Links for 8-4-2017

  • The Department of Defense released the names of the two U.S. Army soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday: Specialist Christopher Harris of Jackson Springs, NC and Sgt. Jonathon Hunter of Columbus, IN.

  • American troops are on the ground in Yemen helping soldiers from the UAE and Yemen’s government push al Qaeda out of a stronghold.

  • Tom Nichols writes that we shouldn’t be happy to see so many generals on the White House staff:

    Rather, the problem is that the public’s eagerness to see a general impose order on the White House—with the president’s blessing, no less—represents a potentially dangerous bargain that at least some Americans seem willing to forge with serving and retired members of the U.S. military: we will accept dysfunction in the Oval Office, it seems, so long as there are enough generals ensconced around it as insurance against disaster.

    This is a complete reversal of long-lasting and stable traditions of American civil-military relations. The United States has a civilian commander in chief in order to provide a civilian check on the power of the military, not the other way around. To hope that Kelly and H.R. McMaster in the White House, and Gen. James Mattis at the Pentagon, will somehow restrain the president’s erratic impulses is a terrible development in our history, not because these are not fine men, but because too much reliance on them corrodes a key principle of the American constitutional order.

  • Former members of the National Security Council are trash-talking H.R. McMaster, claiming that McMaster holds views opposite Donald Trump’s on Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and China.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice is stepping up its investigations of the Trump administration’s many leaks, and that it charged four people with leaking classified information.

  • The U.S. drafted a U.N. resolution that would cut North Korea’s exports by a third. North Korea earns $3 billion a year by exporting coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood.

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress that the State Department is not removing the term “genocide” from its characterization of ISIS’ actions in Iraq and Syria, but members of Congress are unhappy about the Trump administration’s failure to spend appropriated money to help Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • A Public Policy Polling survey puts Senator Jeff Flake’s job approval rating in Arizona at 18%.

  • Toyota and Mazda plan to spend $1.6 billion building a factory in the U.S. They’re also planning to cooperate on electric car development. As part of the deal Toyota and Mazda are taking (relatively small) stakes in each other’s business.

  • Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty to cheating on diesel emissions tests. He faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $400,000.

  • In Los Angeles County, California there are 144 registered voters for every 100 citizens of voting age.

  • The U.S. military used to be a big advocate for Turkey, but no more:

    There are many problems in bilateral ties, from U.S. cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish YPG, to the Turkish decision to buy Russian weapons systems, to the increasing anti-American, anti-European, and anti-Western rhetoric coming out of Turkey. And this rhetoric should not be ignored because it has been going on for the last 15 years, and it has started to go mainstream because it is being supported by government officials and pro-government media. According to the most recent Pew Center report, whereas other countries are worried about ISIS, global warming, refugee flows, cyberattacks, and economic collapse as key global threats, uniquely among all nations, Turks view the U.S. as a major global threat. No other country polls like Turkey, and this is not accidental – it is linked to anti-Americanism that the AKP has been feeding to its own people since its rise in 2002, as well as issues in bilateral ties. These anti-American sentiments are now quite mainstream in Turkey. That should concern the U.S., and Secretary Mattis is aware of it.

    Later:

    I would say that the people who have the most negative views of Turkey in Washington are, unfortunately, in the U.S. military as a result of a series of events, all of which took place under Erdogan’s watch. Turkey’s refusal to join the Iraq war in 2003, the collapse of Turkish-Israeli ties, the Turkish decision to buy Chinese air defense systems (although they backed down on that), Turkey’s recent decision now to buy Russian missiles, and Turkey’s lax policy in allowing radicals to cross into Syria in an effort to undermine Assad, all of these factors have hurt the relationship. And of course, from the Turkish perspective, the U.S. reticence to fully support Turkey against the Kurdish PKK group over the last decade – as well as the U.S. decision to fully support the Kurdish YPG against ISIS in Syria – has really soured the relationship.

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit tossed the first degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater employee who fired on unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, killing 14 people. The court also ordered resentencings for three other former Blackwater employees who were convicted in the same case.

  • Nolan Peterson writes that supplying American weapons to Ukraine would be a huge morale boost for Ukraine’s army.

  • Last month the Australian Federal Police disrupted an ISIS plot to plant a bomb on an airliner. Four people were arrested. They were working at the direction of ISIS operatives in Syria, who mailed them bomb components.

  • Javier El-Hage describes what’s likely to happen with Venezuela’s new constituent assembly, which met for the first time today:

    It is likely that the new assembly, which includes Maduro’s wife as well as Diosdado Cabello (widely considered the No. 2 man, behind Maduro, of chavismo), will attempt to write a constitution like the one the Castro regime imposed on the Cuban people in 1976, putting all branches of government under the control of one party. The new constitution will also likely enumerate rights and liberties, even as it includes a provision similar to the one in Article 62 of the Cuban constitution warning that “none of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to … the existence and objectives of the socialist State, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism” — canceling any real opportunity for a constitutional government.

Links for 8-3-2017

  • National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster fired three National Security Council staffers sympathetic to the Steve Bannon faction of the White House, and he’s preparing to fire more:

    The Trump staffers fired by McMaster had repeatedly clashed with career government staffers and holdovers from the Obama administration on issues as diverse as military strategies for Syria and Afghanistan, whether to tear up Obama’s landmark Iran deal, the controversial détente with Cuba, the U.S. role in confronting Islamic radicalism, and the Paris Climate Accord, according to these sources.

    More purges are said to be on the way, according to multiple insiders who described a list of at least four other senior NSC officials McMaster intends to target. Other sources confirmed the likelihood of more purges, but disputed some details on that list.

    The fired NSC employees opposed Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which McMaster supports:

    NSC officials such as Cohen-Watnick, Harvey, and others had been making the case that Trump should scrap the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal over increasingly aggressive Iranian ballistic missile activity and mounting evidence Tehran is breaching the accord. McMaster, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and top Obama-era State Department officials who worked on the deal, have aggressively urged maintaining it.

    McMaster allowed his predecessor, Susan Rice, keep her security clearance despite suggestions that she abused her power to unmask the names of Americans who were caught in the NSA’s dragnet.

  • Transcripts of Donald Trump’s phone conversations with the presidents of Mexico and Australia were circulated among NSC staffers — perhaps including the staffers fired by H.R. McMaster — and now they’ve been leaked to The Washington Post.

  • Robert Mueller impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election and that grand jury is issuing subpoenas. Mueller also inherited a grand jury that’s investigating Michael Flynn.

  • Four American soldiers were wounded in the suicide bomb attack that killed two soldiers in Afghanistan yesterday.

  • The U.S. Senate approved 65 of Donald Trump’s nominees after Democrats agreed to stop obstructing them. Two of the confirmed nominees, Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr, are headed to the FCC.

  • The inspector general for the Department of the Interior is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over reports that he threatened Senator Lisa Murkowski over her position on ObamaCare repeal. The inspector general is doing this in response to a complaint filed by two House Democrats. In the meantime Zinke and Murkowski became drinking buddies.

  • The Center for Medical Progress asked the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the gag order that prevents it from publishing additional Planned Parenthood videos.

  • West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. There are now only 15 Democratic governors.

  • Actor Robert Hardy passed away at age 91. He played Siegfried Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small and Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies, among many other roles.

  • Matthew RJ Brodsky writes on the problem with Qatar:

    The list of problem areas is long. Qatar’s financial and political support for such a wide array of militant Islamist movements is unrivaled in the region and has been particularly overt, egregious, and brazen in recent years. Through a combination of the ruling Al Thani family or wealthy Qatari financiers, the oil-rich state backs al-Qaeda affiliates, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Hamas, and others on the Sunni side of the ledger. Meanwhile, they continue to use their state-backed Al Jazeera network as a worldwide loudspeaker to promote the most radical Islamist propaganda, preaching hate and fomenting instability throughout the region.

    This support undermines and unnerves its neighbors, poisons the minds of the next generation of Arab youth, prevents any Palestinian moderation, and lessens the likelihood that Israel will see peace with more of its neighbors, much less in the wider region. Moreover, it serves to nurture only radical Islamist alternatives to take the place of the Islamic State once it is defeated on the battlefield.

  • Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into vote counting irregularities during the Sunday’s constituent assembly election.

Links for 5-8-2017

Links for 2-24-2017

  • CNN reported that the Trump administration asked the FBI to “knock down” media reports about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Trump administration denied the report.

  • Donald Trump signed an executive order that creates a “regulatory reform” task force within each federal agency:

    The sweeping order directs every federal agency to establish a task force to ensure each has a team to research all regulations and take aim at those deemed burdensome to the U.S. economy and designate regulatory reform officers within 60 days and must report on the progress within 90 days.

  • Matthew Continetti writes on “The New Nationalism in America”:

    Above all, nationalism means distinguishing between members of a political community and outsiders, and privileging the former over the latter. Such distinctions make many people profoundly uncomfortable. Look at the headlines surrounding the Trump administration’s policies on refugees, travel from failed or terrorist-sponsoring states, and illegal immigration. Witness the recent debate in the pages of National Review over Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry’s qualified defense of nationalism. There are some conservatives who seem to believe that there is no such thing as the American people, only an American idea. But this gets it backward. Without the people, there would be no idea. Americans may come from all over the world, we may profess every religion, but we are bound together not just by our founding documents but by those mystic chords of memory of which Lincoln spoke, by our love of the land, its natural beauty, its inhabitants, its history, by what our people have achieved, what they have lost, what they have endured.

    What’s uncomfortable is often necessary. That is the case today. Reducing illegal immigration, reforming legal immigration to prioritize skilled workers and would-be citizens, asserting national prerogatives in trade negotiations, spending on the military and defense research, “betting on ideas” rather than on social insurance, bureaucracy, and rent-seeking, saving the idea of national community through the promulgation of our shared language, literature, art, film, television, music—this is the beginning of a nationalist agenda. But only the beginning.

  • A Washington Post reporter, Jon Finer, recalls his time covering Colonel H.R. McMaster (now Lieutenant General and National Security Adviser) during the battle for Tal Afar, Iraq in 2005:

    The morning the operation began, he [McMaster] recounted how insurgents had recently murdered a child, placed an explosive in his body and then detonated it when his father came to retrieve him. “The greatest privilege of a professional soldier,” he said, “is to have the opportunity to kill these people.”

  • A new scientific paper suggests large swings in Earth’s climate may be tied to variations in the Earth’s orbit, specifically interactions between Earth and Mars.

  • Syrian rebels backed by Turkey cleared ISIS out of al-Bab. After that, two suicide car bombs near al-Bab killed 65 people.

  • Christian families are fleeing the Sinai Peninsula after ISIS murdered seven Christians in three weeks.

  • Charles Schmitz offers an interesting explanation of why Yemen is important to Saudi Arabia:

    For Saudi Arabia, Yemen is a vital security interest. The Saudis have long claimed a dominant role in shaping Yemen’s domestic politics. Yemen’s desert border with Saudi Arabia is a source of anxiety for the Kingdom’s leaders. Yemenis are poor, Yemen’s large population is still growing, and the Yemeni state has not been able to manage its economy successfully. Saudis fear that Yemen will implode, and Yemen’s problems will spill across the border into the Kingdom.

  • A Philippine senator who has been a leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, Leila de Lima, was arrested on charges that she accepted bribes from drug traffickers.

  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, is entangled in a controversy over a new elementary school that purchased land from the government at a steep discount.

  • Malaysia says Kim Jong Nam was killed by VX nerve agent. VX is created by combining two compounds, and two women rubbed their hands on Kim’s face at Kuala Lumpur’s airport.

Links for 2-20-2017