Posts Tagged ‘Rex Tillerson’

Bloomberg Editors: Keeping Trump’s Trust Is the Key to Reviving Diplomacy

April 14, 2018

Editorial
Bloomberg

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has at least one big advantage over the previous secretary of state.
Yes, but Trump likes him.

 Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

If it’s true that proximity to President Donald Trump is the key to effective policy-making in his administration, then Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo stands a good chance to succeed — whatever the merit of his policies. That’s as it should be. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the role of the Secretary of State.

The job of this office-holder, fourth in the line of presidential succession, is to uphold the Constitution, execute the lawful policies of the president, and strengthen the effectiveness of the department he or she leads.

In short, as much as Trump’s critics may wish it to be, Pompeo’s job is not to restrain the president, but to let Trump be Trump — and thereby respect the voters who elected him. The job of the Senate is to decide whether Pompeo has the competence and character to do so — or instead deserves to join the fewer than 2 percent of all cabinet nominees since 1789 whom it has rejected.

Unlike Rex Tillerson before him, Pompeo clearly enjoys Trump’s trust. And the two of them are much closer on policy issues, including how to approach North Korea, Iran and the Paris accord on climate change. When Pompeo speaks, U.S. allies and adversaries alike can be relatively sure he represents Trump’s views.

As a lawyer, a businessman, U.S. representative and now director of the CIA, Pompeo has demonstrated his competence. During his confirmation hearing, he pledged to respect congressional oversight, fill empty State Department positions, shepherd its budget and restore the department’s “swagger.”

Both Republican and Democratic senators have been right to ask whether Pompeo would be willing to “stand up” to the president. They’ve also been right to raise questions about Pompeo’s troubling past remarks attacking Muslims and the legalization of same-sex marriages. The job of representing American values to the world — not least human rights, which Pompeo promised to champion — leaves no room for intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. In that and other respects, character is as important as competence.

That said, the greatest foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. — in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Russia and China — will demand robust and sustained diplomacy as a first resort. That is all but impossible when a president feels he can’t rely on his diplomats. For better and worse, Trump frequently changes his mind, most recently on whether the U.S. should be in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Could more such positive shifts — say, on the Paris accord — be in the offing? The odds will be better if the president is working with a team he trusts.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-04-13/mike-pompeo-could-be-an-effective-secretary-of-state

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On Usual “Carrot and Stick” Diplomacy, John Bolton says “I don’t do carrots.”

April 9, 2018

WASHINGTON — Shortly after Ambassador John R. Bolton was sent to represent the United States at the United Nations, an institution he had long scorned as an anti-American citadel of corruption, he hosted President George W. Bush for a visit.

“Are you having fun?” Mr. Bush asked.

“It’s a target-rich environment,” Mr. Bolton replied.

Mr. Bolton, who takes over Monday as President Trump’s third national security adviser with Syria as his most immediate challenge, and talks with North Korea and the future of the Iranian nuclear deal not far behind, loves nothing more than a good target. Over a long and colorful career he has had many of them: the United Nations, first and foremost. But also the International Criminal Court and the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. North KoreaIranChinaRussia. The Palestinian Authority. The European Union.

And then there are “the Crusaders of Compromise,” as he terms the elite of the national security world; the diplomats he refers to as “the High Minded,” with the capital H and capital M; “the True Believers” of the arms control priesthood. And, of course, Republicans who succumb to such muddled thinking, like Colin L. Powell, Condoleezza Rice and even Mr. Bush.

But as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, the targeter is now slated to become the facilitator, charged with mobilizing the policy apparatus rather than simply taking aim at it. He will start by cleaning house. The first change came Sunday night when the National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton stepped down.

Combative, relentless and proudly impolitic, known for a bushy mustache that is the delight of cartoonists, Mr. Bolton, the enfant terrible of the Bush administration, has a kindred spirit of sorts in Mr. Trump, a fellow practitioner of blowtorch politics. When Mr. Bolton moves into Henry A. Kissinger’s old corner office in the West Wing, it will be a Trumpian marriage of man and moment.

And yet Mr. Kissinger mastered the office by mastering his relationship with a sometimes volatile boss. For Mr. Bolton, the new assignment may require a form of diplomacy that his previous roles did not, one that eluded his predecessor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, as well as Rex W. Tillerson, the recently ousted secretary of state.

Mr. Bolton may amplify Mr. Trump’s most bellicose instincts, as their critics fear, but the two differ in key areas and even admirers wonder what will happen then.

“How will he manage Trump?” asked Eric S. Edelman, an under secretary of defense under Mr. Bush who was often allied with Mr. Bolton. “Trump may love to see John defending him on Fox News. But when John is going to be responsible for policies, he has very strong convictions on things, some of which won’t line up with the president’s.”

“John’s personality is also fairly explosive like the president’s,” he added. “I don’t know how that will work out. That will be John’s big challenge.”

‘Americanist’ Meets ‘America First’

Mr. Bolton defines himself as an “Americanist” sworn to defend the interests of the United States. Too often, in his view, America has sacrificed its own sovereignty following the chimera of global governance.

“This is almost identical to President Trump’s theme of America First,” said Frederick Fleitz, a former intelligence officer who worked for Mr. Bolton. “Mr. Bolton disagrees with many of the Washington elite, or maybe the international elite, who think globalism or multilateralism should be a priority over the security of the United States. That’s exactly where President Trump is.”

In the world of carrot-and-stick diplomacy, Mr. Bolton is a stick man. “I don’t do carrots,” he has said. Opponents call him a warmonger who never met a problem that did not have a military solution, and he remains a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq and has made the case for strikes against North Korea and Iran to stop their nuclear programs.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/us/politics/john-bolton-trump.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Assad’s Chemical Attack in Syria May Encourge Donald Trump To Keet US Forces on the Ground Longer

April 9, 2018

April 8, 2018

President Trump is butting heads with his military advisers as he attempts to pull back U.S. forces in Syria.

Trump’s instinct is to withdraw entirely, fulfilling his campaign promise to end nation-building and foreign entanglements.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran have nearly retaken Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb where a chemical attack was reported on Saturday.Credit Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


But Pentagon officials and top generals have issued dire warnings about the possibility that terrorist groups will surge back in Syria if the United States leaves the country.

A similar debate played out for months over Afghanistan, until Trump agreed to stay the course there indefinitely.

In Syria, Trump has agreed to leave U.S. troops there for now, but gave the military a six-month deadline to finish the nebulously defined job of defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“One useful place to start is the different conceptions of war that Trump and his generals have,” said Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Trump thinks wars should look like World War II. He’s looking for some sort of big dramatic blitzkrieg.


“He thinks that you win a war with some sort of sudden decisive violence, the enemy cries ‘uncle’ and then you have a big victory parade. That hasn’t been the way wars have worked for a long time. That’s kind of a cartoon idea of war.

“Trump’s generals at this point have lived through a generation of very hard experiments that has run this conception out of most of the American military. They think of wars as long, grinding, slow, often-indecisive struggles.”

The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria. Pentagon officials say ISIS has lost about 90 percent of the territory it once held in Syria, but that it still needs to be routed from pockets along the Middle Euphrates River Valley and along the Syria-Iraq border.

Pentagon officials have also said that efforts to retake the last 10 percent of ISIS-held territory have stalled as the United States’s Kurdish partners have left the fight against ISIS to fight a Turkish incursion elsewhere in Syria.

Last week, Trump stunned an audience in a speech about infrastructure with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that the United States will “be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”

On Tuesday, he reiterated, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

Later on Tuesday, Trump met with his national security team. By Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that “the United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”

Still, Sanders said the military mission “is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed.”

The Pentagon on Thursday asserted that plans for Syria haven’t changed, denying that Trump set a six-month timeline during the meeting with his national security team.

“The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that’s a tool that we can use to our effect as we move forward,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said during a briefing. “We’ve always thought that as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria, we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there. So in that sense, nothing actually has changed.”

But before Trump’s proclamation, military and diplomatic officials had spoken for months about the need for a long-term military commitment in Syria.

At virtually the same time Trump was speaking Tuesday, his top commander in the Middle East and his top diplomat overseeing the international anti-ISIS coalition were across town delivering a different message.

“A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said at a United States Institute of Peace event. “And that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that have to be done.”

Before he was fired, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a speech, reportedly approved by Trump, that argued for a long-term military presence to ensure ISIS does not re-emerge, counter Iranian influence and keep the territory stable until a diplomatic process leads to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal.

“I think he’s bumping up against reality,” Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said of Trump. “I understand Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, wants to leave Syria. But under the circumstance that he has described, he can’t leave Syria. Any person who understands how counterterrorism works understands that.”

Trump’s dilemma has shades of former President Obama’s inability to end the United States’s wars.

Obama came into office pledging to end the Iraq War. When ISIS emerged, Obama pledged not to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He eventually left office with 500 ground troops in Syria and 5,000 in Iraq.

After an initial surge in Afghanistan, Obama also pledged to bring U.S. troops home from there. But on the advice of the generals, he left office with about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

“The reasons are very different, but the pattern is very similar,” Biddle said of the parallels between Obama and Trump, adding Obama was driven by a “psychodrama” between not wanting to wage war and following his advisers’ advice, while Trump is driven by “narcissistic, impulsive lashing out.”

Robert Ford, who was a U.S. ambassador to Syria in the Obama administration, said he thinks Obama and Trump are closer in thinking on Syria.

“Obama always viewed Syria as a kind of Shia-Sunni longtime battle in which America really didn’t have a dog in fight,” Ford said. “Obama just wanted to go pound ISIS and then leave. That’s not very different from Donald Trump.”

Trump’s advisers were able to change his mind about Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll successfully change his mind on Syria in the next six months.

As the deadline approaches, Trump and the military could be forced to grapple with the ill-defined nature of what it actually means to defeat ISIS.

“This is one of the problems that the national security team has had, and it predates Trump,” Ford said. “What is their definition of victory? What does defeating ISIS look like? Does it mean local security forces are able to contain ISIS? Is the definition that ISIS is so small that it can’t regenerate? If it’s local forces being able to contain them, which forces?”

The Hill

http://thehill.com/policy/defense/382032-trump-clashes-with-military-in-syria-pullout-push

See also:

As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/world/middleeast/syria-trump-assad.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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Chemical Attack in Syria: U.S. Says Russia — ‘with its unwavering support’ for the Syrian regime, would be ultimately responsible

April 8, 2018

Washington’s top diplomat has accused Moscow of breaching “its commitments” to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, following reports of a new attack near Damascus. Syria has dismissed the reports as “lies.”

A foreign worker examining chemical weapons in Syria, 2013 (picture-alliance/dpa)Syria agreed to hand over its chemical weapons to be destroyed in 2013

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday said Russia bore the responsibility of Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons after aid workers earlier this week reported an attack in Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.

“Only yesterday, more than 20 civilians, mostly children, were victims of an apparent chlorine gas attack,” Tillerson said in the wake of a Paris conference on chemical weapons.

Read more: Are US and Russia inching toward confrontation in Syria?

“Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria.”

Since joining the conflict in 2015, Russia has twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions aimed at extending independent investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor” of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, Tillerson added.

More than 160 chemical weapons attacks have been reported in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011More than 160 chemical weapons attacks have been reported in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011

‘Dirty and false’ accusations

In turn, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed the claims as a smear campaign.

“The fact that they keep repeating these dirty and false accusations against us, only shows the level of the US diplomacy,” Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency. The diplomat also said US was using the accusations to hamper Russia’s peace efforts.

The Damascus regime said the reports of the attack were “lies” and a part of “the systematic aggressive and hostile policy of the West towards Syria,” according to Syria’s foreign ministry.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons on their territory.

A child being treated
A child being treatedImage taken from social media

‘Partnership against impunity’

In a bid to curb the use of chemical weapons in Syria, 24 countries on Tuesday backed a new “partnership against impunity” for their use.

The countries said they will share information and compile a list of individuals implicated in chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country.

Read more: Syria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want?

Hours before the conference, France said it froze the assets of 25 Syrian companies and executives, alongside French, Chinese and Lebanese enterprises that allegedly provided assistance to the Syrian government in the use of chemical weapons.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that the situation “cannot continue” in Syria.

“The criminals who take the responsibility for using and developing these barbaric weapons must know that they will not go unpunished,” Le Drian said.

Enduring arms legacy

In December 2014, investigators of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) started to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as part of a UN Security Council resolution passed the year before.

Read more: As Syrian war nears end, some can never go home again

However, the Syrian government has been accused of continuing to use chlorine, a common chemical whose misuse as a weapon is banned, as well as  misrepresenting its stockpile of chemical weapons required to be declared to the OPCW. Last year, a chemical weapons attack in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun prompted the US to launch cruise missiles at a government airbase.

A UN-backed independent investigation said the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which left 87 people dead, including 30 children.

ls,dj/se (AFP, Reuters, AP)

http://www.dw.com/en/us-blames-russia-for-syria-chemical-weapons-attacks/a-42279833

See also:

Scores of Syrians Killed in Suspected Chemical Attack by Assad Forces

https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/dozens-of-syrians-killed-in-suspected-chemical-attack-by-assad-forces-1.5978159

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Trump’s talk of a Syria pullout nothing new

March 31, 2018

 

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported regime surface-to-surface missile strike on a rebel-held area on the southern Syrian city of Daraa on March 23, 2018. (AFP)
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, US officials said.
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Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the US needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Daesh group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”
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But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country.
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In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in US funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait.
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The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week.
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The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.
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The State Department said it continually reviews appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized. And the agency said it continues to work with the international community, members of the Coalition, and our partners on the ground to provide much needed stabilization support to vulnerable areas in Syria.
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“The United States is working everyday on the ground and with the international community to help stabilize those areas liberated from ISIS (Daesh) and identify ways to move forward with reconstruction once there has been a peaceful political transition away from (Syrian President Bashar) Assad,” according to a statement from the State Department.
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Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Alastair Campbell on Feb. 23, when Trump said the US was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further.
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“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said.
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The public declaration caught US national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. Inundated by inquiries from journalists and foreign officials, the Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification.
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The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves.
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“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.
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Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable.
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For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the US role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success.
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Yet it’s unclear how Trump’s impulse to pull out could be affected by recent staff shake-ups on his national security team. Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both advocates for keeping a US presence in Syria, were recently fired, creating questions about the longevity of the plan Tillerson announced in his Stanford University speech in January. But Trump also replaced McMaster with John Bolton, a vocal advocate for US intervention and aggressive use of the military overseas.
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The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States.
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Other nations that make up the US-led coalition fighting IS fear that Trump’s impulse to pull out hastily would allow the notoriously resourceful Daesh militants to regroup, several European diplomats said. That concern has been heightened by the fact that US-backed ground operations against remaining Daesh militants in Syria were put on hold earlier this month.
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The ground operations had to be paused because Kurdish fighters who had been spearheading the campaign against Daesh shifted to a separate fight with Turkish forces, who began combat operations in the town of Afrin against Kurds who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists that threaten Turkey’s security.
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“This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month.
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Beyond just defeating Daesh, there are other strategic US objectives that could be jeopardized by a hasty withdrawal, officials said, chiefly those related to Russia and Iran.
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Israel, America’s closest Mideast ally, and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about the influence of Iran and its allies, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, inside Syria. The US military presence in Syria has been seen as a buffer against unchecked Iranian activity, and especially against Tehran’s desire to establish a contiguous land route from Iran to the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon.
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An American withdrawal would also likely cede Syria to Russia, which along with Iran has been propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and would surely fill the void left behind by the US That prospect has alarmed countries like France, which has historic ties to the Levant.
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In calling for a withdrawal “very soon,” Trump may be overly optimistic in his assessment of how quickly the anti-Daesh campaign can be wrapped up, the officials said. Although the group has been driven from basically all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 95 percent of its former territory in Syria, the remaining five percent is becoming increasingly difficult to clear and could take many months, the officials said.
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Trump tells advisers he wants U.S. out of Syria: senior officials

March 31, 2018

Reuters

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has told advisers he wants an early exit of U.S. troops from Syria, two senior administration officials said on Friday, a stance that may put him at odds with U.S. military officials who see the fight against Islamic State as nowhere near complete.

 

A National Security Council meeting is set for early next week to discuss the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State in Syria, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plan.

Two other administration officials confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Friday that said Trump had ordered the State Department to freeze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the conflict there.

Trump called for the freeze after reading a news report that the U.S. had recently committed an additional $200 million to stabilize areas recaptured from Islamic State, the paper said.

The funding was announced by departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February at a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.

The decision to freeze the funds was in line with Trump’s declaration during a speech in Richfield, Ohio, on Thursday, where he said it was time for America to exit Syria.

A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said that “in line with the President’s guidance, the Department of State continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized, which they do on an ongoing basis.”

Trump is spending Easter weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate.

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump said on Thursday, based on allied victories against Islamic State militants.

“Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”

Trump’s comments came as France said on Friday it could increase its military presence in Syria to bolster the U.S.-led campaign.

While the Pentagon has estimated that Islamic State has lost about 98 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, U.S. military officials have warned that the militants could regain the freed areas quickly unless they are stabilized.

Trump still needs to be convinced of that, said the U.S. officials with knowledge of the NSC meeting.

U.S. DELIBERATIONS

The two administration officials who confirmed the Wall Street Journal report and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Trump’s comments on Thursday reflected internal deliberations with advisers in which he has wondered aloud why U.S. forces should remain with the militants on their heels.

Trump has made clear that “once ISIS and its remnants are destroyed that the United States would be looking toward having countries in the region playing a larger role in ensuring security and leaving it at that,” one official said.

Such a policy is nowhere near complete, however, the official added.

The second official said Trump’s national security advisers have told him U.S. forces should stay in small numbers for at least a couple of years to make sure gains against the militants are held and ensure Syria does not essentially become a permanent Iranian base.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport, Florida, U.S., for the Easter weekend at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Top national security aides discussed Syria in a White House meeting recently but have yet to settle on a strategy for U.S. forces in Syria to recommend to Trump going forward, the official said.

“So far he has not given an order to just get out,” the official said. About 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Syria.

Trump last year went through a similar wrenching debate over whether to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to keep them there but only after repeatedly raising questions of why they should stay.

Trump’s view on Syria may put him at odds with those of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, named by Trump a week ago to replace H.R. McMaster as White House national security adviser.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, John Walcott and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio, Susan Thomas and Tom Hogue

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Trump says US withdrawing from Syria ‘very soon’

March 30, 2018

In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, a fighter, second from right, of U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stands next to US humvee at a US troop’s outpost on a road leading to the tense front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP)
RICHFIELD: US President Donald Trump insisted Thursday that US forces would pull out of Syria “very soon” and lamented what he said was Washington’s waste of $7 trillion in Middle East wars.
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In a populist address to industrial workers in Ohio, Trump said US forces were close to securing all of the territory that the Daesh group once claimed.
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“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he promised, to applause.
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Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support President Bashar Assad’s regime.
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“Very soon — very soon we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it — sometimes referred to as ‘land’ — taking it all back quickly, quickly,” he said.
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“But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
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State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked at a briefing if she was aware of any decision for the US to pull out of Syria.
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She responded, “I am not, no. No.”
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The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat the Daesh group while trying to keep out of Syria’s broader civil war.
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Trump’s eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson — who has since been sacked.
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Tillerson argued that US forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent Daesh and Al-Qaeda from returning and to deny Iran a chance “to further strengthen its position in Syria.”
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In a speech at Stanford University, he also warned that “a total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would restore Assad and continue his brutal treatment against his own people.”
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But Tillerson has gone after being dismissed in a tweet. And Trump, who increasingly makes foreign policy announcements without seeking the advice of US generals or diplomats, wants out.
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“We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. And you know what we have for it? Nothing,” Trump declared, promising to focus future US spending on building jobs and infrastructure at home.

Donald Trump’s Staff Shake-Up Leaves Jim Mattis in a Key Role — He’s “the moderate”

March 26, 2018

New national-security partners, and conflicting viewpoints, will test the defense secretary

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, at the White House last week with President Donald Trump, center, and Vice President Mike Pence.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, at the White House last week with President Donald Trump, center, and Vice President Mike Pence.PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

President Donald Trump has, to great fanfare, remade his national-security team in recent days. But the most intriguing and consequential member of that team isn’t one of the newcomers, but rather the one who has been there all along: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Mr. Mattis is the most enigmatic member of the Trump team. He’s the Iran hard-liner who defends the nuclear deal with Iran. He’s the warrior who argues for using diplomacy to address North Korea’s nuclear threat. He’s the military man who argues against allowing trade disputes to disrupt ties to key allies.

And he’s the one senior official who has learned how to disagree with Mr. Trump privately without being publicly skewered by the president for doing so.

All those positions were easier for Mr. Mattis to sustain when he was joined at the hip with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But Mr. Tillerson is gone now, and the key question is whether Mr. Mattis can continue to do his thing when paired with new Secretary of State-to-be Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, both of whom strike quite different tones on those key issues.

“I think he’s more important than ever,” says former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The question, Mr. Hagel adds, is “how long Mattis can survive in that environment.…There’s an intersection of conflict coming here, and it’s been coming.”

It’s also possible, of course, that the new team may actually fit together fine, and that the differences among Messrs. Mattis, Pompeo and Bolton may prove to be more of posturing and style than of substance. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicts that, because Messrs. Bolton and Pompeo are in tune with the president’s thinking and impulses, the new alignment will work well, and Mr. Mattis will fit comfortably into it. “The president has a right to succeed, and he can’t succeed if he doesn’t have a team around him that has his confidence,” Mr. Rubio says.

Still, it’s hard to be sure because of the appearance of disconnects between the president and his team on key issues. Consider: Mr. Trump has said the war in Iraq that began in 2003 was one of the biggest strategic blunders in American history. Mr. Bolton has been one of its most vocal champions. Mr. Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Pompeo, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has embraced the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did so. Mr. Trump has scheduled a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Mr. Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, has made the case for launching a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea.

Mr. Trump likes to keep his enemies guessing, but the new alignment also could leave allies puzzled about the American bottom line.

Which makes Mr. Mattis all the more important as a stabilizing force. He has survived the crosscurrents of Trump administration intrigues through a combination of bureaucratic savvy and careful management of internal splits. Trump advisers say he has mastered the art of convincing the president he agrees with his goals while also sometimes differing with him on how to reach them. He has kept his public profile low enough that he isn’t seen as a rival to the president for attention or glory, while quietly cultivating good relations with members of both parties in Congress.

The key early test for Mr. Mattis and his new colleagues on Team Trump figures to arise on the administration’s approach to Iran. A day of reckoning arrives on May 12, when Mr. Trump has to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran that have been waived under the nuclear deal struck under President Barack Obama’s administration.

Mr. Mattis has argued that the deal is flawed but is keeping Iranian nuclear ambitions in check. Mr. Bolton has advocated tearing it up, and Mr. Pompeo was, while serving in the House, one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of the deal. They both complain it does too little to contain Iran’s missile programs or allow sufficiently robust inspections of suspect sites inside Iran, and they criticize the expiration of its provisions limiting nuclear activity.

Mr. Trump sounds as if he’s champing at the bit to ditch the deal. Yet it’s never clear with the president whether that’s a firm position or a posture designed to extract new concessions. European officials eager to save the deal are trying to figure out how to strike some kind of side arrangement with Iran to deal with the missile and inspections issues, and one ally of Mr. Bolton’s says he may embrace such a deal despite his hard-line rhetoric.

The wild cards on this issue are White House chief of staff John Kelly and presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. But the key voice may belong to Mr. Mattis.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-staff-shake-up-leaves-jim-mattis-in-a-key-role-1522075773

See also:

Can Jim Mattis Hold the Line in Trump’s ‘War Cabinet’?

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/magazine/can-jim-mattis-hold-the-line-in-trumps-war-cabinet.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

White House shake-ups prove Trump’s putting America first — Liberating moves

March 25, 2018
 New York Post

Mike Pompeo is the anti-Tillerson

March 25, 2018

Al Jazeera

But will the former CIA director be able to succeed where his predecessor failed?

by

Pompeo has proven himself to be a much shrewder political operator than Tillerson ever was, writes DePetris [Reuters]
Pompeo has proven himself to be a much shrewder political operator than Tillerson ever was, writes DePetris [Reuters]

When President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13 via an unceremonious tweet, the mood at the Department of State was probably half-escatic, half-petrified. Escatic because the Foreign Service and career staffers in the building were now free from the chains of a man who was generally castigated for eviscerating America’s diplomatic power and actively working to undermine the Department of State’s power in the national security bureaucracy. Petrified, however, because CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to replace Tillerson as the next Secretary of State, was an unknown quantity and a pro-Trump acolyte who holds a far more hawkish, dog-eat-dog view of the world.

Pompeo, a former three-term congressman from deep-red Kansas who has risen in stature over the last 13 months as America’s most distinguished spy, will be entering the Department of State with a long and tiresome list of goals that he may or may not be able to achieve. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Trump’s nomination, the fact remains that Pompeo will be transitioning into a role at a highly combustible time in US diplomatic history. Managing the US foreign and civil services on an ordinary day is an exhausting responsibility; but to oversee 75,000 employees, restrain an inexperienced and oftentimes erratic president who values instinct over information, and, at the same time, tackle the big foreign policy priorities of the day seems practically impossible. As one former congressional staffer commented to Vanity Fair after Tillerson’s firing, “It seems unlikely that Pompeo’s honeymoon is going to be all that long.”

The issues facing Pompeo start within the Department of State – Grievances about Tillerson’s political ineptitude and bureaucratic mismanagement have roiled the Foreign Service and marginalised the Department of State within the interagency decision-making process. Despite Tillerson’s protestations to the contrary, he left the Department of State in worse shape than when he arrived. His noble attempt at reorganising the department’s structure and operations bogged down from the very beginning, perceived by employees and former career officials as haphazard, imperialistic, and corporatist. The official supervising the reorganisation effort resigned herself after a month on the job, one of the many examples of senior employees choosing retirement or resignation over continued service for an administration typically regarded as derisive of diplomacy.

OPINION

Tillerson sacking: New dynamics in the Trump Administration

by Joe Macaron

Eight out of the top 10 positions in the Department of State remain vacant, not to mention the important ambassadorships – Egypt, the European Union, South Korea, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – that are unfilled to this day. Pompeo will be forced to deal with a significant staffing shortfall on his very first day – a deficiency in foreign policy knowledge and experience that he will have to remedy if he hopes to be more successful than his predecessor.

In addition to breaking the walls between the Secretary of State’s office and the department’s rank-and-file, one of the hardest tasks on Pompeo’s plate is deftly managing the expectations of a wily commander-in-chief. After his first few months, Tillerson failed to perform this high-wire act. The personality and policy differences between Trump and Tillerson were simply too much for there to be a comfortable working relationship. The divergence between the two was most apparent on the blockade of Qatar, diplomacy with North Korea, and the Iranian nuclear agreement – three issues in which Trump advocated for a more stringent and hardline approach over Tillerson’s more cautious pragmatism. Reports that Tillerson called Trump “a moron” behind his back certainly did not help the personal relationship either.

Pompeo is in many ways the anti-Tillerson. He has proven himself to be a much shrewder political operator than Tillerson ever was. Tillerson was not a creature of Washington; one cannot say the same thing about Pompeo, who understands how valuable politicking and loyalty can be to one’s success. Trump has demonstrated in word and deed that he trusts Pompeo and considers the Kansas Republican to be a loyal surrogate who can be counted on to lobby on behalf of the administration on national television. The challenge for Pompeo, however, is maintaining the president’s confidence and the access that goes with that confidence while delivering policy options that Trump may not like to hear.

It is the international environment, however, that will pose the biggest obstacle to the new secretary. As this piece is posted, the Trump administration is in the midst of discussions with European allies about salvaging an Iranian nuclear deal that Trump would much rather walk away from. On North Korea, the biggest action item on the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda, Department of State officials are in the process of scrambling together a choreographed summit this May between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Whether or not the historic get-together actually occurs, Pompeo will need to ensure that Trump and the White House national security staff are briefed to the fullest extent possible on Pyongyang’s goals for the summit; North Korea’s negotiating tactics over the past 25 years; and what script the president should follow when talking with the head of a regime that has broken every agreement it has signed. Keeping Trump on message in and of itself will be a tall order for any secretary of state.

Will Mike Pompeo be remembered as an effective and influential stewardship of American diplomacy? Or will he go down in history as a placeholder, yet one more cabinet level officer who tried his best playing the difficult hand he was dealt? No television pundit or commentator in Washington will be able to even begin answering these questions until Pompeo is forced to confront a national security crisis. What can be said at this point, though, is that it would be prudent for the former House of Representatives backbencher to expect many sleepless nights in his office.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/mike-pompeo-anti-tillerson-180323085332315.html

(John Bolton got all the attention)

Related:

(Includes John Bolton’s Plan for Iran and the Nuclear Deal)

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