Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, a conversation in which Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reports Mattis said he is mulling expanded U.S. military action in Africa in the wake of the attack in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers.
"The war is morphing," Graham said. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."
Meanwhile, other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have argued the Niger incident highlights the need to reconsider the broad war-making authority the executive branch has claimed in the post-9/11 era. "The many questions surrounding the death of American service members in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Likewise, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said present threats necessitate "a sober national conversation about Congress' constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force." Bonnie Kristian
President Trump on Friday affirmed his commitment to NATO's Article 5, the mutual defense clause in the alliance's founding documents.
"I'm committing the United States to Article 5," Trump said at a press conference after meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. "Certainly we are there to protect, and that's one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force. But yes, absolutely, I'd be committed to Article 5."
When Trump spoke before NATO leaders in late May, he did not mention the clause, omitting two sentences affirming it that were written into an earlier draft of his speech and reportedly leaving NATO Europe leaders "appalled." For a deeper look at the effects of Trump's record of hostility toward NATO, check out this analysis from The Week's Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. Bonnie Kristian
A letter signed by 134 members of the foreign policy establishment serves up a harsh critique of President Trump's new executive order pertaining to immigration and refugee admissions, The New York Times reported Saturday. Bipartisan signatories include former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John Kerry; neoconservative Max Boot, a prominent advocate of the Iraq war; and Obama administration alumni like Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Susan Rice, former national security adviser.
The revised order "suffers from the same core substantive defects as the previous version," the letter says, and, because it targets six majority-Muslim nations, "will send a message that reinforces the propaganda of [the Islamic State] and other extremist groups, that falsely claim the United States is at war with Islam."
"The revised executive order is damaging to the strategic and national security interests of the United States," the letter concludes, urging that any future "vetting enhancements [be] necessary, non-discriminatory, and otherwise consistent with the U.S. Constitution," by not targeting any nations or religions. Read the full letter here (PDF). Bonnie Kristian
The U.S. ground troops deployed to Syria by the Trump administration to join the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State are not welcome, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an interview published Saturday. "Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation or consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other one," he charged.
"And we don't think this is going to help. What are they going to do? To fight ISIS? The Americans lost nearly every war. They lost in Iraq, they had to withdraw at the end. Even in Somalia, let alone Vietnam in the past and Afghanistan," Assad continued. "They didn't succeed anywhere they sent troops, they only create a mess; they are very good in creating problems and destroying, but they are very bad in finding solutions."
Though U.S. intervention in Syria, which is beset by the twin crises of civil war and ISIS invasion, began under President Obama, President Trump's recent decision to deploy 400 Marines and Army Rangers marks the first time U.S. troops will engage in conventional warfare in the country instead of maintaining an advisory role. Bonnie Kristian
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis took his first overseas trip in office to South Korea and Japan this week. On Saturday, in Tokyo, he assured both American allies they can expect stable U.S. relations for the foreseeable future, including a continuing American military presence in each nation.
"At this time, we do not see any need for dramatic military moves at all," Mattis said, suggesting President Trump will not follow through with campaign comments about requiring the Asian countries to pay and provide for more of their own defense.
Mattis also took an aggressive attitude toward China, accusing Beijing of "shredding the trust of nations in the region." However, he sharply rejected military measures as a means of settling competing Japanese and Chinese territory claims to a chain of disputed islands in the South China Sea. "What we have to do is exhaust all efforts, diplomatic efforts, to try to resolve this properly, maintaining open lines of communication," Mattis said. Bonnie Kristian
Donald Trump's campaign manager lavishes praise on Trump's ability to 'predict what will happen in the future'
Donald Trump has held firm in his belief that ISIS would only become stronger if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to be removed from power — a stance Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, defended Wednesday, BuzzFeed reports. "[Assad] is a very, very bad individual but he is an individual who, in his country, is keeping things in check because he is such a bad guy they're afraid of him," Lewandowski said.
Some political observers weren't so sure about that analysis:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!! https://t.co/asQfojiwxy
— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) February 17, 2016
Trump manager praises Assad for "keeping things in check." Wonder what out of control looks like? Nuclear war? Alien invasion? Black hole?
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) February 17, 2016
Lewandowski went on to claim Trump's clairvoyance would prove him right on the matter of Assad. "You have someone with Donald Trump who has vision to predict what will happen in the future because he's done it so many times," Lewandowski explained. "He predicted Osama bin Laden in one of his books in the early 2000s and that he would be a major factor and what he's saying here is very clear: If Russia wants to go and bomb the hell out of ISIS, why would we not want that to happen. We don't even know — so many of these elected officials say, 'Well if we go and do that we're gonna go destabilize Syria and we're gonna put somebody else in and we're gonna get get rid of Assad.' Who? Who is the question."
The conflict in Syria is now five years old, and has resulted in the death and displacement of millions of Syrians. In September, Assad only controlled about 25 percent of the country. Listen to Lewandowski's interview at BuzzFeed. Jeva Lange
Foreign ministers from nearly 20 nations agreed Saturday to create a transitional government in Syria within 18 months, The Associated Press reports.
By the end of 2015, the leaders hope to set up meetings between President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition in the war-torn country. Countries remain divided over whether he'd be part of the transitional government.
The meeting in Vienna also focused heavily on the country's role in regional terrorism, in light of the series of deadly shootings and bombings in Paris on Friday night, which ISIS has claimed responsibility for.
"These kinds of attacks are the most vile, horrendous, outrageous, unacceptable acts on the planet," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Julie Kliegman
President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shared small talk and several handshakes on Friday night ahead of the Summit of the Americas' opening ceremonies. The small gesture has big implications; officials expect the pair to sit down and discuss improving diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba on Saturday. Such a meeting would be the highest-level U.S.-Cuba talks since Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro met in April 1959.
Obama championed the move toward normalized relations in a speech to civil society groups, including Cuban dissidents.
"As the United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, we hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people," he told the gathering. "Not because it is imposed by us, the United States, but through the talent and ingenuity and aspirations, and the conversations among Cubans from all walks of life so they can decide what the best course is for their prosperity."
The Associated Press notes that opening embassies in Washington and Havana would jumpstart a new diplomatic relationship, but that the U.S. and Cuba are still negotiating toward such a step. And White House officials declined to comment on the status of a State Department recommendation to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state terror sponsors — a key point for Castro. Sarah Eberspacher