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Foreign policy
May 7, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani followed his Sunday warning against U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, with a Monday announcement that Tehran will remain committed to the arrangement regardless of President Trump's choices.

"We are not worried about America's cruel decisions ... We are prepared for all scenarios and no change will occur in our lives next week," Rouhani said on a state media broadcast. "If we can get what we want from a deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal. What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories ... In that case, getting rid of America's mischievous presence will be fine for Iran."

In addition to the U.S. and Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany are JCPOA signatories. Rouhani added Monday that if JCPOA participant nations "want to make sure that we are not after a nuclear bomb, we have said repeatedly that we are not and we will not be."

No other nations have suggested they may leave. President Trump, who has called the deal "insane" and "ridiculous," must extend a waiver of U.S. sanctions on Iran by May 12 to keep the U.S. in the agreement. Bonnie Kristian

April 29, 2018

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled this weekend to Saudi Arabia, where he held a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

"Gulf unity is necessary, and we need to achieve it," he said, pushing Riyadh to end its conflict with neighboring Qatar. "We are hopeful that they will, in their own way, figure out how to remove the dispute between them," Pompeo told the press.

He also took aim at Saudi rival Iran. Tehran "destabilizes this entire region," Pompeo argued. "It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime [in Syria] as well." Pompeo is a strident critic of the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump has said he may exit. Bonnie Kristian

March 26, 2018

James Mattis was "dismissed as a warmonger during the Obama administration," notes a Monday New York Times profile of the defense secretary, but in President Trump's Washington he is hailed as a bastion of stability and keeper of the status quo.

With former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — whom the Times reports Mattis dubbed "St. Rex" for his treatment by Trump — Mattis has been cast as a bulwark to keep the president's more reckless impulses in check. Now, with Tillerson set to be replaced by Mike Pompeo and the appointment of arch-hawk John Bolton as national security adviser, Mattis is likely the sole significant administration voice pushing for any degree of foreign policy restraint, particularly where North Korea is concerned.

Mattis has reportedly indicated he does not expect to work well with Bolton, who has long argued for a preventive strike against North Korea as well as Iran. "This gets to a fundamental question," a "retired senior officer" who is close to Mattis told the Times: "Can Mattis win the president over [on North Korea], the most important debate we've had in decades, maybe centuries? I believe there is a moral hazard with this president, he will take everybody to the cliff," the source added. "If Mattis is able to prevail, that is what God put him on Earth to do. It's that serious."

Read the full New York Times report here. Bonnie Kristian

October 21, 2017

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

June 10, 2017

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

March 12, 2017

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

March 11, 2017

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

February 4, 2017

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

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