal to defer to him. Asked to comment on their relationship, Hammond said the two “serve together in the cabinet. They speak frequently on issues of the day.”

As to whether Haley is angling for the top job at the State Department, he replied, “I have no idea. I really don’t.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. said: “This sort of palace intrigue is silly; Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson work together frequently and well.”

As for Haley’s strategy at UNGA next week, he added: “The focus should be fully on the president, his speech, and his discussions with foreign leaders.”

Japan Says U.S. Has Assured It of Nuclear Deterrent Protection

September 3, 2017

TOKYO — U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told his Japanese counterpart on Sunday that Washington is firmly committed to defending Japan, including with its nuclear deterrent, following North Korea’s latest nuclear test.

McMaster made the assurance during a telephone call to Shotarou Taniuchi, the Director-General of the Japanese National Security Council, according to a government statement.

Under Japan’s alliance treaty with the United States, Washington has pledged to defend Japan. It has put Japan under its nuclear umbrella, meaning it could respond to any attack on Japan with atomic weapons.

(Reporting by Takaya Yamaguchi; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Inside John Kelly’s Effort To Rein In Donald Trump

September 3, 2017

Trump Enjoys John Kelly’s New Order – And Rails Against It

By David Z. Morris

Sep 02, 2017
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stands in the door of Air Force One and thinks things over…. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

In the five weeks since John Kelly became Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, the retired Marine Corps General has ejected unstable staffers, imposed new controls on who can meet with the President, and restricted the news the President consumes. While Trump has expressed appreciation for the new sense of order, he has also, predictably, bridled against it.

Trump’s discontent has at least once led to a harsh outburst directed at Kelly. According to a new report from the New York Times, Kelly later told fellow staffers that he hadn’t been talked to that way in 35 years.

At the same time, President Trump has both publicly and privately praised Kelly and his changes, including telling aides that he now has “time to think.” But Trump – who doesn’t read news on the web, instead relying on TV and printouts of articles passed to him by aides – has also said he misses updates from Breitbart and The Daily Caller, far-right news outlets that Kelly has apparently removed from the mix.

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When Kelly was appointed, observers predicted that success in the role could breed resentment in Trump. According to the latest Times report, coauthored by Trump monitor nonpareil Maggie Haberman, Kelly has tried to take a light touch with the President, but has not been able to entirely maintain Trump’s enthusiasm for him. And Kelly was always a reluctant staffer, with some speculating that he regarded it as his patriotic duty to take the Chief of Staff role.

That mounting tension has led White House aides to wonder how much longer Kelly will remain in the role, with estimates ranging from one month to one year, despite there being no indication from Kelly himself that he plans to leave. Kelly’s only comment on the matter unearthed by the Times is that his new job is by far the hardest he has ever had.


Forceful Chief of Staff Grates on Trump, and the Feeling Is Mutual

WASHINGTON — President Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.

It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.

While Mr. Kelly has quickly brought some order to a disorganized and demoralized staff, he is fully aware of the president’s volcanic resentment about being managed, according to a dozen people close to Mr. Trump, and has treaded gingerly through the minefield of Mr. Trump’s psyche. But the president has still bridled at what he perceives as being told what to do.

Like every other new sheriff in town Mr. Trump has hired to turn things around at the White House or in his presidential campaign, Mr. Kelly has gradually diminished in his appeal to his restless boss. What is different this time is that Mr. Trump, mired in self-destructive controversies and record-low approval ratings, needs Mr. Kelly more than Mr. Kelly needs him. Unlike many of the men and women eager to work for Mr. Trump over the years, the new chief of staff signed on reluctantly, more out of a sense of duty than a need for affirmation, personal enrichment or fame.

“It is inevitable that a guy who will not be contained and does not want to be handled or managed was going to rebel against the latest manager who wanted to control him,” said Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser, who believes Mr. Kelly represents a kind of management coup by “the triumvirate” of two powerful retired generals — Mr. Kelly and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary — and one general who is still in the Army, the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.“Ultimately Donald Trump is his own man, and he’s going to resist all the control and regimented systems Kelly is trying to impose,” Mr. Stone said.

For the seven months of the Trump administration, the favorite parlor game in the West Wing has been guessing how long imperiled aides like Mr. Priebus would hang on before getting fired. But these days it is Mr. Kelly’s state of mind, not Mr. Trump’s, that concerns the beleaguered aides buoyed by the new chief’s imposition of structure and clear lines of authority.

The question now is how long Mr. Kelly will stay, with estimates ranging from a month to a year at the most. White House officials say that Mr. Kelly has given no indication he intends to leave anytime soon. He has thrown himself into long-term planning of the administration’s tax reform push, the president’s Asia trip in November and scheduling for the next several months, they said. Mr. Kelly declined through a White House spokeswoman to comment for this article.

For Mr. Trump, few ingredients matter more in a staff relationship than chemistry, and at times he and Mr. Kelly — whose soldierly demeanor masks a slashing sense of humor — have enjoyed a mostly easy rapport. At commencement ceremonies at the Coast Guard Academy in May, Mr. Kelly elicited a big laugh from the president after Mr. Trump was presented with a ceremonial sword and Mr. Kelly told him that “you can use that on the press.”

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Nothing Changes in Afghanistan Until We Defeat the Salafist-Islamist Ideology

August 22, 2017


About a month ago, President Trump met with his national security team — Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster — to review their proposed strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Trump rejected it, heatedly, because it proposed continuation of what we’ve been doing for nearly sixteen years.

On Friday, Trump met with them again. This time, Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance as well. Trump hinted that they had reached some sort of agreement. What it is, he didn’t say.

In between those meetings Erik Prince, former head of Blackwater, the high-end training and security force company that had extensive service in Iraq, was marketing a plan. It called for an end to U.S. troop presence but substituted a new mercenary force of about five thousand men — presumably the former special forces troops that had made up Prince’s Iraq force — as well as a private air force contingent of about one hundred aircraft, all under the control of a “viceroy” that would operate against Taliban and other terrorist forces in Afghanistan.

A similar plan is being marketed to the administration by investor Stephen Feinberg. A third similar option is, according to a source in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, being offered by Prince Ali Seraj, a member of what was Afghanistan’s royal family, who fled when the Soviets arrived in 1979.

Also, according to my source, Seraj is actively seeking face-to-face meetings with Trump or high-ranking people on his national security team. Seraj wants to offer a force of Afghan tribal fighters (which will never be more effective than the Afghan army, which is to say minimally at best).

Prince’s plan was disparaged by almost everyone in government. Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson, reportedly refused to even meet with Prince.

Gen. Nicholson had asked for about five thousand more troops for a mini-surge in Afghanistan to ensure security. Also pushing for more troops were Stephen Hadley, formerly national security advisor to president George W. Bush and evidently the Washington Post.

Post editorial stated that we couldn’t withdraw from Afghanistan. “The point,” it said, “is to show the Taliban that it can’t topple the central government, and coax the Taliban, if possible, toward negotiations. Maybe the Taliban will not agree, but a continued U.S. effort is preferable to Afghanistan falling apart.”

It is impossible to misstate our goals in Afghanistan more perfectly.

Since 2001, we have fought the Taliban to stabilize Afghanistan, not to defeat it. We have failed. The Taliban control at least ten percent of the country and the rest — aside for the areas in which U.S. and coalition troops are present at the moment, is up for grabs. Taliban attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, as well as civilian targets, have increased about twenty percent in the past year.

The Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani is about as riddled with corruption as that of his predecessor, Mohammed Karzai. Efforts to establish security wax and wane as does the effectiveness of Afghani forces.

ISIS has a large presence in Afghanistan. When the Air Force dropped the “mother of all bombs” against a target in Afghanistan in April, it destroyed a big ISIS camp dug into caves.

Many of the problems we face in Afghanistan have been the same since before the British withdrew in 1842 after their first Afghan War. The society, such as it is, remains tribal. The Soviets invaded in 1979 to support their puppet government and withdrew in 1989 having learned that they couldn’t defeat the mujahedeen, the pre-Taliban Islamic forces that they encountered almost everywhere. (The mujahedeen were helped enormously by U.S. money and munitions which allowed them to pay fighters and shoot down Soviet helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.)

The mujahedeen, like the Taliban, were also aided substantially by their co-religionists in Pakistan. Pakistan, though formally our ally, has undermined our efforts at every turn. They hid Osama bin Laden for years until the CIA found him in Abbottabad and the SEALs flew in to kill him, a mission that wasn’t disclosed to the Pakistanis until it was almost over.

Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI) has enabled the Taliban to operate freely. In addition, ISI is also supporting, and giving safe haven, to terrorist networks such as Laskar e-Taiba (which conducted the massive Mumbai terrorist attack in India in 2008) and Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD). Both are designated terrorist groups by the U.S.

A source in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area has informed me about some of what ISI is doing in Afghanistan.

One example he points out is a massive terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balochistan province in Koh i Sabz (“green mountain”) outside the city of Panjgur. He theorizes that it is either Saudi-funded or supported as a Pakistani proxy group.

Another example is a man named Muneer Mullazai. He is, according to the source, a high-ranking and key ISI asset in Afghanistan. He lives in three locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, one in Quetta City in Pakistan, from which the infamous Taliban “Quetta shura” has operated for many years. My source says that Muneer works closely with ISI and is always guarded by armed men. He publishes and oversees distribution in Afghanistan of an Islamist pamphlet called “the Jarrar,” and one of his associates, “Saifullah,” runs media accounts in Afghanistan for JuD.

It’s reasonable to conclude that the biggest problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan. It’s also reasonable, and essential, to conclude that the reason Pakistan is doing so is its adherence to the Salafist Islamic jihadi ideology, which brings us to the point that many faithful readers have come to expect from this column.

The reason we cannot defeat the Taliban is twofold: first, we have never defeated their ideology, and second, nuclear-armed Pakistan has supported our enemies — Taliban, LeT, JuD, al-Qaeda and the rest — while still pretending to be our ally.

Whatever the president decides, if he fails to engage and defeat the Islamist ideology we will lose the war. If he fails to deal decisively with Pakistan, we cannot defeat the terrorist networks it sponsors.

McMaster will never allow the ideological war crucial to winning this or any other anti-Islamic terrorist conflict to begin despite the president’s promise to do so. McMaster has, for years, insisted that terrorism is “un-Islamic.” While he is on Trump’s team we cannot deal with either the Islamist ideology or Pakistan.

Our ground and air forces have done all that we have asked of them except to defeat the Taliban. It is time to pull them out and leave a residual force — either a US/NATO force or one of the mercenary forces — that is aimed solely at accomplishing the only goal we ever had: to defend American interests in Afghanistan.

Though it is remotely possible that a mercenary force could do as well as a US/NATO force, it is vastly more desirable to have any residual force under an American (or NATO) commander than any profit-seeking “viceroy.”

Those interests are exclusively to prevent Afghanistan from returning to its pre-9/11 status as a central safe haven for terrorists wishing fervently to attack American people and assets both here and abroad.

Unless and until we defeat the Salafist-Islamist ideology, the war in Afghanistan will go on indefinitely until we withdraw altogether. Then, Afghanistan will return to its pre-9/11 form. If the president chooses any of the options he has — withdrawal, a residual U.S. force aimed at terrorist suppression, or one of the three mercenary army proposals — he will do no more than continue to play “whack-a-mole” in Afghanistan for the remainder of his presidency.

And we will continue to spend lives and treasure in indefinite amounts for the rest of our national existence.


Playing Chicken With China

August 21, 2017

Trump’s North Korea brinkmanship might seem scary, but it’s not that unusual.

Aug. 20, 2017 3:52 p.m. ET

President Trump appears desperate, erratic and even irrational as he struggles to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. If the president is to be believed, he stands ready to run any risk, pay any price and do whatever necessary to keep the U.S. safe. This includes launching a pre-emptive attack that risks dragging America and China into a second Korean War. To understand the method in what looks like madness, recall the Cold War strategy known as “nuclear chicken.”

A game…

Donald Trump to Unveil Afghanistan Strategy in Televised Address Monday

August 21, 2017

President’s plan expected to include sending as many as 4,000 more troops

U.S. soldiers maneuvered a howitzer in June at Bost Airfield in Afghanistan.
U.S. soldiers maneuvered a howitzer in June at Bost Airfield in Afghanistan. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump will give a nationally televised address Monday night to unveil his strategy for the long-running war in Afghanistan, the White House said, a plan expected to include sending as many as 4,000 more troops to the country.

He’ll deliver the prime-time speech from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., using the same sort of high-profile stage that his predecessor, Barack Obama, employed in laying out a new approach to the war in 2009. Mr. Obama delivered his speech before a national television audience at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., promising at the time to “bring this war to a successful conclusion.”

The speech is planned for 9 p.m. EDT.

Last week, Mr. Trump met at Camp David with his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to discuss the way ahead in Afghanistan. Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended by videoconferencing from overseas.

On Saturday, the president tweeted that he had settled on an approach to a war that is now in its 16th year: “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”

The Afghanistan policy announcement marks a turning point for the president. In announcing the strategy himself, he gains ownership of the war that he criticized as a candidate before inheriting it from two predecessors, Mr. Obama and George W. Bush. As the new strategy takes hold, Mr. Trump will increasingly be asked about any successes or setbacks. Mr. Trump has been criticized in national security circles for foisting his war policy on his generals.

Months ago, Mr. Trump empowered Mr. Mattis to increase the size of the force as needed. The defense secretary, who led troops there as a general before his retirement, pushed to get the White House to agree to a strategy first. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and others embracing an “America First” strategy had cautioned Mr. Trump that there was no payoff in Afghanistan and to pull troops out.

Mr. Trump as a candidate called for drawing down the number of troops, but top military advisers and ultimately Mr. Tillerson advised that he should not only retain but increase the troop levels to address a worsening security situation and to strengthen the advisory effort aiding the Afghan military. He was also advised to take a broader approach to the region that would include Pakistan.

Mr. Trump heads into this high-stakes period for his agenda at a time when his White House is in the midst of a reset. His new chief of staff, John Kelly, has been tightening operations in a West Wing that has failed to notch a major legislative victory.

Mr. Trump on Friday ousted Mr. Bannon, the face of an economic nationalist approach that had discomfited some of the president’s more mainstream advisers.

More staff departures could be coming as Mr. Kelly looks to impose more discipline on a staff riven by infighting, White House advisers said.

Write to Peter Nicholas at and Gordon Lubold at

Appeared in the August 21, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Set to Detail His Afghan Strategy.’

Trump says many decisions made on Afghanistan and beyond

August 19, 2017


© AFP/File | US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (L to R) were among those attending Friday’s talks at Camp David

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump tweeted early Saturday that “many decisions” had been made in a meeting with his top military advisers, including on the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.The Trump administration, wary of international involvements but eager for progress in the grueling Afghan war, has been weighing a range of options. It had originally promised a new plan by mid-July.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted about the meeting a day earlier at the presidential retreat in Maryland, saying: “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”

It was unclear how far-ranging those decisions might be, or when they would be announced.

But Trump is said to be dissatisfied by initial proposals to add a few thousand more troops in the country, and advisers were studying an expanded strategy for the broader South Asian region, including Pakistan.

There are now about 8,400 US and 5,000 NATO troops supporting Afghanistan’s security forces in the fight against Taliban and other militants. But the situation has remained as deadly as ever, with more than 2,500 Afghan police and troops killed from January 1 to May 8.

Steve Bannon, Back At Breitbart: “Now I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency.”

August 19, 2017

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By Harriet Alexander, David Millward Barney Henderson

defiant Steve Bannon declared the Trump presidency he had campaigned for was over as he vowed to carry on the fight after being ousted as the White House chief strategist.

Within hours of leaving his office,  Mr Bannon was back at Breitbart, the right wing website he ran, presiding over the evening news conference.

In interviews he made it clear he was not going quietly as he rounded on those he held responsible for his departure.

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“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” he told the Weekly Standard, a right-wing newspaper   “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency,” he continued.

“But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”

He added: “I feel jacked up. Now I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he added as he vowed “Bannon the barbarian” would crush the opposition.

“There’s no doubt. I built a —–ng machine at Breitbart.  And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.”

His loyalty to Donald Trump remained undimmed.

“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,”  he told Bloomberg.

Earlier Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary said Mr Bannon, 63,  had departed “by mutual agreement.”

The White House then issued a statement, saying that the decision was agreed by Mr Bannon and John Kelly, the chief of staff – a sign of Mr Kelly’s grappling to control the chaos, or perhaps simply to avoid Mr Trump having to put his name to the firing of the man who most connects him to his diehard supporters.

Joel Pollack, Breitbart’s  editor at large, tweeted a one-word response to Mr Bannon’s departure: “War”.

Mr Bannon was controversial from the start.

Combative and unapologetic, the former Goldman Sachs financier was employed by Mr Trump as his campaign manager in August 2016, and described at the time as “the most dangerous political operative in America”.

He urged Mr Trump to pursue a populist path, and pressed him to hammer Hillary Clinton as corrupt – reportedly coming up with the “lock her up” chant that reverberated around his rallies.

It was Mr Bannon, with fellow hardliner Stephen Miller, who wrote Mr Trump’s inauguration speech – a dark and foreboding depiction of the “American carnage” that Mr Trump believed he had been elected to stop.

He was often at odds with the “globalist” wing of the White House – Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law; his wife Ivanka Trump; H.R. McMaster, the head of the national security council; and Gary Cohn, director of the national economic council.

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Mr Bannon reportedly referred to them in private as “the New Yorkers” and “the Democrats”, among more printable nicknames, and tried to steer his boss away from them and towards his own nationalist sympathisers.

At first the president thought fondly of his flame-throwing ideologue, who was seen to wield immense behind-the-scenes power inside the White House.

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Gary Cohn

Saturday Night Live depicted him as the grim reaper, playing Mr Trump like a puppet – something that reportedly amused Mr Bannon, but enraged his boss.

His departure had been described as imminent before, but since Charlottesville the drum beat of demise rose to a frenzy.

Mr Trump was reported earlier this week to have not spoken face-to-face with Mr Bannon in over a week, and on Tuesday, at the now infamous press conference in which he defended white supremacists, Mr Trump could only offer a lukewarm endorsement, responding to a question about Mr Bannon’s future with: “We’ll see.”

That press conference sparked condemnation of a president never before seen in the United States – the heads of the military spoke out against their commander-in-chief, and the UN secretary-general voiced concern. Titans of industry who Mr Trump had so assiduously courted on the campaign trail deserted him in droves, leading to the folding of both his business advisory panels.

On Friday the arts council resigned en masse – the first White House agency to do so.

Political condemnation was also snowballing, leading astonished Americans to ask where this could all end.

Bob Corker, a senior Republican loyalist and chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, who was considered for secretary of state, declared that “the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises.

And, while Mr Trump sought to shift Thursday from the white supremacists to the future of statues, he was criticised by Rupert Murdoch’s son James, in an email widely circulated.

“I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists,” he wrote.

Rumblings of discontent from Mr Trump’s staff grew so loud that the White House was forced to release a statement saying that Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s chief economic adviser, was not quitting.

The Dow Jones suffered its worst day since May on Thursday, but rebounded slightly on the news that Mr Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, was staying put.

Mr Cohn will certainly not be crying over the departure of Mr Bannon. Mr Bannon perhaps sealed his own fate this week by telephoning a reporter with The American Prospect, a Left-wing publication, to contradict his boss – and suggest that he was deciding who was in and who was out in the state department.

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” said Mr Bannon, directly undermining Mr Trump’s vow to respond if attacked.

Asked about his rivals at the departments of state, defence and treasury, who wanted to keep China on side by avoiding trade wars, Mr Bannon was unrepentant.

“They’re wetting themselves,” he said. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in.”

But Mr Bannon may not go quietly.

One of the reasons Mr Trump was said to have delayed dismissing him was fear of “weaponising” Mr Bannon, if he was unleashed from the White House.

A friend of Mr Bannon said he intended to return to Breitbart, adding: “This is now a Democrat White House”.

Bannon ‘in good spirits’

Quoting  a “friend”,  the Wall Street Journal, said Mr Bannon seemed to be in good spirits, following his departure from the White House.

“Steve has always been a gunslinger. This allows him to be a gunslinger again.”

Trump ‘ceding dangerous ground to the media and establishment’

Kristin Tate, a conservative columnist, warns that Donald Trump has ceded dangerous ground to the establishment.

“There is no compromise with the Never-Trumpers and Democrats over the role of chief strategist,” she writes in The Hill, a political website.

” Personnel is policy, and Trump is ceding his ace for a player to be named later. That’s not good enough for the people who made his movement happen.

Bernie: The problem wasn’t Bannon, it was Trump


Steve Bannon ‘said he resigned from White House two weeks ago’


CNN says ‘Gorka could go’

Citing unnamed “sources”, CNN is saying that Sebastian Gorka, Donald Trump’s deputy assistant, could be the next to go.

Born in the UK to Hungarian parents, British educated Mr Gorka, has also been a controversial figure in the White House.

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Seen as a hardliner, he was openly critical of Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, when he suggested the US could negotiate with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

But Mr Trump is reported to be a fan of Mr Gorka’s combative style and his forthright defence of the administration in his media appearances.


Another White House departure

Steve Bannon is not the only senior figure leaving the White House,according to Politico.

George Sifakis, director of the Office of Public Liaison since March, is reportedly on his way out.

A close friend and ally of Reince Preibus, the former White House chief of staff,   Mr Sifakis was an aide to George W Bush.


Nigel Farage says Bannon will be missed


Bannon meets billionaire donor to plot next steps

Axios, the authoritative Washington website, reports that Mr Bannon met with billionaire Republican donor Bob Mercer to plan their next moves.

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They write:

Bob Mercer and Steve Bannon had a five hour meeting Wednesday to plot out next steps, said a source withknowledge of the meeting.

They plotted strategy going forward — both political and media strategy. The meeting was at Mercer’s estate on Long Island. Mercer had dinner the next night at Bedminster with President Trump and a small group of donors. The source said Mercer and Bannon “remain strong supporters of President Trump’s and his agenda.”



Democrat leader responds

Steve Bannon’s exit does not erase @realDonaldTrump’s long record of lifting up racist viewpoints & advancing repulsive policies. 


Four down…

This January 28 photo shows Donald Trump and his advisers inside the Oval Office. Of the six in the picture, only the president and vice president remain – Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon have all left.


Breitbart’s editor-at-large responds to Steve Bannon’s ouster