SitRep: Two Old “Axis of Evil” Members Loom Large in Trump U.N. Speech
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Trump, meet the U.N. President Donald Trump plans to call Islamic militants “losers” in his first address before the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday morning, and administration officials told reporters that he’ll also take a hard line on North Korea and apply pressure on Iran to give up its ballistic ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Trump, meet the U.N. President Donald Trump plans to call Islamic militants “losers” in his first address before the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday morning, and administration officials told reporters that he’ll also take a hard line on North Korea and apply pressure on Iran to give up its ballistic missile program.
“Theirs is a shared menace and nations cannot be bystanders to history and if we don’t confront the threats now, they will only gather force and become more formidable,” the official said of North Korea and Iran. If Iraq were still on the hot seat it’d sound like a rehash of 2002’s “Axis of Evil” speech then-president George W. Bush delivered during his State of the Union address.
Tehran express. Adding fuel to the fire, outgoing Fifth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan says Iran has been smuggling more advanced weaponry into Yemen, sending anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and explosive boats to aid its Houthi allies in the war against the Saudi-led coalition. “It’s not rocket science to conclude that the Houthis are getting not only these systems but likely training and advice and assistance in how to use them,” said Donegan.
Japan moves missile interceptor. The Japanese military has moved a Patriot anti-missile system to the northern island of Hokkaido, close to the trajectory of two recent North Korean missile tests that have overflown the island, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announced the move on Tuesday.
Mattis hints at North Korean war plan. The U.S. and Japan have so far not attempted to shoot down any North Korean missiles, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Monday that North Korean missiles have been falling “in the middle of the ocean,” making shootdowns unnecessary. “Were they to be aimed at Guam, or U.S. territory,” he added, “that would elicit a different response.” Mattis also confirmed that the South Koreans had asked about the possibility of deploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to their country.
He also said that he believes there are military options for striking the North that would not put the South Korean capital of Seoul at risk, but would not elaborate further. Seoul is only 35 miles from the border, and thousands of North Korean artillery pieces are dug into hard granite hills, ready to rain tens of thousands of shells on the capital within minutes.
Drone strikes. President Trump has given the CIA more authority to carry out drone strikes that might not have been authorized under previous administrations, according to NBC News. The Trump administration is also in the process of tearing up the Obama administration’s Presidential Policy Guidance, planning to disregard rules mandating that drone strikes only take place when analysts can be certain civilians aren’t going to be killed.
American bombs. Across Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, American warplanes are dropping more bombs than at any point in years, underlying the Trump administration’s loosening of authorities which allow pilots and local commanders to take strikes that likely would have been denied under the Obama administration.
FP’s Paul McLeary writes that “in Iraq and Syria, “the air campaign seems to be paying dividends, as the territory claimed by the Islamic State has shrunk to a fraction of what it held after rampaging through those two countries in 2014 and 2015. It’s less clear that the Afghan campaign has proven as effective; the Taliban continue to take district centers and ISIS has established a stronghold in Nangarhar province in the country’s mountainous East.”
Ribbon cutting. The U.S. and Israel have opened on the first permanent American military base in Israel, opening an air defense base in the Negev desert to be run by U.S. European Command
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Warrants. The FBI applied for and received warrants to carry out surveillance on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to a bombshell scoop from CNN. The warrants authorized surveillance on Manafort before and after but not during the presidential campaign. Manafort first because the subject of an FBI investigation in 2014 as part the bureau investigated political advocacy work done on behalf the ousted Ukrainian government. The warrant on Manafort expired some time before the presidential campaign but the FBI applied for and received a second warrant on Manafort at some unspecified point after he was fired from the Trump campaign in August of 2016.
You down with PNG? Yeah, you know me. Expelling North Korean diplomats is the hot new trend among U.S. allies and it hardly seems coincidental. On Monday, both Kuwait and Spain announced that they were giving the North Korean ambassadors in their countries until the end of the month to leave in the wake of the North’s increasingly aggressive missile and nuclear warhead tests. The announcements follow a similar move made by Peru, which declared the North Korean ambassador in its country persona non grata last week.
Unmanned tech. China is following the U.S. lead on unmanned ships, announcing the development of an unmanned multirole surface ship made by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. In 2016, the U.S. unveiled the Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vessel developed by Darpa to carry out anti-submarine warfare.
Vacancies. Senate Democrats are telling the Trump administration that now would be a good time to appoint some people to the many unfilled Asia policy positions as the U.S. ratchets up its rhetoric on North Korea. Senate Democrats from the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Foreign Relations committees wrote that the Trump administration needs to hurry up an appoint an ambassador to South Korea, an Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in order to deal with the ongoing problem of North Korean aggression.
Frequently bought together. An investigation by the U.K.’s Channel 4 News finds that buyers purchasing components useful for making homemade bombs from the web retail giant Amazon.com receive helpful suggestions for other necessary bomb ingredients from the site’s “Frequently bought together” algorithm.
Into darkness. In a new graphic the Rand Corporation lets you visualize how areas conquered by the Islamic State went dark over time as electricity became scarcer in the caliphate.
Mais non. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is planning to lobby President Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear agreement during this week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings, saying that “France will try to persuade President Trump of the importance of this choice” and that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement.
Snapchat. The feud between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors has grown to include Snapchat, which has blocked Saudi users from accessing the channel of Qatari-owned news channel Al Jazeera on the social media platform in response to pressure from Saudi Arabia.
No guns for you. The Trump administration has officially nixed the sale of $1.2 million worth of American firearms to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguard service in retaliation for their assault on protesters in Washington, DC during Erdogan’s last visit to the country.
Trade dispute. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s not interested in picking Boeing’s F/A-18 to replacement its aging fleet of fighter jets, saying “we won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and trying to put our aerospace workers out of business.” Boeing has filed a trade dispute against the Canada-based Bombardier, accusing it of dumping artificially cheap passenger jets on the U.S. market. British Prime Minister Theresa May also said she would raise the Boeing case with President Trump this week, complaining about the potential impact on jobs in Northern Ireland where Bombardier has a plant.
Personnel. The Navy fired two more senior officers in response to a series of ship collisions in the Pacific. The service fired Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams and Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, citing a “loss of confidence in their ability to command.”
Troll so hard. The Oxfam America charity has found a creative way to protest President Trump’s anti-refugee policies, renting out Trump’s childhood home in Queens, New York to host refugees from Somalia, Syria, Vietnam while they tell the story of their journey to the United States.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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