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Tight circle of security officials crafted Trump’s Syria warning

U.S . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson | Alex Wong/Getty Images

US national security officials worked on the language in between meetings in a fast-moving effort to send Syria a message.

By 1 and 2

6/28/17, 5:03 AM CET

President Donald Trump s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both arrived at the White House late Monday afternoon, ahead of the Rose Garden ceremony at which Trump and Modi each read a prepared statement . Upon the Cabinet members arrival, according to a senior defense official, they were informed of Trump s plan to issue a public warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, based on new intelligence the Syrian regime3 was preparing another chemical weapons attack on its own people. National security adviser H.R .

McMaster, who also was at the White House for meetings, had already been briefed and had weighed in on the plan, administration sources said. But no stand-alone principals meeting followed to discuss the intelligence, which Trump received Monday morning, according to two senior administration officials. Rather, over the course of the day, officials said, McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson and a few other top officials had the opportunity to work the language of the statement, in between meetings with Modi . None of them expressed any hesitation or disagreement about the decision to issue a public warning, according to one of the senior administration officials.

But a Defense Department official acknowledged that the events were fast-moving and that there were minimal deliberations about the bold move and that only a limited number of top military officials were aware of the new intelligence and planned response. The episode marked another example of ongoing frustration between administration rank-and-file and leadership, which this time could carry serious consequences if the backbiting appears to weaken the U.S . government s resolve in turning up the pressure on Assad.

It hurts American credibility, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official who served under Secretary of State John Kerry . When the Syrian regime sees a report that government officials have no idea, the message to them is that these guys don t have their act together . And if nobody at State knows, it hurts your ability to follow up and have a diplomatic game plan.

But one former Obama administration official shrugged off the issues of communication between the White House and lower-level agency officials.

There s a broader issue here of effective coordination and communication sometimes the president contradicts his own people, Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama s former national security adviser, said in an interview . But I don t think that s the most important issue here . If, in fact, the United States has evidence that they re preparing a chemical attack, laying down a warning that you intend to follow through on is an appropriate thing to do. The careful language of the 87-word statement which was drafted by the afternoon but not released until close to 10 p.m . was cleared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Defense Department before it was blasted out from the press secretary s office.

On Tuesday, the White House insisted that military and State Department officials were not blindsided by the statement, which warned Assad that if he launches another chemical weapons attack, he and his military will pay a heavy price.

In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI were involved in the process from the beginning, the White House said in a statement released Tuesday morning . Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false. Multiple administration officials said people surprised by the statement were simply not senior enough to be clued in and some said they were frustrated that a bold move by Trump, which they believed could save lives, was overshadowed by a side story about leaks and internal disagreements.

The story seems to be about whether or not a public affairs officer on a regional desk at the State Department was notified in what they would consider to be a timely manner, vented a third White House official . If Tillerson knew and some desk officer in the Middle East section didn t know, they need to take that up with Tillerson . It s not their right to know . It s his prerogative if he wants to share the information.

The move, and the frustration were reflective of the Trump administration s approach of making key decisions within a close, inner circle unlike the deliberative, and sometimes paralyzingly inclusive, decision making that defined Obama s process. Despite the confusion and complaints over who was looped in and when, foreign policy experts lauded Trump s choice to make a public statement rather than to try to pressure the Syrian regime through diplomatic back channels. The Trump administration realizes they re being dragged into a very dangerous situation, said Jim Jeffrey, a former U.S .

ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and deputy national security adviser for President George W . Bush . He said the U.S . approach to Assad so far had been a bunch of tit for tats that seemed to have no long-term impact.

The benefit of a public statement is they re now on record as saying, this shall not happen, Jeffrey added . There was a conscious decision made by the people who realize whatever we want to do in the Middle East, we re going to look like fools if they do this again, and we blow up a few more airplanes . We have to react very strongly to them. Trump s own seeming lack of interest in the issue, though, could also diminish the message s effect on Assad.

Instead of using the megaphone of his Twitter feed to amplify the White House statement, marked by his press office as urgent, Trump took to Twitter minutes after its release to harp on one of his personal obsessions . From @FoxNews Bombshell: In 2016, Obama dismissed idea that anyone could rig an American election . Check out his statement Witch Hunt ! the president tweeted.

He s very undisciplined, said Jeffrey . He does this all the time .

That s a separate problem .

But what s clear is that in the end, he goes along with what his top advisers tell him.

Bryan Bender contributed to this report.

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References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ intelligence the Syrian regime (www.politico.eu)

Hamburg police fears ‘violence’ during G20, bolsters security

Police Forces stand guard outside ‘Rote Flora’ after clashing with left wing protesters after a march on May Day in Hamburg, Germany | Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Authorities expect as many as 10,000 far-left activists from across Europe and warn of clashes between Kurdish groups and nationalist Turks.

By 1

6/25/17, 12:23 PM CET

PARIS Police in the German city of Hamburg fear violence from far-left and Turkish groups during an upcoming G20 summit and will deploy thousands of additional officers to fend off rioting, local media reported Sunday. World leaders converge on the southern German city on July 7-8 for a summit whose agenda includes the global economy, U.S . trade protectionism and climate change. As many as 10,000 far-left activists from Italy, France, Greece, Scandinavia and Spain will be there to greet them, according to police officials cited by Welt Am Sonntag2 . Turkish and Kurdish activists are also expected, raising the potential for chaos.

To deal with the threat of rioting and brawls, Hamburg will deploy some 15,000 police officers for the summit with reinforcements due to arrive from other German regions . An additional 5,000 federal officers will also be on site to protect heads of state and government, the paper wrote. Security forces have trained for many scenarios including terrorist attacks.

They also expect clashes between Kurdish groups and nationalist Turks who will be there to support President Recep Tayyip Erdo an.

Kurds could attack nationalist Turks and vice versa, a source told the paper. After a brawl outside of Turkey s embassy3 in Washington, D.C . that involved pro-Erdogan security forces, Germany is taking precautions to avoid similar incidents .

The federal police has informed its Turkish counterpart that security forces from Turkey would not be allowed to operate during the summit, sources told Welt Am Sonntag.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ Welt Am Sonntag (www.welt.de)
  3. ^ brawl outside of Turkey s embassy (thehill.com)

Why foreign aid is critical to US national security

U.S . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In our active duty days, we were honored to help lead the finest fighting force in the world and we strongly support an increase in military spending to maintain the readiness of those forces . But our experiences also taught us that not all foreign crises are solved on the battlefield; in the 21st century, weapons and warfighters alone are insufficient to keep America secure. That s why we support a robust development budget to advance our national security objectives and we are not alone in this belief . This week, we will join 14 other experienced former four-star generals and admirals in submitting testimony to Congress that military power alone cannot prevent radicalization, nor can it, by itself, prevent despair from turning to anger and increasing outbursts of violence and instability . Over the last 15 years, our national experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the Middle East, and now in Africa has shown clearly that development aid is critical to America s national security.

Unfortunately, the administration s budget would cut 32 percent from the budgets of the U.S . Agency for International Development and State Department including a cut of nearly half to development assistance . This is exactly the wrong decision at a time when development efforts in the world s poorest and most fragile countries are needed more than ever . In turn, these severe cuts to USAID would only increase the risk to Americans and to our brave military service members . Congress should reject this dangerous path. Strategic development assistance is not charity; it is an essential, modern tool of U.S .

national security . Foreign assistance should be respected and budgeted as an investment in the enhancement of stability in the world s most vulnerable places, not as a no-strings-attached giveaway to poorer nations. Strategic development assistance is not charity; it is an essential, modern tool of U.S . national security. American security is advanced by the development of stable nations that are making progress on social development, economic growth, and good governance; by countries that enforce the rule of law and invest in the health and education of their own people .

In short, America s interests are served by nations that give their people hope for a more prosperous and safe future. Conversely, American security is undermined by frail and failing nations where hope is non-existent, and where conditions foster radicalism, produce refugees, spark insurgency, and provide safe havens for terrorists, criminal gangs, and human traffickers with global reach. Fighting extremist groups after they emerge as well-trained and well-funded entities is costlier in lives and money than efforts to prevent such groups from forming in the first place . Research suggests that investing in prevention is, on average, 60 times less costly than war and post-conflict reconstruction costs . It is also more difficult .

To prevent the expansion of terrorist groups, states must deprive them of ungoverned territory and the oxygen on which they flourish the belief that the terrorists radical agenda can provide purpose and meaning to the lives of their recruits . That can be a challenge for Western nations, much less for developing ones with weak governance structures. A host of international terrorist groups al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and ISIS, among others have taken root in highly fragile regions and countries with shared characteristics, such as corruption and poor governance, weak institutions, high poverty and inequality, widespread indignity, and low quality of life for ordinary citizens . Local populations frustrated with poor governance and lacking meaningful opportunities to improve their lives or provide for their families are prone to tolerate, if not actively support, extremist groups that challenge government authority or assume the government s role as social-service provider . To combat these groups and prevent such areas from serving as fertile recruiting grounds, training areas, and transit routes for violent extremists, the United States and its allies should become much more proactive in helping address underlying conditions that, left unchecked, invite and foment instability.

Congress can, and should, make America safer with a robust and strategic Phase Zero initiative that engages the U.S . government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to synergistically prevent conflict and promote security, development, and governance rooted in the rule of law . Such an initiative accompanied by other targeted reforms to our foreign assistance programs would fill a dangerous vacuum that military intervention alone simply cannot address . Proactive conflict-prevention strategies are far less expensive in terms of resources and lives expended than reactive use of our Armed Forces. Proactive conflict-prevention strategies are far less expensive in terms of resources and lives expended than reactive use of our Armed Forces.

Development experts under the auspices of USAID, State Department, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other federal agencies must be fully committed to a coherent whole-of-government stability-enhancement strategy that will protect America s interests in the modern security environment while minimizing the exposure of our young men and women to harm s way. The faithful service, courage, and sacrifice of our service members deserves and demands that we address and develop the strongest possible strategy for conflict-prevention that our nation can muster . Cutting the International Affairs budget will hurt our country s ability to stop new conflicts from forming, and will place our interests, values, and the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk . Congress should reject the administration s proposed cuts and instead fully fund the international affairs budget . Our military is counting on it.

Admiral (Ret.) Michael Mullen served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011 .

General (Ret.) James Jones was the commandant of the Marine Corps and served as Supreme Allied Commander-Europe from 2003 to 2006.

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