SitRep: Tillerson for State; China Calls Trump “a Child” for Comments; Aleppo Falls
China Increases Defense Spending; Marines Want New Drones; And Lots More
It’s official. President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State. The nod to Tillerson, who comes to the table with no diplomatic experience but decades of forging business deals with foreign countries, raises questions over how well he will manage to separate U.S. interests from those of the only company he has ever worked for.
Exxon has business interests in Russian worth billions, and Tillerson has long opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. In particular, he struck in 2011 deal with Moscow giving Exxon access to critical Arctic resources, which also allows Russian state oil company OAO Rosneft — currently under sanction by the U.S. — to invest in Exxon projects around the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that European and American sanctions against Russia should be extended due to lack of progress in implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreement in Ukraine.
Hill reacts? It remains to be seen what Senate Republicans will make of the Tillerson nomination, but many lawmakers have rejected Trump’s willingness to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have already hinted that Tillerson’s personal ties to Putin could be a stumbling block in the confirmation process. In Russia, however, word of the appointment is going over well. Putin spokesman Dmirti Peskov praised Tillerson on Monday, saying he carried out his work in Russia in a “highly professional manner.”
Exxon. Journalist Steve Coll, who literally wrote the book on Exxon, wrote recently that as Exxon chief, Tillerson has already managed “a parallel quasi-state,” where he was tasked with “absorbing complex political analysis, evaluating foreign leaders, attending ceremonial events, and negotiating with friends and adversaries.” But many of the Exxon exes Coll interviewed thought of the State Department as “generally unhelpful, a bureaucracy of liberal career diplomats who were biased against oil and incompetent when it came to sensitive and complex oil-deal negotiations.”
Trump on China, China on Trump. A Monday editorial in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, said President-elect Donald Trump was “like a child in his ignorance of foreign policy,” for his comments questioning decades of U.S. policy over the “one China” policy. The paper went on, “the One China policy cannot be bought and sold. Trump, it seems, only understands business and believes that everything has a price.”
On Sunday, Trump unnerved both Beijing and Taiwan when he told Fox News, “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”
Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told SitRep that officials in Beijing are likely “scrambling to figure out what Trump is trying to accomplish, how much is serious, and how much is posturing.”
In Taiwan, Trump’s apparent willingness to use the island as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Beijing over trade deals is also a cause for concern. “Taiwan has always been fearful that the U.S. would abandon it,” Glaser said. “For Taiwan this is real, we have a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, and from their perspective we abandoned them in 1979” when Washington instituted the “one China” policy.
Intel wars. Not all U.S. intelligence agencies are on board with the CIA’s assertion that Moscow was actively working to elect Trump, Reuters’ Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay report.
Several intel officials tell them that while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “does not dispute the CIA’s analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named.” Specifically, one official said that while “ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent.”
Russia hit both Dems and Repubs. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Adam Entous write that “U.S. officials said that both parties were repeatedly targeted as part of a months-long cyber-operation linked to Moscow, but that Democratic institutions and operatives came under a more sustained and determined online assault.” One of the things that is hard to determine is how much information was lifted from Republican servers, however.
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The opposition enclave in eastern Aleppo has fallen to the Assad regime and now reports are coming out of the city citing war crimes against those trapped inside. The BBC reports on comments from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who cited reports from Aleppo of “atrocities against a large number of civilians,” including one incident where 82 civilians were shot on sight by government troops. In a statement, Ban said the U.N. has yet to verify the reports but special advisor to U.N. Syria envoy Mr. Jan Egeland said Russia and the Assad regime should be held “accountable” for any atrocities committed in the wake of their operation to take the city.
A Syrian human rights groups says it’s getting reports of chemical weapons use in Palmyra where the Islamic State recently returned and forced a retreat of Assad regime forces, according to Reuters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said locals saw piles of dead bodies without visible wounds on them with some 28 dead in total. An Islamic State propaganda outlet issued a statement claiming that Russia carried out an air attack with nerve agent. The Assad regime and Islamic State have both used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, according to investigations by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Congressional Republicans are moving fast to make sure retired Marine Gen. James Mattis could become Secretary of Defense on inauguration day. Military Times reports that Republican leaders are attaching a waiver to the budget extension in order to create a loophole for Mattis within rules designed to ensure civilian control of the military. The rules would allow Congress to request a waiver within the first 30 days after the 115th Congress is sworn in, allowing ample time for a waiver vote and confirmation hearings before the Trump administration is sworn in on January 20.
The defense consultancy Janes predicts in a new report that Chinese defense spending in 2020 will climb to just shy of twice the size of what its defense budget was in 2010. The uptick in spending, from $123 billion in 2010 to $233 in 2020, will place China’s defense spending above the combined spending of western European military powers. The increased spending, experts say, is likely driven by regional tensions over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and a desire by China to project its power beyond the confines that a more limited military would allow.
Israel is now officially the owner of two shiny, new stealth aircraft. The Washington Post reports that Israel’s first two F-35 fighter jets touched down at Nevatim Air Force base in Israel on Monday. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were on hand to welcome the jets, flown in from Texas by American pilots. Israel plans to purchase 50 of the jets, including the two that arrived on Monday, at a cost of $110 million with the help of U.S. military aid.
The Marine Corps wants an armed vertical take-off and landing drone to escort its V-22 Ospreys, Breaking Defense reports. The Corps says the Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Expeditionary (mercifully shortened to “MUX”) should be fast enough to keep up with the Osprey. Marine Col. John Barranco Jr. told Breaking Defense that the service envisions the MUX scouting ahead of Ospreys for threats near landing zones, loitering as they drop off troops, and providing cover as the V-22 returns.
Photo Credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
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