Posts Tagged ‘Rex Tillerson’

Khashoggi, Erdogan’s verbal assaults add to talk of ‘instability’ in Saudi Arabia

November 7, 2018


Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli commentator, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth in May (in Hebrew), set out, unambiguously, the ‘deal’ behind Trump’s Middle East policy:

In the wake of the US exit from JCPOA [which occurred on 8 May], Trump, Barnea wrote, will threaten a rain of ‘fire and fury’ onto Tehran … whilst Putin is expected to restrain Iran from attacking Israel using Syrian territory, thus leaving Netanyahu free to set new ‘rules of the game’ by which the Israel may attack and destroy Iranian forces anywhere in Syria (and not just in the border area, as earlier agreed) when it wishes, without fear of retaliation.

Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation

Saudi Crown Prince says he loves working with the US president and that a lot has been achieved in the Middle East due to their partnership. (AFP/File)

This represented one level to the Netanyahu strategy: Iranian restraint, plus Russian acquiescence to coordinated Israeli air operations over Syria.

 “There is only one thing that isn’t clear [concerning this deal]”, a senior Israeli Defence official closest to Netanyahu, told Ben Caspit, “that is, who works for whom? Does Netanyahu work for Trump, or is President Trump at the service of Netanyahu … From the outside … it looks like the two men are perfectly in sync. From the inside, this seems even more so: This kind of cooperation … sometimes makes it seem as if they are actually just one single, large office”.

There has been, from the outset, a second level, too:

This entire ‘inverted pyramid’ of Middle East engineering had, as its single point of departure, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

It was Jared Kushner, the Washington Post reports, who “championed Mohammed as a reformer poised to usher the ultraconservative, oil-rich monarchy into modernity. Kushner privately argued for months, last year, that Mohammed would be key to crafting a Middle East peace plan, and that with the prince’s blessing, much of the Arab world would follow”. It was Kushner, the Post continued, “who pushed his father-in-law to make his first foreign trip as president to Riyadh, against objections from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – and warnings from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis”.

Well, now MbS has, in one form or another, been implicated in the Khashoggi murder.  Bruce Riedel of Brookings, a longtime Saudi observer and former senior CIA & US defence official, notes“for the first time in 50 years, the kingdom has become a force for instability” (rather than stability in the region), and suggests that there is an element  of ‘buyer’s remorse’ now evident in parts of Washington.

The ‘seamless office process’ to which the Israeli official referred with Caspit, is known as ‘stovepiping’, which is when a foreign state’s policy advocacy and intelligence are passed straight to a President’s ear – omitting official Washington from the ‘loop’; by-passing any US oversight; and removing the opportunity for officials to advise on its content.  Well, this has now resulted in the Khashoggi strategic blunder.  And this, of course, comes in the wake of earlier strategic ‘mistakes’: the Yemen war, the siege of Qatar, the Hariri abduction, the Ritz-Carlton princely shakedowns.

To remedy this lacuna, an ‘uncle’ (Prince Ahmad bin Abdel Aziz) has been dispatched from exile in the West to Riyadh (with security guarantees from the US and UK intelligences services) to bring order into these unruly affairs, and to institute some checks and balances into the MbS coterie of advisers, so as to prevent further impetuous ‘mistakes’.  It seems too, that the US Congress wants the Yemen war, which Prince Ahmad consistently has opposed (as he opposed MbS elevation as Crown Prince), stopped. (General Mattis has called for a ceasefire within 30 days.) It is a step toward repairing the Kingdom’s image.

MbS remains – for now – as Crown Prince. President Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu both have expressed their support for MbS and “as U.S. officials contemplate a more robust response [to the Khashoggi killing], Kushner has emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the region”, the Washington Post reports. MbS’ Uncle (who as a son of King Abdel Aziz, under the traditional succession system, would be himself in line for the throne), no doubt hopes to try to undo some of the damage done to the standing of the al-Saud family, and to that of the Kingdom.  Will he succeed?  Will MbS accede now to Ahmad unscrambling the very centralisation of power that made MbS so many enemies, in the first place, to achieve it?  Has the al-Saud family the will, or are they too disconcerted by events?

And might President Erdogan throw more wrenches into this delicate process by further leaking evidence Turkey has, if Washington does not attend sufficiently to his demands.  Erdogan seems ready to pitch for the return of Ottoman leadership for the Sunni world, and likely still holds some high-value cards up his sleeve (such as intercepts of phone calls between the murder cell and Riyadh).  These cards though are devaluing as the news cycle shifts to the US mid-terms.

Time will tell, but it is this nexus of uncertain dynamics to which Bruce Reidel refers, when he talks of ‘instability’ in Saudi Arabia.  The question posed here, though, is how might these events affect Netanyahu’s and MbS’ ‘war’ on Iran?

May 2018 now seems a distant era.  Trump is still the same ‘Trump’, but Putin is not the same Putin. The Russian Defence Establishment has weighed in with their President to express their displeasure at Israeli air strikes on Syria – purportedly targeting Iranian forces in Syria.  The Russian Defence Ministry too, has enveloped Syria in a belt of missiles and electronic disabling systems across the Syrian airspace. Politically, the situation has changed too: Germany and France have joined the Astana Process for Syria. Europe wants Syrian refugees to return home, and that translates into Europe demanding stability in Syria. Some Gulf States too, have tentatively begun normalising with the Syrian state.

The Americans are still in Syria; but a newly invigorated Erdogan (after the release of the US pastor, and with all the Khashoggi cards, produced by Turkish intelligence, in his pocket), intends to crush the Kurdish project in north and eastern Syria, espoused by Israel and the US. MbS, who was funding this project, on behalf of US and Israel, will cease his involvement (as a part of the demands made by Erdogan over the Khashoggi murder). Washington too wants the Yemen war, which was intended to serve as Iran’s ‘quagmire’, to end forthwith.  And Washington wants the attrition of Qatar to stop, too.

These represent major unravelings of the Netanyahu project for the Middle East, but most significant are two further setbacks:

First, the loss of Netanyahu’s and MbS’ stovepipe to Trump, via Jared Kushner, by-passing all America’s own system of ‘checks and balances’.  The Kushner ‘stovepipe’ neither forewarned Washington of coming ‘mistakes’, nor was Kushner able to prevent them. Both Congress and the Intelligences Services of the US and UK are already elbowing into these affairs.  They are not MbS fans.  It is no secret that Prince Mohamed bin Naif was their man (he is still under ‘palace arrest’).

Trump will still hope to continue his ‘Iran project’ and his Deal of the Century between Israel and the Palestinians (led nominally by Saudi Arabia herding together the Sunni world, behind it).  Trump does not seek war with Iran, but rather is convinced of a popular uprising in Iran that will topple the state.

And the second setback is that Prince Ahmad’s clear objective must be other than this – instability in, or conflict with, Iran. His is to restore the family’s standing, and to recoup something of its leadership credentials in the Sunni world, which has been shredded by the war in Yemen – and is now under direct neo-Ottoman challenge from Turkey.  The al-Saud family, one may surmise, will have no appetite to replace one disastrous and costly war (Yemen), with another – an even greater conflict, with its large and powerful neighbor, Iran.  It makes no sense now.  Perhaps this is why we see signs of Israel rushing to hurry Arab state normalisation – even absent any amelioration for the Palestinians.

Nehum Barnea presciently noted in his May article in Yediot Ahoronot:

“Trump could have declared a US withdrawal [from the JCPOA], and made do with that. But under the influence of Netanyahu and of his new team, he chose to go one step further. The economic sanctions on Iran will be much tighter, beyond what they were, before the nuclear agreement was signed. “Hit them in their pockets”, Netanyahu advised Trump: “if you hit them in their pockets, they will choke; and when they choke, they will throw out the ayatollahs””.

This was another bit of ‘stovepiped’ advice passed directly to the US President. 

His officials might have warned him that it was fantasy.  There is no example of sanctions alone having toppled a state; and whilst the US can use its claim of judicial hegemony as an enforcement mechanism, the US has effectively isolated itself in sanctioning Iran: Europe wants no further insecurity. It wants no more refugees heading to Europe. Was it Trump’s tough stance that brought Kim to the table?  Or, perhaps contrarily, might Kim have seen a meeting with Trump simply as the price that he had to pay in order to advance Korean re-unification?  Was Trump warned that Iran would suffer economic pain, but that it would nonetheless persevere, in spite of sanctions? No – well, that’s the problem inherent in listening principally to ‘stovepipes’.


How Mike Pompeo is succeeding where Rex Tillerson failed

August 10, 2018

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at his swearing-in ceremony on May 2, he advised his new colleagues at Foggy Bottom: “I want the State Department to get its swagger back.” State doesn’t really do “swagger,” but career officials say morale has improved from the rock-bottom level it reached with his predecessor, Rex Tillerson.

Pompeo, a boisterous former representative , seems to be keeping his own swagger in check at State. His watchword so far has mostly been a version of “Keep your mouth shut.” Many secretaries of state say they want to practice quiet diplomacy, and that was certainly Tillerson’s goal. But Pompeo has made it an operating principle.

By David Ignatius

Image result for Mike Pompeo, photos

Pompeo is behaving at State much as he did as CIA director. His role is often that of a secret presidential envoy; he manages the North Korean denuclearization talks, the administration’s most sensitive file, pretty much out of his briefcase. And, perhaps most important, he’s able to speak authoritatively (mostly in private) for the president, something that Tillerson could never do.

The abrasive ideological edge that brought Pompeo to the House as a tea party Republican in 2010 is still there; it surfaced visibly in his prickly answers at a Senate hearing last month. But at State, as at the CIA, Pompeo has surprised some observers by championing career officers who were initially skeptical of him.

Discerning Pompeo’s strategy is hard because of his reticence, but you can see the outlines in his public comments.

Let’s start with the State Department itself. Pompeo said from his first day that he wanted to bolster a demoralized foreign service, and he sought advice from a wide circle of former State officials, including some who had been very critical of President Trump. Where Tillerson had left key positions unfilled, Pompeo has used his clout with the White House and Congress to clear appointments. More than a dozen major posts are likely to be confirmed next week, perhaps including four high-level “career ambassadors.”

Pompeo’s choice of David Hale as undersecretary for political affairs, traditionally the top foreign-service job, is telling. Hale is an old-school diplomat. As ambassador to Lebanon and Pakistan, he deftly managed two of America’s most sensitive accounts. His presence will encourage U.S. and foreign diplomats alike.

North Korea is Pompeo’s hardest test. As CIA director, he was Trump’s secret channel to Kim Jong Un; now he has the complex job of translating Trump’s ebullient Singapore summitry into a verifiable denuclearization plan. To understand his approach, it’s worth paying close attention to his brief remarks last week in Asia.

Pompeo signaled, notably, that he endorses Kim’s desire for a gradual, phased process of denuclearization, linked with a broader de-escalation of tensions. He said during an Aug. 3 television interview in Singaporethat “we are engaged in things that will improve the trust between our two countries” and that “the ultimate timeline for denuclearization will be set by Chairman Kim, at least in part.”

Asked on Aug. 5 by a U.S. journalist whether, under a “phased approach,” some reciprocal concessions “are possible before the end,” Pompeo answered: “Yeah. That’s right.” Not exactly a road map, but that’s Pompeo.

Even as Pompeo signals his readiness for a step-by-step process, he is insisting that U.N. sanctions “will remain in place until we have full denuclearization in North Korea,” as he put it last week in Singapore. Pompeo’s fear, presumably, is that premature removal of sanctions would allow North Korea to wiggle out of denuclearization, as it has in past negotiations.

South Korean officials have tried to reassure Pyongyang by promising a formal declaration ending the Korean War by the end of this year. This declaration might encourage reciprocal concessions from Kim, but it could also undermine the rationale for continued U.N. sanctions. Pompeo remains mum on whether he’s willing to play this card.

Pompeo’s other big headache is Iran. And despite Trump’s proclamation that he was ready for talks with Iranian leaders, Pompeo continues to voice a skeptical hard line. He told reporters on Aug. 5 that any progress in the relationship will “require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime,” but that “there’s no evidence to date of their desire to change.” Prepare for a long, slow squeeze.

Being chief diplomat for the most undiplomatic president in modern history can’t be easy. The process broke Tillerson. But, so far, Pompeo has managed to reassure the State Department without enraging the man in the Oval Office. Maybe because he shares Trump’s “big guy” persona, Pompeo has been the rare subordinate who stays close to the president, but not so close he gets burned.

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Efforts to hinder Saudi-UAE plan to invade Qatar cost Rex Tillerson his job, report says

August 2, 2018

Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson managed to prevent a join plan by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to invade Qatar, which caused him to be suddenly removed from his post, the Intercept news organization reported Wednesday.

According to the piece published on the news portal, Saudi Arabia and the UAE lobbied the hardest for the top diplomat’s removal, angered by Tillerson’s efforts to end the blockade against Qatar and reconciliation in the Gulf.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Saudi King Salman speak before their meeting, October 22, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Speaking to the Intercept on the condition of anonymity, one current U.S. intelligence community member and two former State Department officials said that Tillerson “intervened to stop a secret, Saudi-led, UAE-backed plan to invade and essentially conquer” the peninsula.

The ex-CEO of Exxon Mobil also urged Saudi King Salman, then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir “not to attack the country or otherwise escalate hostilities,” the Intercept quoted the sources as saying.

According to the sources, Tillerson’s efforts helped contain the stringent efforts of the crown prince, and he backed down. On the other hand, Tillerson’s work “enraged” the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed.

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Adel al-Jubeir

The invasion plan foresaw Saudi troops, militarily backed by the UAE, crossing the land border into Qatar and advancing approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) toward Doha. “Circumventing the U.S. air base, Saudi forces would then seize the capital,” the Intercept added in the piece.

According to the U.S. intelligence official the website quoted, Qatari intelligence agents working undercover inside Saudi Arabia discovered the plan early in the summer of 2017. The Intercept added that Tillerson acted after the Qatari government informed him and the U.S. embassy in Doha.

The piece also claimed that the intelligence reporting by the U.S. and U.K. confirmed the existence of the plan.

President Trump is flouting the law in plain sight

August 2, 2018

There are so many smoking guns in the Russiagate scandal that it can be hard to clearly discern what’s going on amid all the haze. But clear away the confusion and what you see is the president flouting the law, not (as usually happens) behind closed doors but in plain sight.

On Wednesday, President Trump proclaimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.” Sessions recused himself from the investigation last year, but Trump would dearly love for that decision to be reversed so Sessions could shield him from justice.

By Max Boot

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President Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

That Trump would lash out now is due, no doubt, to the pressure he is feeling from the start of the trial of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is closely linked to the Kremlin. Manafort’s trial comes shortly after reports that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is prepared to testify that Trump both knew and approved of the June 2016 meeting between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Russian emissaries offering to help the Trump campaign.

Trump’s team, on cleanup duty, claimed the president is offering an opinion, not issuing a formal order. But when a boss tells a subordinate he “should” do something, it’s not just an innocent opinion like “that’s a nice shirt.” Last year, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the president’s tweets are “official statements.” Indeed, the president fired then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet. If Trump was just expressing a nonbinding opinion, why isn’t Tillerson still on the job?

When the president tells his attorney general he “should” stop an investigation of his alleged misconduct, that is strong evidence of obstruction of justice. It doesn’t matter, from a legal perspective, whether the directive is whispered in secret or shouted for all to hear. It doesn’t even matter whether the investigation is actually stopped or not. A crime is still a crime even if it’s not carried out to a successful conclusion.

Trump’s habit of committing obstruction in public dates back more than a year. On May 11, 2017, shortly after firing FBI Director James B. Comey, he admitted to Lester Holt of NBC News that he did so to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia,” which he called a “made up story.”


We have since learned a great deal from Comey’s public testimony about the circumstances leading to his firing. Comey testified that Trump sought to extract a pledge of personal loyalty that Comey would not give, and that the president asked him to end the investigation of his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn — “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president told Comey, according to Comey’s notes of the meeting. Trump’s lawyers argue, preposterously, that he did not break the law because he didn’t know that Flynn was under FBI investigation. Then why did he make the request at all? Furthermore, according to investigative reporter Murray Waas, “a confidential White House memorandum, which is in the special counsel’s possession, explicitly states that when Trump pressured Comey he had just been told by two of his top aides — his then chief of staff Reince Priebus and his White House counsel [Donald] McGahn — that Flynn was under criminal investigation.”

Waas’s scoop, assuming it is accurate, adds to the mountain of existing evidence about Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice. A great deal of this incriminating material is available to anyone with a Twitter account. Here is Trump quoting an attack against his own attorney general: “The recusal of Jeff Sessions was an unforced betrayal of the President of the United States.” Attacking the special counsel: “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!” Attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein: “Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!” Attacking the FBI and the Department of Justice: “the DOJ, FBI and Obama Gang need to be held to account.”

Little wonder that Mueller is reportedly investigating Trump’s tweets, which form the most public confession of official misconduct in U.S. history. Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, may call “obstruction by tweet” a “bizarre and novel theory,” but what’s truly “bizarre and novel” is Trump’s behavior. The president is engaged in a cynical and all-too-successful campaign to diminish public support for the Mueller investigation, potentially setting the stage for Mueller to be fired and the inquiry terminated. On at least two occasions (in both June and December of 2017), Trump tried to fire Mueller, only for alarmed aides to dissuade him.

Note that to be convicted of obstruction of justice under 18 U.S. Code § 1503 , you don’t have to be successful in stopping a federal investigation — you just have to “endeavor” by “any threatening letter or communication” to “influence, intimidate or impede” an officer of the court. Prosecutors do, however, have to prove “corrupt intent.” Trump’s tweets and tirades provide a gold mine of such corroboration.

The impeachment proceedings would have already started if congressional Republicans weren’t colluding with Trump to obstruct justice.

Tillerson, Pompeo and the fall of American diplomacy

May 31, 2018
In squandering America’s soft power, Trump has shrunk its ability to get things done

Rex Tillerson proved a hapless US secretary of state. On the evidence so far, his successor Mike Pompeo will turn out to be a thoughtless steward of America’s global interests. Throw in President Donald Trump’s ego-obsessed mood swings and you have the end of American diplomacy.
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Mr Tillerson knew little about affairs of state — a lifetime in the oil business did not bestow understanding of the geopolitical tides of the times. His promised reform of the state department became an exodus of top-flight diplomats. He never gained Mr Trump’s confidence. From time to time he was able to restrain the president, but he was more frequently undermined by Twitter storms from the White House.

Mr Pompeo is closer personally to Mr Trump — perhaps because he so studiously mimics the president’s weaknesses. Both imagine the US can do what it likes, where it likes, when it likes — an assumption paraded by Mr Pompeo in his approach to Iran’s nuclear efforts. Neither man asks, let alone answers, the question at the heart of all diplomatic calculations: “and then what?”

To the extent that the administration’s actions have a leitmotif, it is provided by a string of unilateral initiatives intended to demonstrate US power. They have had the opposite effect: weakening Washington’s capacity to promote its interests. Every time the US spurns its international commitments— whether over trade, climate change or Iran — it invites allies to step back and look for new friends and adversaries to press their advantage.

Mr Trump, we know, rarely thinks beyond the instant impact of his statements and tweets. He wants to make a splash. The likely consequences of any given decision or statement are studiously ignored. His aides boast that this “disruptive” approach has broken a series of historic logjams. Moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, and offering a summit to North Korean president Kim Jong Un are filed as “game-changers”.

To what purpose? When foreign visitors to the White House ask how the administration intends to follow through — the “then what” — they are met with blank stares: “Hey, we have shaken things up, rewritten the rules.” This apparently is enough. The president will think about what to do next, well, next. As to embedding into policy a rough calculation of how others might respond, no one could accuse Mr Trump of being a chess player.

Mr Pompeo used his first speech to set out what he described as an Iran strategy. Only he offered not so much a strategy as a laundry list of demands of Tehran. The requirements went way beyond the nuclear, reaching into almost every dimension of Iranian policy. By the end, you half-expected the secretary of state to add that Iran must convert from Islam to Christianity.

Some of the objectives are widely shared. The regime in Tehran is repressive and destabilising of the region. A diplomat would have seen, though, the gap between the desirable and the plausible. Most of the time nations are obliged to treat with other nations as they are. I am sure Mr Pompeo would like to see Saudi Arabia stop the export of the extreme Wahhabi Islamism that gives cover to violent jihadis as well as Iran withdrawing its militias from Syria.

Hubris — Iran must do what Washington says, or else — sits alongside the absence of means of achieving the administration’s goals. Mr Trump can wave the sanctions stick, but he has lost the support of the international community. The Europeans will defy the US sanctions regime where they can. Russia and China will ignore it. For their part, Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to push for war against Iran. I am not sure Mr Trump’s core vote wants him to start another Middle East conflagration.

The same ego-driven impulses explain the farce of Mr Trump’s on-off summit with Mr Kim. The president offered the talks without a thought as to an achievable outcome. John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser, filled the gap by saying the US would accept nothing less than North Korea’s abject surrender of its nuclear programme. The president then expressed himself surprised when Mr Kim took offence.

Mr Bolton counts himself among those who think the US has the power to do as it pleases. Mr Pompeo’s demands for submission from Iran are matched by the comparison drawn by Mr Bolton between Mr Kim’s North Korea and the late Muammer Gaddafi’s Libya. The snag is that tyrants do not wittingly vote for their own demise. No one can be certain of Mr Kim’s negotiating stance if, as we should hope, a summit does take place. One thing is as certain as it could be — Pyongyang is not about to hand over its nuclear arsenal anytime soon.

Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama is sometimes criticised for stepping back from the US leadership role. In part he was owning up to the reality of shifts in global power, but there were also moments when he was too eager to shrug off the Pax Americana. Analysis in the Obama White House too often became the midwife to paralysis.

Look through the noisy threats and bombast and Mr Trump has turned diffidence into retreat. In squandering America’s soft power, he has shrunk its ability to get things done. And in staking out a belligerent unilateralism, he has persuaded allies and adversaries alike that the American moment has passed. What replaces it will probably be something much worse.


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

April 14, 2018


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 .

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:


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

See also:

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



  April 4, 2018

  April 5, 2018



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)

See also:

Scores of Syrians Killed in Suspected Chemical Attack by Assad Forces

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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves.
“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.
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.
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.
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.
The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States.
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.
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.
“This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month.
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.
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.
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.
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.