Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Obama expected to raise concerns over Philippines President Duterte’s remarks

August 30, 2016
United States President Barack Obama and President Rodrigo Duterte will hold bilateral talks at the sidelines of the ASEAN leaders’ summit in Laos. AP/Carolyn Kaster, Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — United States President Barack Obama is expected to raise concerns about some of the recent statements of President Rodrigo Duterte in their upcoming meeting in Laos.

The two leaders are set to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit at Vientiane, Laos on Sept. 6.

“We regularly meet with the leaders of our treaty allies where we have differences whether it relates to human rights practices or derogatory comments. We take the opportunity of those meetings to raise those issues directly,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a media briefing on Monday.

Rhodes made the statement after he was asked if the “inflammatory remarks” of Duterte about women, journalists and other issues would be discussed.

RELATED: US Embassy: Comments vs Goldberg unacceptable | US summons Philippine envoy over Duterte’s remarks

The White House official added that the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea would also be one of the topics of the bilateral talks.

“I think the discussion will encompass both concerns about statements that have been made by the President of the Philippines and our commitment to supporting human rights and all efforts that are undertaken bilaterally and also, again, discussing the regional picture particularly focus on the maritime issues,” Rhodes said.

Duterte is expected to meet with other heads of state on the sidelines of the ASEAN leaders’ summit.

The president will first visit Brunei Darussalam on Sept. 4 before proceeding to attend the ASEAN summit from Sept. 5 to 7. He will then proceed to Indonesia for a two-day working visit.

RELATED: Duterte gets diplomatic passport ahead of ASEAN swing

Russia’s Vladimir Putin May Be Using Donald Trump To Advance Russia’s Goals

August 30, 2016

BY ON 8/29/16 AT 7:00 AM

Trump addresses a crowd of supporters on July 27, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-Russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Just four years after his predecessor Mitt Romney declared Russia to be Washington’s greatest geopolitical threat, Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, “unlike what we have in this country.”

Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies (“Our country does plenty of killing also,” he told MSNBC), suggested that he would “look into” recognizing Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and questioned whether the United States should defend NATO allies who don’t pay their way.

When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails in July from the Democratic National Committee’s servers, as security analysts have shown, Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack some more.“Trump is breaking with Republican foreign doctrine and almost every Republican foreign thinker I know,” says Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.

“He is departing radically from Ronald Reagan, something never done by any Republican Party presidential candidate.” Try Newsweek for only $1.25 per week It’s easy to see why Putin views Trump’s ascendancy as a godsend—and why he mobilized his cyberspies and media assets to his aid, according to security analysts.

“Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights,” continues McFaul. “A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin’s international interests.” Putin has been relatively reserved in his public support for Trump—calling him “colorful and talented,” which in Russian comes across as faint praise—but Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) have lavishly praised Trump, tweeted #CrookedHillary memes and supported Trump’s assertion that Barack Obama “founded ISIS,” and Russia’s world-class army of state-sponsored hackers has targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Putin attends a meeting with Armenian President Serge Sargsyan at the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, August 10.

What’s more, it’s increasingly clear that after the DNC hack the Kremlin is relishing, even quietly flaunting, its newfound role as a meddler in U.S. politics. After years of U.S. influence over Russian affairs, especially in the chaotic 1990s, it is sweet revenge for the Kremlin to be cast once again as global puppet master.

And most fundamentally, the Kremlin’s support for Trump is part of a longstanding strategy to sow disruption and discord in the West. Whether it’s by backing French ultra-nationalists, Catalan separatists or the Brexit campaign, or boosting Donald Trump’s chances by blackening the Democrats, the Kremlin believes Russia benefits every time the Western establishment is embarrassed.Russia’s brazen cyberattack on the DNC servers was “a cyber psy-op,” according to Brian Whitmore of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“At least one of Moscow’s goals is apparently to force the United States to treat it as an equal superpower,” Whitmore wrote in the influential Power Vertical blog. “Suddenly, for the first time since the Cold War, Russia occupies center stage in a U.S. election. Suddenly, there are global headlines about the threat of Russian hackers.”

The forensics of the DNC hack point to two things—first, that two well-known Russian hacker groups with connections to that country’s intelligence services were responsible for the break-in, and second, that when the material was released through WikiLeaks, the Russians made little effort to disguise their hand in the heist.

A detailed report in July by the hacker-watcher collective CrowdStrike stated that one group, Fancy Bear (or APT 28), gained access to the DNC database in April. The other, Cozy Bear (or APT 29), broke in as early as June 2015. According to Alexander Klimburg, a cybersecurity expert at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies and author of the forthcoming book Dark Web, APT 28 is associated with Russia’s GRU military intelligence and APT 29 with its Federal Security Service, or FSB.

“Our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis,” blogged CrowdStrike’s chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none.”

Last year, APT 28 hacked the State Department, the White House and the civilian email of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was also involved in hacks of French TV and the 2014 meltdown of a German steel foundry after malware infected its systems, an attack known in cyberwar circles by the chilling clinical term “cyber-to-physical effect.” The DNC hack, then, was just one of several “very forward-leaning attempts to signal to the West Russia’s cyber capabilities,” says Klimburg.

“They often don’t care about being discovered. Indicating that you are behind something is part of the operation.”When CrowdStrike first fingered the Russians, an internet user calling himself Guccifer 2.0 claimed that he, not the Russian government, was the culprit. Guccifer attempted to signal his non-Russianness by using an ordinary French Hotmail account—the cyber equivalent of disguising yourself in a Groucho Marx false nose—but the metadata on the documents he provided were found to contain Russian signatures, including “Felix Edmundovich,” the first names of Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Foreign intelligence agencies have been found snooping on American political campaigns before. In 2014, Chinese hackers broke into Romney’s servers, for instance. But the DNC hack has elevated such interference in politics to a frightening extent. “I just want to underscore how unprecedented this is—using espionage to influence an American presidential election crossed a new level of intervention,” says McFaul.

Trump addresses supporters at a campaign rally on August 1 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Temperamentally, Putin and Trump don’t have much in common, but the two have mutual support for each other; Trump has routinely praised the Russian president as a leader, and Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT have lavishly supported the U.S. presidential candidate.

Don’t Bad-Mouth the Boss

What’s in Project Trump for Putin is clear. But the more puzzling question is how Trump became Putin’s man in Washington. Former CIA Director Mike Morell wrote in The New York Times that Putin “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” with flattery. But the truth is more nuanced. Trump’s pro-Putinism goes back to at least 2007, when he told CNN that the Russian strongman was doing “a great job” rebuilding Russia.

Trump was pushing real estate deals in Moscow at the time and, according to one Moscow-based American businessman who negotiated with him, Trump’s admiration for Putin was rooted in “pure self-interest…. He was looking to make friends and business partners” among Russia’s politically connected elite. “Oligarchs aren’t going to do business with anyone who bad-mouths the boss,” explains the real estate developer, who requested anonymity because of his ongoing Russian investments.Trump’s affinity for the Kremlin deepened after he launched his political career in 2014. Trump has surrounded himself with advisers with deep connections to the Putin regime.

Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, once ran the Moscow office of Merrill Lynch and advised the Russian energy giant Gazprom (in which he still owns shares, Page said in March). Page’s company, Global Energy Capital, continues to work with Russian investments—and Sergey Yatsenko, Gazprom’s former deputy chief financial officer, works for GEC as an adviser.

Since both companies have suffered grievously from the sanctions the U.S. and EU imposed against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Page is a passionate advocate of lifting them—something Trump has said he will consider.On July 7, Page took time off from the Trump campaign to give a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School, where he slammed America’s “often hypocritical focus on democratization” and praised Russia’s policy of “noninterference” and “respect” for its neighbors.

“Page toed the [Kremlin] party line,” says one senior Moscow expatriate professional who attended Page’s talk. “He’s a believer…. It’s common among Western businesspeople in Russia to be pro-Putin. But it’s rare to hear it from someone at the top of Republican politics.”Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a Trump adviser and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is a regular guest on RT, the Kremlin’s conspiracy-theory-minded English-language propaganda channel.

He has refused to say if he’s on RT’s payroll, but last year Flynn flew to Moscow to attend the station’s 10th anniversary gala, where he sat two chairs away from Putin. Michael Caputo, a public relations adviser who helped run Trump’s New York primary campaign, lived in Russia in the 1990s, and Gazprom’s media arm contracted him to improve Putin’s image in the United States.

Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany during the 1980s who is known for his strong skepticism of the U.S.’s commitment to its NATO allies (Burt appeared in a panel discussion in April on the topic “Does America Need Allies?”), reportedly helped draft at least one Trump speech where the candidate blasted NATO’s “free rider problem,” according to Politico.

Burt is chairman of the advisory council of The National Interest, a publication of the Center for the National Interest, a strongly pro-Russian think tank based in Washington. The CNI has long partnered with the Kremlin-backed Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a think tank in New York devoted to promoting Moscow’s interests.

In May 2014, the two institutions held a joint press conference defending Russia’s position in Ukraine. In April, Trump chose the CNI as the venue for his first major foreign policy speech, and the audience included Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has longstanding ties to Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych, advising on campaigning for his Party of Regions in the 2006 parliamentary elections and paving the way for Yanukovych’s ascent to prime minister and then the presidency, from which he was ousted in 2014 amid massive pro-EU protests. Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko wrote in The Guardian that he had seen “so-called ‘shadow accounting’ documents” that show “a total of $12.7m of payments made to Manafort” by the Party of the Regions, at least $2.2 million of which, according to the AP, was channeled to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012.

Manafort denies any wrongdoing, though the very public discussion of his Ukrainian business connections certainly played a part in his being sidelined as Trump’s campaign manager in mid-August.

During his time at the helm of the Trump campaign, Manafort played a crucial role in hauling the Republican Party’s official position away from its traditionally anti-Russian stance. According to The Washington Post, Trump campaign staffers gutted a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression, defying a strong GOP consensus on the issue.

Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Trump, speaks to the press during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 18. During his time on the Trump campaign, Manafort was instrumental in moving the Republican party away from its traditionally anti-Russian stance.
Trump has business ties in Russia that go back to 1987, when he and his then-wife, Ivana, visited Moscow to scope out a luxury hotel joint venture with the USSR’s state tourism agency Intourist, according to his memoir The Art of the Deal. That deal came to nothing, but Trump returned in 1996 to negotiate a high-end condominium project with U.S. tobacco giant Liggett-Ducat. Trump “talked a big game,” recalls the American real estate developer, who has direct knowledge of the negotiations.

“But what was needed was not New York real estate connections but Moscow political connections…. Trump didn’t have those.” In 2005, Trump took another crack at a now-booming Russia, hoping to build a Trump Tower on the site of a former pencil factory.

He partnered with Bayrock Group, a New York–based developer that had co-developed the Trump SoHo and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to pull together financing. Bayrock’s CEO was Tevfik Arif, a Kazakhstan-born former deputy head of the Soviet Ministry of Commerce’s hotel department, who had made money running high-end tourist hotels in Turkey. The deal failed—in part because of Arif’s choice of Soviet-born Felix Sater (later Satter) to run Bayrock’s Moscow operation.

Sater had served prison time for slashing a man’s face in a 1991 Manhattan brawl—“He got into trouble because he got into a barroom fight which a lot of people do,” Trump once said in a court deposition—and in 1998 was convicted for fraud over associations with White Rock Partners, a Mafia-connected New York stock brokerage. (Arif was detained in Turkey in October 2010 on suspicion of organizing sex parties for wealthy businessmen and Eastern European models aboard a $60 million yacht once used by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, according to charges filed by prosecutor Yusuf Hakki Dogan. Arif was cleared of all charges the following year.)

After the Bayrock debacle, Trump had better luck selling high-end real estate to wealthy Russians in the West. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008.

“We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Among those deals was the sale of a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, to Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million in 2008, according to Florida property records. In the wake of several bankruptcies, Trump found it hard to raise money in the West, so he gathered money from Russian and Kazakh investors for his Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects.

Salvatore Lauria, a partner of Sater’s in White Rock Partners, helped gather $50 million in investments for Trump SoHo that included, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock, “unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.”

Trump’s latest set of Russian partners are the most high-rolling—Aras Agalarov and Emin Agalarov, real estate developers born in Baku, Azerbaijan, who paid Trump to organize the 2013 Miss Universe competition in Moscow. They also signed a deal to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital, though the building has not yet got off the ground. The Agalarovs have received several contracts for state-funded construction projects, and Putin personally awarded Aras Agalarov the Order of Honor of the Russian Federation soon after the Miss Universe pageant.

Trump told a National Press Club lunch in Washington in 2014 that during his trip to Moscow the previous year he had spoken “indirectly and directly” with Putin, “who could not have been nicer.” In fact, Putin never showed up at the gala, and the two have never met.But even the Agalarovs are far from Russia’s big leagues of power and money.

“It’s bizarre that people are talking about Trump’s Russian business interests, because he never made it in Russia,” says the Moscow-based American real estate developer. “He tried to become a player, but he didn’t know the right people.”

From left, Donald Trump, Aras Agalarov, Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo and Musician Emin arrive at the 2013 Miss USA pageant at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on June 16, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Despite Trump’s lack of significant business success in Russia, his political career has made him an important part of Putin’s wider strategy to weaken the West and court conservatives around the world into a grand anti-liberal alliance headed by Russia. In August, Moscow hosted a gathering of nationalist and separatist activists from all over Europe and the U.S.—part of an ongoing effort to encourage anti-EU and anti-NATO political groups, including Greece’s Golden Dawn, Bulgaria’s Ataka and Hungary’s Jobbik.

As Vice President Joe Biden warned in a speech in Washington last year, “Putin sees such political forces as useful tools to be manipulated, to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit.”To Putin’s mind, the campaign is a way of pushing back against what he sees as meddling by Washington and Brussels in his backyard, from allegedly encouraging anti-Putin protests in Moscow in 2011 to fomenting the pro-European Maidan uprising in Kiev in 2013 that led to the ousting of President Yanukovych (and put Paul Manafort temporarily out of a job).

Putin “honestly believes that the U.S. is trying to overthrow him,” says Kremlin-connected political technologist Gleb Pavlovsky, who advised Putin until 2011.“In the eyes of Russian elites, Western aggression must be met with a response,” argues Eugene Rumer, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia Program and a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council.

“Hacking into DNC computers…is simply payback for Western media reports about elite corruption in Russia. It helps boost the Russian narrative that money and politics go hand in hand everywhere, and that Russia is no different from the United States or other Western countries whose governments are critical of Russia.”

The Billionaire Stooge 

Temperamentally, Putin and Trump don’t have much in common. Putin is a steely, shy, highly controlled career KGB man who has spent his life in disciplined institutions and got his break not through public politics but by being a perfect courtier to Boris Yeltsin. The other is a freewheeling dealmaker with a taste for the trappings of wealth, beautiful women, publicity of any sort and a deep need for the acclaim of crowds. But both are brilliant opportunist tacticians with a cynical attitude about the truth, willing to cherry-pick facts to build narratives that suit their purpose.

Trump more closely resembles Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs—though he is much poorer than most of them—insofar as he has hijacked a political movement to fuel his personal ambition and boost his business interests.The Kremlin’s support of Trump—offered in the form of backing from propaganda channels like RT and Sputnik—is electorally insignificant. Even the covert revelations of the DNC hack didn’t make much of a dent in Clinton’s ratings (though WikiLeaks founder and RT contributor Julian Assange promises devastating new findings in October). What’s truly disturbing is the cyberwar methods used by the Kremlin to disrupt the election—and the wider and more sinister political program that the Kremlin is pursuing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin waits to greet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Konstantin Palace, August 9, in Strenla, Saint Petersburg.
“The target of the hacks wasn’t just Clinton,” Eerik-Niiles Kross, the former head of Estonian intelligence, wrote in a recent essay in Politico.

“Nor is Moscow much interested in supporting Trump (willing useful idiot though he may be). What the Russians have in their sights is nothing less than the democratic fabric of American society and the integrity of the system of Western liberal values…. The political warfare of the Cold War is back—in updated form, with meaner, more modern tools, including a vast state media empire in Western languages, hackers, spies, agents, useful idiots, compatriot groups, and hordes of internet trolls.”

In other words, Trump is merely a useful stooge in the Kremlin’s grand design to encourage NATO disunity, U.S. isolationism and the breakup of Europe. In practice, all the effort of Russian-sponsored hackers, think tankers and propaganda channels is unlikely to have much real effect and on balance have probably harmed Trump’s chances of getting into the White House. But the effort is real. As Kross put it, “Russia is effectively using our democracies and our systems of rule of law against us…. America, welcome to the war.”

Turkish Offensive on Islamic State in Syria Caught U.S. Off Guard

August 30, 2016

Behind scenes, coordination between Washington and Ankara broke down at senior levels, according to officials

Turkish troops headed toward the Syrian border near Karkamis, Turkey, on Saturday.
Turkish troops headed toward the Syrian border near Karkamis, Turkey, on Saturday. PHOTO: HALIT ONUR SANDAL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Aug. 29, 2016 8:43 p.m. ET

When Turkish ground forces delivered a lightning strike on Islamic State fighters in Syria last week, the Pentagon hailed what it described as close U.S.-Turkish coordination.

But behind the scenes, cooperation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners broke down at senior levels, according to officials on both sides. The two countries weren’t as aligned on the operation as their public statements indicated.

While the White House was preparing to consider a secret plan to have American special forces join the Turks, Ankara pulled the trigger on the mission unilaterally without giving officials in Washington advance warning. When clashes started between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish fighters—who are directly backed by U.S. Special Forces—the Pentagon issued unusually blunt calls for both to stand down.
U.S. officials say the Turks’ decision undercut a behind-the-scenes effort to clear rival Syrian Kurdish elements out of the conflict zone first and created a prickly, new challenge for the U.S. as two of its most important partners in the campaign fight each other instead of Islamic State. The breakdown in coordination adds a new layer of tensions between Washington and Ankara on top of those sparked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown since the July coup attempt in Turkey.

Officials in Washington said they warned their Turkish military counterparts Monday that the U.S. won’t provide air support to Turkish forces pushing southward, deeper into Syrian territory. The U.S. will continue to provide air support to Turkish forces moving westward, into the border area threatened by Islamic State.
Likewise, U.S. officials told the Kurds that U.S. air support hinged on their forces moving east of the Euphrates River and on advancing south toward Islamic State’s self-declared capital, Raqqa, to ensure they wouldn’t come into conflict with the Turks, according to the officials. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday that the Kurdish forces had begun to move eastward, easing the friction between the two sides.

Turkey has long accused the main Syrian Kurdish militia of being an extension of the Kurdish separatist group that uses car bombs and suicide attacks in Turkey as part of a two-decade-old fight for more rights and autonomy.

A reconstruction of events leading up to Turkey’s ground intervention, based on interviews with U.S. and Turkish officials and Syrian rebels involved in the offensive, shows discussions between the U.S. and Turkey over a joint operation along the Turkish-Syrian border date back to the spring of 2015.

Under the original Turkish proposal, which Mr. Erdogan discussed with his top generals in June 2015, his government would have sent as many as 2,000 troops across the border. Turkish officials were so convinced of the political will to launch the operation that they had drafted news releases announcing the military decision.

In addition to Turkish forces, Ankara wanted the Obama administration to commit to sending in U.S. commandos, but the White House was cool to the idea, according to U.S. officials. Instead of using foreign ground forces, the U.S. and Turkey agreed to use air power and artillery to support thousands of Syrian rebel fighters who would move in to clear a 60-mile stretch of the border.

Turkey shared the names of the Sunni rebel units that it wanted to spearhead the ground operation, allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to vet them for any possible terrorist ties. One of the largest groups on Turkey’s wish list for the operation—Ahrar al-Sham—was rejected by the Americans as too extreme.

Civil and military authorities on Monday inspected the construction of a border wall between Turkey and Syria near the Suruc, which borders with the northern Syrian town of Kobani.
Civil and military authorities on Monday inspected the construction of a border wall between Turkey and Syria near the Suruc, which borders with the northern Syrian town of Kobani. PHOTO: KADIR CELIKCAN/REUTERS

But talks between the U.S. and Turkey over the joint operation bogged down last summer as Pentagon leaders and some Turkish generals raised doubts that Ankara would be able to mobilize enough rebels to carry out the proposed mission.

The proposed operation was shelved as unfeasible when Russia intervened in Syria last year to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, especially after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane on the Turkey-Syria border. Many of the Turkish-backed rebel groups were too busy trying to fend off Mr. Assad’s resurgent forces in Aleppo to join Turkey on another front against Islamic State.

Talks renewed in the winter during a short-lived cease-fire. Then, in March, Turkey provided the U.S. with a list of 1,800 Syrian rebel fighters it had identified to lead the operation, a senior Turkish official said.

July’s attempted military coup against Mr. Erdogan ratcheted up tensions with the U.S. But top military officials on both sides said they didn’t want to let the discord affect cooperation against Islamic State.

After Mr. Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 9, Turkey sent a high-level military delegation to Russia to discuss its planned operation into Syria. The Russians assured Turkish officials that Moscow wouldn’t target Ankara’s forces if Turkey moved across the border, according to senior Turkish officials.

Turkey’s plans progressed after Aug. 13, when Kurdish-led forces backed by U.S. commandos seized control of the Syrian town of Manbij, which sat on Islamic State’s strategic supply route between Raqqa and the Turkish border.

That next week, alarm bells sounded in Ankara and Washington when some of those Kurdish units started to push north toward the Turkish border. Turkey had agreed to the U.S.-backed operation to liberate Manbij from Islamic State after receiving assurances from Washington that the Syrian Kurdish forces spearheading the fight would leave the largely Arab town once the jihadist group was defeated and move back to the east side of the Euphrates.

By Aug 17, Turkey was calling in Syrian rebel militias who were part of the battle plan, according to people familiar with the matter. Turkish security forces began transporting those friendly fighters to staging grounds along the Turkish border.

At the same time, Kurdish elements were taking more villages around Manbij, and not retreating as they had promised the U.S. Some Kurdish leaders also indicated that their next military objective would be Jarablus, a Syrian town on the Turkish border, instead of Raqqa. U.S. officials said the main Kurdish forces they backed never threatened to go to Jarablus.

By Aug. 20, Turkey had a new reason to launch its attack: A suspected Islamic State bomber targeted a wedding celebration in Gaziantep, a city of about two million near the Syrian border. At least 54 people were killed.

Turkish and American officials said the Turkish military wanted to look decisive and to show loyalty to Mr. Erdogan, particularly after the coup.

With their Syrian rebel allies massing, the Turkish military briefed their American counterparts based in Turkey on their plans.

They asked for a contingent of U.S. Special Operations forces to enter Jarablus alongside Turkish commandos, according to U.S. and Turkish officials. U.S. commandos would help call in airstrikes and coordinate with rebel fighters on the ground.

Pentagon leaders backed the plan, which called for deploying at least 40 U.S. commandos. Then, early last week, they began talks with the White House about the proposed joint ground operation.

The Pentagon was looking for a speedy answer. Instead, the White House—cautious about putting American troops on another front inside Syria—told the Pentagon that it wanted certain questions answered before proceeding. Specifically, the White House wanted to know how Special Operations forces would be protected given the presence of al Qaeda-linked fighters in the area, officials said.

Military officials said the White House’s request for more information amounted to a rejection of the plan because they knew the Turks wanted to move quickly.

As White House officials awaited answers to their questions, the Pentagon pressed Ankara to give U.S. deliberations more time. Meanwhile, U.S. officials were trying to get Kurdish forces to leave areas where Turkish forces would deploy.

Late on Aug. 23, the White House told the Pentagon that it was prepared to convene a high-level meeting the next day to consider the Pentagon’s proposal to insert U.S. Special Operations forces as part of the Turkish operation.

But overnight, Turkey launched its offensive without giving officials in Washington advanced warning. The proposal never reached President Barack Obama’s desk, according to a senior administration official.

While Turkey publicly cast the campaign as a joint operation with the U.S.-led military coalition, the first airstrikes carried out by Turkish jets on Jarablus were done unilaterally, not under the coalition umbrella.

Turkish aircraft fired from Turkish airspace, not Syria’s, according to U.S. officials.

When U.S. military commanders in the region realized that Turkish forces had launched their operation without the Americans, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, Gen. Joe Votel, used existing authorities to have U.S. forces in the region provide the Turks with limited air support via drones, F-16s and A-10s.

Instead of participating at the front line, U.S. Special Operations forces took up positions on Turkish soil overlooking Jarablus to try to help direct U.S. strikes from the sidelines. But officials said the commandos could do little from the distance.

The battle for Jarablus, which U.S. officials thought would take days or even weeks, was over within hours as Islamic State militants pulled back without putting up much of a fight.

Turkish officials seized on the quickness of their victory as evidence that the Americans were wrong to doubt their capabilities. “Obviously, the liberation of Jarablus by the Turkish military and the Free Syrian Army is proof that our troops were always up to the task,” a senior Turkish official said.

U.S. officials acknowledge that they misjudged Islamic State’s determination to hold that town. But they say they are more worried now about the danger that a NATO ally could get bogged down in Syria and inadvertently take pressure off Islamic State.


Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces ‘should stop fighting’ each other and go after the Islamic State — U.S. has lost its ability to shape the outcome

August 30, 2016
U.S. deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes

The US defence secretary has called on Turkey and Kurdish forces in northern Syria to stay focused on fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and not to target each other.

Monday’s statement by Ash Carter came after Turkish forces launched a two-pronged operation last week against ISIL, also known as ISIS, and Kurdish forces from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) inside Syria.

“We have called upon Turkey … to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), and we have had a number of contacts over the last several days,” Carter said.

“We have called on both sides to not fight with one another, to continue to focus the fight on ISIL … That is the basis of our cooperation with both of them – specifically not to engage.”

The SDF is a group of fighters formed to fight against ISIL and is led by the YPG.

Turkey considers Syria’s YPG – which maintains close ties to PKK fighters battling Turkish forces in the country’s southeast – a “terrorist” group.

It said on Monday it would continue to target the YPG if it failed to retreat east of the Euphrates River.

Carter said chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, had spoken with his Turkish counterpart on Sunday over the issue.

The US-led coalition has been backing the YPG with training and equipment to fight ISIL, while at the same time the US has also supported Syrian opposition groups fighting with the Turks in northern Syria.

Ankara regards the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, an outlawed armed group that has been waging war against the Turkish state for over 40 years.

On Monday, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said they were advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria, a city captured earlier this month by Kurdish forces.

Turkey said it killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” in strikes on YPG positions on Sunday – meaning the two US-backed partner forces were fighting each other.

Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, condemned the fighting the south of the Syrian town of Jarablus, where Turkish armed troops had fought with the SDF.

“We want to make clear that we find these clashes unacceptable and they are a source of deep concern,” Cook said on on Monday, seconding Carter’s call.

INTERACTIVE: Timeline of attacks in Turkey

“This is an already crowded battle space. Accordingly, we are calling on all armed actors to stand down immediately and take appropriate measures to de-conflict.”

In his remarks, Carter said: “The YPG elements of [the SDF] will withdraw, and is withdrawing, east of the Euphrates.

“That will naturally separate them from Turkish forces that are heading down in the Jarablus area.”

Turkish forces backed by allied Syrian rebels seized the town of Jarablus from ISIL last week, but also clashed with local fighters affiliated with the SDF.

In an interview published on Monday in Turkish daily Hurriyet, Hulusi Akar, Turkish chief of staff, was quoted as saying that Kurdish forces around Jarablus have been attacking Turkish soldiers there.

“They have to withdraw to the east of Jarablus, Otherwise, we will do what is necessary,” he told Hurriyet.

Source: Al Jazeera News


France will ask the European Commission to end talks on a massive trade deal with the U.S. — “There is no more political support in France for these negotiations”

August 30, 2016


German minister also said “We must not succumb to American demand.”

© AFP/File | French junior minister for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl says Paris will ask the European Commission to end talks on a massive trade deal between the European Union and the United States call TTIP

PARIS (AFP) – France will ask the European Commission next month to end negotiations on a massive trade deal between the European Union and the United States, the country’s junior minister for trade said Tuesday.”There is no more political support in France for these negotiations” and “France calls for an end to these negotiations,” Matthias Fekl told RMC radio.


Iran deploys Russian-made S-300 missiles at its Fordow nuclear site

August 29, 2016

August 29, 2016

Commentary: How a marine-protected area in the South China Sea is crucial for peace

August 29, 2016
Marine Protected Areas are declared to protect the existing biodiversity and the integrity of the marine ecosystem in the area. How can the setup help the Philippines deal with the South China Sea issue? An environmental expert explains.

The maritime and territorial tug-of-war between states bordering the South China Sea, beyond what the Philippines has named the West Philippine Sea, has gone on for several decades. For Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, the area is a vital maritime route and, just as importantly, its ground sare rich in natural resources.

Unfortunately for the claimant-states in Southeast Asia, China upped the ante in its claim through its infamous nine-dash line, which covers more than 80 percent of the sea and has been interpreted to delineate that area as Chinese territory. The provocative Chinese actuations to enforce this interpretation, notably at Scarborough Shoal, forced the Philippine government, then led by President Benigno Aquino III, to invoke the provisions of the UNCLOS and initiate a case against China before a neutral court of arbitration.

The effects of enforcement have not only been political or military in nature. One cause of action in filing the said case dealt with the environmental damage caused by Chinese government agents and by Chinese fishermen with government support. Rightly so, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines.

The havoc wreaked by Chinese reclamation and fishing activities have been documented and brought to the public’s awareness. There is no equivocating the extent of the damage. As former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario commented at a recent environmental forum, the area that saw coral reef destruction over the last few years is five times the size of Bonifacio Global City.

Thus, the burning question that confronts us is: “What do we do now?” Indeed, considering the irrefutable ruin China caused in the contested waters and the favorable arbitral ruling to the Philippines, what is the way forward for us as a country, as part of a region that seeks peaceful solutions, and as a member of the international community?

Earlier this month, the Stratbase-ADR Institute with its environmental arm the Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST), partnered with the De La Salle University to hold the last part of its West Philippine Sea forum series. The forum focused on the harm on the environment that resulted from massive Chinese reclamation and destructive fishing practices by its nationals, all carried out under the protective watch of their coast guard.


The forum featured scientific, diplomatic, legal, and civil society perspectives on the issues. Promisingly, three speakers, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, biologist and De La Salle Professor Carmen Lagman, and Secretary Del Rosario, all expressed their interest in establishing a marine park in the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

What does it mean to create a marine park or a marine protected area?

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been defined by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as areas of the oceans or other bodies of water that are protected for conservation purposes. Under Philippine municipal laws, MPAs are managed under the framework of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act. As defined by NOAA, the main objective of establishing an MPA is to protect the existing biodiversity and the integrity of the marine ecosystem in the area. In the case of the wide-scale reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, creating a marine park or sanctuary should allow what is left of the coral reefs and the marine species to slowly recuperate and, for the endangered species there, have a fighting chance against extinction.

Employing this environmental management tool, of course, advocates toward not only ecological preservation but, more importantly, how humans can sustainably benefit from the fisheries and other aquatic resources in the area. The South China Sea is notable for being the ‘nursery’ of the region’s fisheries, where fish that feed the world reproduce. This demonstrates the importance of the area to the global marine ecosystem.

The West Philippine Sea is also part of the Coral Triangle Region, touted as the global center for marine biodiversity. If the habitat, spawning, and feeding grounds, of these megadiverse species are severely disrupted, humanity risks losing part of its heritage, a wealth of scientific discoveries, and, most urgently: an important source of food.

By establishing a marine-protected area over this nursery, the overall stocks of fish beyond the MPA’s limits will also increase. Thus, the suggestion for the establishment of an MPA would recognize the resource-rich nature of the disputed areas, and consequently better safeguard the survival and livelihood needs of people from coastal communities for these resources.

This kind of systems thinking is crucial in appreciating the stakes involved, now that a significant area of the region’s coral reef system has practically vanished. Along this line, and as observed by the forum’s speakers, ecological protection should be at the center of the region’s efforts to come to peaceful solutions. Just as importantly, unified efforts to protect the environment can also be a natural foundation for building the trust that the region sorely needs. Trust will also be needed to hold the marine park together. If the claimant States recognize the system, then trust can be founded on realizing that it is in the best interest of each country to join the conservation effort.

How could we implement a marine protected area?

There are many paths to establishing and implementing a marine park in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea. As Justice Carpio has pointed out, such an initiative could be done bilaterally by the Philippines with any number of claimant states, although it would more easily begin with an agreement with some of our more friendly neighbors. Of course, we can start with implementing it ourselves, in the part of the sea that is now undoubtedly within our exclusive economic zone. If the Philippines were to explore this option, it could set an example for the rest of the region.

Moreover, Dr. Lagman observed that it may be difficult to collaborate on a state level in the short term, but cooperation among scientists can become the foundation of states coming together and taking action.

Perhaps, these approaches can move us forward in setting up the marine park. It is especially helpful for the Philippines that there is an existing legal framework that could allow us to move on this issue more quickly. Most importantly, the establishment of a marine protected area must be founded on what science, not politics, tells us about the health and future of the disputed areas.

Lawyer Lysander Castillois is an environment fellow at the Stratbase-ADR Institute and the secretary-general of Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, or PBEST.


 (This    article has links to several  others related to environmental issues in the South China Sea).


Giant Clams are disappearing from the South China Sea

 (Has links to many related conservation and environmental articles)

Reef debris after destruction by a Chinese super dredge


A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

A green sea turtle is seen off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.(Reuters)

President Obama, with the stroke of a pen, created the world’s largest ocean reserve on Friday off Hawaii, days after designating a massive federal monument in Maine – moves that have angered local lawmakers who accuse the president of disregarding the impact on residents.

Obama used a presidential proclamation to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii by over 400,000 square miles. The preserve now stretches 582,578 square miles, the world’s largest marine protected area.

“The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species … [and] will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems,” the White House said in a statement, citing the support of Sen. Brian Schatz and “prominent Native Hawaiian leaders.”

But the decision drew sharp criticism from the fishing industry and even fellow Democrats, as it will drastically expand the area where commercial fishing and drilling is banned.

Former Democratic Gov. George Ariyoshi said at a rally last month that it came down to the question of who actually owned the ocean.

“The ocean belongs to us,” Ariyoshi reportedly said. “We ought to be the ones who decide what kind of use to make of the ocean.”

Representatives from the fishing industry warn the move will increase prices and imports, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. All commercial extraction activities will be prohibited within the area, though non-commercial fishing is allowed by permit.

The regional council that manages U.S. waters in the Pacific Islands said the decision “serves a political legacy” rather than a conservation benefit.

“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said Edwin Ebiusi Jr., chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which supported the expansion, gave an idea of how big the area truly is, saying more than three Californias could be squeezed into it:

According to the Star Advertiser, the idea was proposed to Obama by Native Hawaiian leaders, who argued the waters in the area contained sharks and large predatory fish that have been overfished in other areas and were in need of protection. The move has also been backed by environmentalists and some scientists.

Other Democrats praised Obama’s action, with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, calling it “one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans.”

With the announcement, Obama will have created or expanded 26 national monuments. The administration said Obama has protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.

Obama will travel to Midway Atoll, within the monument, on Thursday as part of a visit to Hawaii next week. His visit will come after he addresses leaders from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders and the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The monument was first designated by President George W. Bush in 2006.

The announcement came after Obama used his executive authority to create the National Park Service’s newest national monument at Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. The new monument was created as part of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service.

The White House said the monument will protect 87,500 acres and will bolster the forest’s resilience against the impact of climate change.

The monument’s creation, though, was opposed by state lawmakers and critics who warn it will hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy in the region.

Related Image

“President Obama is once again taking unilateral action against the will of the people, this time the citizens of rural Maine,” Republican Gov. Paul LePage said. “The Legislature passed a resolution opposing a National Monument in the North Woods, members of Maine’s Congressional delegation opposed it and local citizens voted against it repeatedly.”

The move also was opposed by Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, both Republicans.

“Our local job creators—not Washington bureaucrats—know best how to use our working forests and provide proper access for industries to create more jobs including those in the outdoor recreation businesses, like snowmobiling, hunting, rafting, camping and so on,” Poliquin said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

EU-US free trade talks have ‘failed’, says German minister — Trade talks “failed because we Europeans of course must not succumb to American demands.”

August 28, 2016


© John MacDougall, AFP | Opponents of the TTIP rally against the proposed transatlantic trade deal in Hanover, Germany, on April 23, 2016.


Latest update : 2016-08-28

Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said Sunday that negotiations on a massive trade deal between the European Union and the United States were effectively dead in the water.

“The talks with the US have de facto failed because we Europeans of course must not succumb to American demands,” he told public broadcaster ZDF. “Nothing is moving forward.”

Negotiators from the US and the EU are in talks to finalise the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which would create the world’s largest free trade area.

But the negotiations have been bogged down over the terms of the agreement as well as Britain’s shock vote to leave the EU and rising opposition to the deal in France and Germany.

The setbacks have raised serious doubts that it will be achieved by the end of the year as hoped.

Activists who have opposed TTIP since negotiations began in 2013 say the deal would only benefit multinationals and harm consumers.

France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said it would be “impossible” for the two sides to conclude negotiations on a trade deal by the end of 2016.

Behind the scenes, top diplomats have told AFP talks may be suspended until after the US presidential election in November as well as elections in France and Germany next year.

In the interview Sunday, Gabriel was more upbeat about a Canada-EU free trade agreement, which he called “a big step forward”, adding he would fight for its ratification.

The deal known as CETA was formally concluded in 2014 and requires the approval of 28 EU member states and European Parliament.


Hillary Clinton’s calendars won’t be released until after election — Chicanery and Lies Continue — It’s Your Democracy

August 27, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven months after a federal judge ordered the State Department to begin releasing monthly batches of the detailed daily schedules showing meetings by Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state, the government told The Associated Press it won’t finish the job before Election Day.

The department has so far released about half of the schedules. Its lawyers said in a phone conference with the AP’s lawyers that the department now expects to release the last of the detailed schedules around Dec. 30, weeks before the next president is inaugurated.

The AP’s lawyers late Friday formally asked the State Department to hasten that effort so that the department could provide all Clinton’s minute-by-minute schedules by Oct. 15. The agency did not immediately respond.

The schedules drew new attention this week after the AP analyzed the ones released so far. The news agency found that more than half the people outside the government who met or spoke by telephone with Clinton while she was secretary of state had given money — either personally or through companies or groups — to the Clinton Foundation. The AP’s analysis focused on people with private interests and excluded her meetings or calls with U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives.

The AP’s reporting was based on official calendars covering Clinton’s entire term plus the more-detailed daily schedules covering roughly half her time as secretary of state. The AP first asked for Clinton’s calendars in 2010 and again in 2013. It then sued the State Department in federal court to obtain the detailed schedules, and the department so far has provided about half of them under court order.

Clinton has said the AP’s analysis was flawed because it did not account fully for all meetings and phone calls during her entire term as secretary. She also said the analysis should have included meetings with federal employees and foreign diplomats. The AP said it focused on her meetings with outsiders because those were more discretionary, as Clinton would normally meet with federal officials and foreign officials as part of her job.

Clinton said she met with people outside government regardless of whether they gave money or charitable commitments to her family’s charity.

“These are people I would be proud to meet with, as any secretary of state would have been proud to meet with, to hear about their work and their insights,” Clinton said this week on CNN.

With the foundation drawing continued attention, Clinton promised Friday to put in place additional safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest with the charity should she win the White House.

The foundation issue, along with continued focus on her use of a private email server, has dogged Clinton politically throughout the week, drawing strong criticism from opponent Donald Trump.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller released a statement Friday night saying: “It is unacceptable that the State Department is now refusing to release her official schedule before the election in full. Voters deserve to know the truth before they cast their ballots.”

Former President Bill Clinton said last week that if she is elected president, the foundation will no longer accept foreign or corporate donations.

The State Department is now estimating there are about 2,700 pages of schedules left. Under its process, it is reviewing and censoring them page-by-page to remove personal details such as private phone numbers or email addresses. In some cases it has censored names of people who met privately with Clinton or the subjects they discussed.

A State Department spokeswoman, Elizabeth Trudeau, declined to discuss the ongoing case and noted the agency is struggling with thousands of public records requests.

In court, the AP in December had asked U.S. District Judge Richard Leon to order the State Department to produce specific percentages of the remaining schedules every 30 days under a formula so that all would be released before the presidential primary elections were complete.

Instead, because the State Department said it did not know how many pages were left, Leon ordered it in January to release at least 600 pages of schedules every 30 days. Each 600-page group covers about three months of Clinton’s tenure.

Under the present rate, a government attorney working on behalf of the State Department notified the AP’s lawyers, it will take about four and one-half months — or until Dec. 30 — to release all the remaining schedules through the end of Clinton’s term, in February 2013. The government’s notice late Thursday was the first time the State Department has provided the AP with a measure of how many pages were remaining and when it expected to complete the job.

It was unclear whether the judge will reconsider his earlier decision and order faster results. In the AP’s lawsuit over other Clinton-related files, Leon has said it would be “ridiculous” to allow the State Department to delay until even weeks before the election. He also cited “mounting frustration that this is a project where the State Department may be running out the clock.”


Hillary Clinton: Democrats now say foundation and email controversies are both problems — Pay to Play — Perjury — “Growing list of co-conspirators” — “Classic Case of Corruption in Government” — Drip-drip-drip even after Obama Justice Department and FBI refused to investigate further

August 27, 2016

“Mrs. Clinton is in trouble. The growing list of co-conspirators means we’ll know a lot more of the truth in a few months… This is obviously a classic case of government corruption that will be taught in American law schools for the next century.” — Former trial lawyer and Harvard Law School professor who spoke to Peace and Freedom under the condition of anonymity.

Clinton hits new roadblocks in campaign for White House

By Amie Parnes – 08/25/16 05:56 PM EDT

Why Is The Clinton Foundation Such A Big Deal?

Hillary Clinton has hit a rough patch at a critical time in the race for the White House.

A new batch of 14,900 emails found by the FBI is threatening to throw her off message, and the drip-drip release of emails will be something to contend with through Election Day.

The Democratic nominee’s campaign is also facing new questions about the Clinton Foundation after separate emails were released that showed a foundation official seeking time with Clinton for a donor.

Days later, The Associated Press ran a story, which the Clinton campaign has repeatedly attacked, detailing links between Clinton Foundation donors and meetings with former Secretary of State Clinton.

If that weren’t enough, a lingering GOP perjury threats looms over Brooklyn, as House Republicans have promised action this fall.

The string of negative headlines follows weeks of good news for Clinton.

A successful convention and repeated mistakes by Republican nominee Donald Trump have strengthened her standing as the favorite to be elected president.

A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday found her with a 10-point lead over Trump, and battleground state maps suggest she could win the presidency even if she loses the critical battleground states of Florida and Ohio, where polls show she is running neck-and-neck or ahead of Trump.

To an extent, it makes the bad headlines easier to accept, though Clinton allies are nonetheless worried the campaign could lose momentum after a rough week.

“Typical,” said one Clinton surrogate. “We have a good few weeks with the wind at our backs and then something unexpected comes out and shoots us in the foot.”

Clinton sought to pivot on Thursday with a speech that ripped Trump’s association with white nationalists. The speech raised links between the billionaire and the “alt-right” movement, and specifically hit Trump for re-tweeting white supremacist Twitter accounts.

“Trump’s lack of knowledge or experience or solutions would be bad enough,” Clinton said. “But what he’s doing here is more sinister. Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters.”

The new aggressive attack from Clinton comes after a solid week on the campaign trail for Trump, who is winning applause for a campaign reboot.

Since hiring a new campaign team, the real estate tycoon for the most part has stuck to the teleprompter and his talking points. Late last week, he even traveled to flood-ravaged Louisiana, putting Clinton and President Obama on the defensive.

It was a reverse from the Trump, who has made a series of gaffes in recent weeks, from attacking a Gold Star military family to suggesting “Second Amendment people” may be able to prevent Clinton from making judicial nominees, a story that dominated the news cycle for several days.

“He’s been incredibly disciplined recently,” said one top Democratic strategist, who attributed Trump’s recent success to his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. “No major eruptions. When that happens, I’d expect the polls to tighten up.”

Clinton has been forced to play defense this week over the Clinton Foundation.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday evening, she said he work as secretary of State was “not influenced by outside forces.”

“I know there’s a lot of smoke and there’s no fire,” she said.

Aides and Democrats close to the Clinton campaign think their candidate can survive the recent pitfalls, particularly given her opponent.

“I still think the email and foundation issues, while they will continue to be something of a distraction, are not fatal, and pale in comparison to the problems Trump faces,” one longtime Clinton adviser said.

Still, the Clinton team cannot afford to be complacent or overconfident.

Last weekend, The Washington Post reported that Clinton has started “ramping up” for a possible presidency as polls indicated the former first lady had widened her lead over Trump. The story indicated that Clinton has an agenda that includes passing immigration reform along with measures focusing on job creation and taking on increased infrastructure projects.

Democrats say Clinton must do whatever she can to keep the focus on Trump, and not on her own controversies.

“What she needs to do is keep beating up on Trump,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “The more this is about Donald Trump, the more likely it is that she’s going to win. She needs to put the onus of the campaign back on him.”

Clinton has a heavy advantage over Trump among minority voters, according to polls. She also is doing well with women in general, and college-educated white voters in particular.

Thursday’s speech linking Trump to racism is targeted toward all of those voters.

Trump is seeking to fight back, both with an appeal to minority voters and by calling Clinton a “bigot” during an event Wednesday night.

As she faces increasing scrutiny, allies acknowledge it highlights the larger problem that looms over her campaign: Trust.

“There’s often smoke and that has followed her around like a cloud,” David Axelrod, who served as Obama’s chief strategist said Wednesday on CNN.

Other Democrats said the foundation and email controversies are both problems for Clinton.

“People who are concerned about the foundation and email, have to be given reasons to vote for her instead of Trump,” one Democratic strategist said.

A former trial lawyer and Harvard Law School professor told Peace and Freedom, “Mrs. Clinton is in trouble. The growing list of co-conspirators means we’ll know a lot more of the truth in a few months… This is obviously a classic case of government corruption that will be taught in American law schools for the next century. ”


 (Includes links to several related articles)


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