4/03/17: THE WEEK IN TRUMP

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By Larry Silverton*
Staff Writer

An abbreviated weekly update on the Administration’s activities to start off the new quarter. Subsequent updates will generally be posted on Saturdays and contain about six items instead of the three discussed here.

Syria
On Thursday April 6, Trump ordered US warships to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat Airbase, from which the Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government had launched chemical attacks. Syria’s Armed Forces General Command released a statement that the strike killed six people. Remarks from Pentagon officials indicate that, based on preliminary data, the strike destroyed some Syrian aircraft and related infrastructure. The US military informed the Russian government of the strike beforehand, allowing them to evacuate several Russians present at the base for unknown reasons. It remains unclear how the strike may affect US-Russia relations ahead of a pending visit to Moscow by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Bannon off Security Council
On Wednesday April 5, Trump removed Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council (NSC) as part of an NSC restructuring that also included promotion of Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to full seats. In a subsequent statement, Bannon claimed his removal was due to completion of his task to “de-operationalize” the NSC, undoing the “operationalization” of the NSC under President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice. Bannon’s presence on the NSC was controversial due to his lack of foreign policy experience and his strong political leanings as former editor of Breitbart News. Internal reports suggest Bannon’s demotion may be linked to his clashes with Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, who Bannon has allegedly derided as a “globalist” and a “cuck” (short for “cuckold” and popular as a slur among the alt-right). The demotion may also be tied to Trump’s displeasure with the widespread, often humorous idea of “President Bannon” – that is, the widespread perception that Bannon has set the administration’s agenda and holds influence over Trump.

Xi
Trump hosted a summit with President Xi Jinping of China last week at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Reports indicate that the talks proceeded cordially, described by Secretary Rex Tillerson as “very frank, very candid, [and] very positive”. The topics discussed with President Xi reportedly include the US-China trade relationship and the need to address the problem of North Korea’s nuclear arms. It is unclear if the talks were at all affected by the Syrian attack, which Trump launched during Xi’s visit; though Xi reportedly received the news positively, or at least neutrally, Chinese state news outlet Xinhua criticized Trump for the attacks and suggested that they were a show of weakness meant to discredit his alleged ties to the Russian government.

Photo by Matt Johnson

*Because of the sensitivity of some of the topics discussed here and the reaction of the Trump administration towards the media, some writers have opted to use pen names when writing about the Trump Presidency. Likewise, some of our staff writers at Prospect Journal of International Affairs will be using pen names when discussing the Trump government.

2/11/17: THE WEEK IN TRUMP

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By Larry Silverton*
Staff Writer

This Week in Trump’s America

This is the second installment of a new weekly feature which will provide a brief summary of the week’s most prominent actions by the Trump Administration, as well as discussing some of their implications. The discussion of each topic will be relatively brief by necessity; please contact us if you feel we have neglected a significant action by the Administration or an important aspect of any issue.

  1. Cabinet Confirmations

This week, the Senate confirmed several of Trump’s Cabinet nominations – billionaire and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Georgia Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services; with a few exceptions, voting occurred strictly along party lines. All three have raised widespread concerns and criticism. Many harbor uncertainty about DeVos’ performance of her duties as secretary due to her unsuccessful policies, potential conflicts of interest, and seeming unawareness of important topics in education. Detractors of Sessions cite longtime accusations of racism and his climate change denialism, casting doubt on his presentation as a champion of civil rights during the confirmation hearings. Most criticisms of Tom Price center on possible ties between his legislative agenda and personal financial gain, as well as his longtime opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

  1. Immigration Ban Update

Opponents of Trump’s immigration ban scored a victory this week as the Court of Appeals upheld Judge James Robart’s order blocking enforcement of the ban. In response to the Justice Department’s failed appeal, Trump tweeted that he would “SEE [them] IN COURT”, suggesting an intent to appeal the case to the Supreme Court echoed by Chief of Staff Reince Preibus , though sources conflict on this subject. However, Trump also said that he may issue a “brand new order” early next week, perhaps revising its wording to improve its legality.

  1. Diplomacy – Australia

Trump took part in several notable diplomatic exchanges this week; the first occurred with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Despite early positive signs, relations with Prime Minister Turnbull appeared to sour last Saturday when the latter urged Trump to honor a previous US commitment to take 1,250 refugees currently in an Australian detention center. Senior US officials say that Trump “blasted” Prime Minister Turnbull in response, bragged about the margin by which he won the Electoral College vote; Trump then hung up on Prime Minister Turnbull without warning only 25 minutes into a planned hour-long conversation, claim the sources. In the following days, the two made contradictory statements about the call to the public, with Turnbull claiming that the US would honor the agreement while Trump called it “the worst deal ever”.

  1. Diplomacy – China

Xi Jinping pressured Trump into an important political concession on Thursday, in the first phone call between the two. During the call, Trump agreed to honor the “One China” policy, which acknowledges that only one China exists and that Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the “Republic of China”, is part of that single entity. Before the call, Trump had raised doubts as to whether he would support the One China policy in taking a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. President Obama also previously voiced commitment to the One China policy.

  1. Diplomacy – Japan

Relations with Japan appear smooth so far for Trump. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weekend visit began with a congenial press conference on Friday, in which Prime Minister Abe pledged to support Trump in addressing US unemployment. Trump emphasized the US commitment to defending Japan; this seems to contradict his campaign promise to force Japan to pay more for US military aid. The only notable bump appears to be a particularly awkward handshake between the two, who will spend the weekend with their wives at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

  1. The Russian Connection

Concerns about possible connections between Trump and the government of Vladimir Putin resurfaced this week as US investigators confirmed some details from the “Russia dossier”, a 35-page document gathered by a former MI6 agent. The dossier alleges that Russia possesses compromising information about Trump (specifically a video of Trump taking part in embarrassing sexual acts) and that Trump and his team maintained contact with Russian operatives before and during the 2016 election. As of this writing, the full text of the dossier is available here. On a related note, recent leaks revealed that before Trump took office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may have warned Russia of pending sanctions by President Obama and discussed potentially lifting those sanctions. These leaks could indicate violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments on important policy issues. Overall, recent developments suggest that controversy about the alleged link between Trump and Putin may continue to plague the early days of the new administration.

*Because of the sensitivity of some of the topics discussed here and the reaction of the Trump administration towards the media, some writers have opted to use pen names when writing about the Trump Presidency. Likewise, some of our staff writers at Prospect Journal of International Affairs will be using pen names when discussing the Trump government.

Image by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

2/04/17: THE WEEK IN TRUMP

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By Larry Silverton*
Staff Writer

This Week in Trump’s America

This is the first installment of a new weekly feature which will provide a brief summary of the week’s most prominent actions by the Trump Administration, as well as discussing some of their implications. The discussion of each topic will be relatively brief by necessity; please contact us if you feel we have neglected a significant action by the Administration or an important aspect of any issue.

  1. Executive Order 13769 – the “Muslim Ban”

Last Friday, Trump issued Executive Order 13769, which bans citizens of seven nations (all Muslim-majority) from entering the United States for 90 days, as well as barring refugees and suspending the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The executive order also includes provisions for the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security to reevaluate the criteria for visas and other forms of immigration permit. The order has been noted for targeting seven Muslim-majority nations while excluding others in which Trump has business ties; others observe that no radicalized Muslims from any of the seven listed countries have killed any US citizens since before the Sept. 11 attack, while the home nation of the Sept. 11 attackers is not listed. The order has met resistance from both without and within. Massive protests occurred across the nation, including here at UCSD, and Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates instructed Justice Department employees not to defend the order. Yates was then fired by Trump in a statement noted for its strong political language, which some call “incendiary”. The ACLU and the states of Washington, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits challenging the order’s constitutionality, along with other activist organizations and private citizens. As of this writing, a federal judge from Washington State has issued a nationwide restraining order halting the ban.

  1. National Security Council Restructuring

This past week, Trump granted Steve Bannon a seat on the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee”. Bannon, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, previously served as executive chair of Breitbart News and Chief Executive Officer of Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump also demoted the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the Principals Committee to “statutory advisers”; they will now only attend meetings “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”. The restructured Security Council will also include CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump appointee. Bannon’s inclusion on the Principals Committee and the exclusion of the DNI and chairman of the Joint Chiefs have sparked concern, in part due to Bannon’s focus on political issues and the NSC’s authorization of kill orders (primarily drone strikes). This “disposition matrix” system allows the NSC to order the assassination of any targets designated as potential terrorist threats without public record, including American citizens. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) introduced a bill which would remove Bannon from the NSC and urge the White House to include the Director of National Intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs in all NSC meetings.

  1. Supreme Court Nominees

On Wednesday, February 1, Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch currently serves as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and was appointed under President George W. Bush. Judge Gorsuch is considered a conservative judge and widely compared to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The Court currently consists of four Democratic and Republican judges each; if confirmed, Gorsuch would tip the balance to a Republican majority, though Republican Justice Anthony Kennedy is considered a “swing vote” and viewed as less conservative than other Republicans on the Court. In the face of possible obstruction by Democrats, Trump urged Senate Republicans to use the “nuclear option” if necessary, which would allow them to override a Democratic filibuster by simple majority; Democrats used the nuclear option in 2013 to end Republican obstruction of President Obama’s nominees to executive offices and lower courts;

  1. Regulation Reform – “1 in, 2 out”

On Monday, January 30, Trump signed an executive order requiring that federal regulatory bodies remove at least two regulations for every new regulation they seek to impose. To be specific, the order requires that the costs of any new regulation be completely offset by the savings gained in the removal of at least two existing regulations. It remains unclear how executive agencies are to reconcile this rule with their duty to enforce any regulations mandated by law. The order’s full text can be found here.

  1. Yemen Attack

Under Trump’s direction, Navy SEALS carried out a raid against Al Qaeda in Yemen. Accounts of locals indicate that at least 24 civilians died in the attack – nine men, six women, and nine children. A US Navy SEAL, Chief Special Warfare Operator William Owens, also perished. Some claim planning for the raid began under the previous administration; however, former Obama advisers dispute this. US military officials criticized the strike as approved “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup operations”. The US-backed Yemeni government also spoke against the attack despite their historical support of US policy. One of the nine children reported killed in the administration’s first military operation was an 8-year-old girl named Nawar Al-Awlaki. Her father, the late Anwar Al-Awlaki, was the US-born leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and died in a US drone strike in 2011; the strike elicited controversy over the killing of an American citizen without trial. The killing of Al-Awlaki’s daughter evokes Trump’s late 2015 remarks on targeting the families of suspected terrorists; after the attack, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that “the United States does not and will not deliberately target family members of terrorists”.

  1. Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines

On Monday, January 30, the White House published two Presidential Memoranda signed by Trump stating intent to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. On February 3rd, the administration dispatched Bureau of Indian Affairs agents to remove protestors from the Dakota Access site; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently passed a tribal resolution requesting that protestors leave the site and asking that the federal government help to close the camp, citing the Army Corps of Engineers’ agreement to an environmental review of the pipeline and heavy snowfall dangers. To protest Wells Fargo’s financial support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to remove $3 billion from the bank in a bill which also requires prioritization of socially responsible business practices in future legislation. A link to the bill’s full text can be found here.

  1. Dodd-Frank Rollback

On Friday, February 3rd, Trump signed two executive orders related to financial regulations, which are widely perceived as an intended rollback of Dodd-Frank. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, increasing the authority of regulatory bodies which oversee the stock exchange. One of Trump’s new executive orders commands the Treasury Secretary to reevaluate existing financial regulation according to six “Core Principles” outlined in the order, the full text of which can be found here. The other delays the implementation of the Fiduciary Duty Rule, an Obama-era Department of Labor regulation requiring retirement advisors to act in their clients’ best interests.

  1. Iran Sanctions

On Friday, February 3rd, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against 25 people and companies linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, a special forces unit. These sanctions come in response to Iran’s test launching of a ballistic missile last weekend, which some call a challenge to a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting Iran from working towards a ballistic missile program that can launch nuclear weapons. On the subject, Trump said that Iran was “not behaving”. Tehran criticized the sanctions as a violation of the Iran nuclear deal signed under President Obama.

*Due to the sensitivity of the topics discussed here and the reaction of the Trump administration, many writers have opted to use pen names when discussing the Trump Presidency. Likewise, some of our staff writers at Prospect Journal of International Affairs will be using pen names when writing about the Trump government.

Image by duncan c