Trump’s New Deportation Rules Will Have a Harsh Effect in Mexico

On January 25, President Trump signed two executive orders laying out new rules to treat unauthorized immigrants on the US-Mexico border and within the US. On Monday, Homeland Security issued memos on how to implement them.

This is all very much consistent with Trump’s campaign promises regarding immigration and Mexico. Having said that, from Mexico’s point of view there are some things to consider, particularly given that Homeland Security is planning to send people back “to the territory from which they came”, regardless of their nationality and without a resolution from immigration courts. This means that the US would be sending hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central and South America, and even from Haiti, Cuba, and Africa, back to Mexico.

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Dangers of Un-Leadership

It is still early in the administration of Donald Trump (has it really only been a month?) and fortunately there haven’t been any serious foreign policy crises yet. But that is not to say that all is well in the national security offices of the executive branch. Disturbing and dangerous signs are visible that President Trump has no idea what he is doing, makes up policy on the fly, likely based on whatever cable news show he last watched, and ignores his cabinet and policy advisers, forcing them to either contort policy around Trump’s tweets and outbursts or to clean up the mess from what he has unwittingly done. Meanwhile, Trump spends much of his time on the links and trying to hide his golf outings from the press.

This is an echo of the offer that was allegedly made to John Kasich during the campaign that if he became vice president he would be in charge of making policy and running the country while the president focused on “making America great again.” But it is, in fact, much much worse.

Everything that the president says matters. His words are parsed and scrutinized by everyone from friends to allies to enemies. When the president does not, will not, and cannot lead effectively and efficiently it causes chaos and uncertainty, neither of which are desirable in foreign policy. While surprise is good on the battlefield, it is bad in geopolitics, where wars can erupt over misunderstandings and where delicate policy negotiations can be undone by one errant remark. Trump’s “un-leadership” is endangering not just US national security but the peace and stability that the international system has long enjoyed.

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H.R. McMaster

The president has just announced that LTG H.R. McMaster will be his new National Security Adviser, and Keith Kellogg will stay on as the chief of staff of the NSC Staff.
I will admit that I had bet against McMaster agreeing to do this, at least in part because I couldn’t imagine him agreeing to the kinds of staffing restrictions we heard about with the offer to Harward. So, either the staffing restrictions have been eased, or McMaster feels that having some influence over national security policy is important enough that he will swallow the restrictions … or he is betting that once he is in, he will be able to get his way.

McMaster is an intelligent guy, and by all accounts a great leader, which will be very important in an NSC Staff that appears to be in some disarray. He is likely to get along well with Secretary Mattis. The big questions are the same ones that would have come up for anyone who took this post: what role will Steve Bannon play? How will they get along? Where will McMaster fit in the White House inner circle that appears to be doing most of the policy-making, of which Flynn was an important part? McMaster does not have the personal relationship with the president that Flynn had; will he have much influence? How many of his own people will McMaster be allowed to bring in? Will he be allowed to choose his own deputy? K T McFarland has indicated that she has been asked to stay …

Carrie Lee has interviewed McMaster and has just put out a series of tweets on what she thinks this appointment means. She notes that McMaster is an innovative thinker, but still in many ways a traditional Army officer.

McMaster’s decision is coming as a surprise to a lot of the security and defense community who know him, but this is a man who believes strongly in speaking truth to power, and I can only guess that he feels it is his duty to both his country and the men and women in uniform to try to influence policy as much as he can. It will be interesting to see how much influence he is able to exercise; keep your eyes on personnel changes at NSC/Staff over the next weeks.

Flynn Fallout

The bottom line is that, when a vacuum opens up, someone wants to fill it. And when there are multiple people with competing interests trying to fill it, there will be a power struggle.

I had barely posted my note about Flynn’s NSC and the Trump administration’s potential problems with pushing through arms sales to the Saudis when the word came in that Flynn was resigning. Several people have asked what the implications of this might be, so here are my initial thoughts.

This is certain to make an already unsettled NSC staff even more unsettled. Flynn, regardless of what anyone thinks of him, was the one who was providing direction and guidance to the NSC staff. With him gone, uncertainty about policy, the status of initiatives that are already underway, and frankly the safety of people’s jobs will skyrocket. Although Kellogg, the acting NSA, is reportedly under consideration to take on the job officially, he is a Flynn hire, and may not be asked to stay (see below on power struggles). A significant number of staffers were brought in by Flynn on the strength of personal connections, and if a new NSA is brought in (we’re hearing that the front-runner is retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, and the third name under consideration is David Petraeus), he will want to bring in his own people. Again, it is hardly unusual for there to be a lot of personnel turnover during an administration transition, but this is an unusual and unnecessary level of turmoil, and the whole world can see it.

The fact that Flynn was clearly a close advisor to Trump indicates that there will be a power vacuum, and there will be several people looking to take advantage of that: Continue reading “Flynn Fallout”

How To Sell Weapons to Saudi Arabia (Hint: you have to let Congress know)

In the Sunday edition of the New York Times, there was a story in which it was alleged that the National Security Council Staff was in much more disarray than is normal even for a new administration.

I want to focus on just one point in that NYT story, though, because it’s a point that may have escaped a lot of readers:

“Two people with direct access to the White House leadership said Mr. Flynn was surprised to learn that the State Department and Congress play a pivotal role in foreign arms sales and technology transfers. So it was a rude discovery that Mr. Trump could not simply order the Pentagon to send more weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

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A Few Thoughts on the 9th Circuit’s Decision

A few thoughts on yesterday’s decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in State of Washington v Trump:

  • Just so everyone is clear (I’ve seen some mischaracterizations of what happened), the court did not strike down the executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim countries for 90 days and refugees for 120 days and barring all refugees from Syria indefinitely. Rather, the court declined to lift the suspension imposed by federal judge James Robart.
  • The court did not find that the administration does not have the power to suspend visas to countries deemed by the president to present significant national security threats.
  • The court did find that states can get standing to sue over immigration restrictions. Standing–the right to claim injury in order to be allowed to bring suit–is notoriously difficult to “get” in national security cases.However, the court found that:

the States have alleged harms to their proprietary interests traceable to the Executive Order. The necessary connection can be drawn in at most two logical steps: (1) the Executive Order prevents nationals of seven countries from entering Washington and Minnesota; (2) as a result, some of these people will not enter state universities, some will not join those universities as faculty, some will be prevented from performing research, and some will not be permitted to return if they leave. And we have no difficulty concluding that the States’ injuries would be redressed if they could obtain the relief they ask for: a declaration that the Executive Order violates the Constitution and an injunction barring its enforcement.

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Update on Iran’s Missile Tests

Several people have, either in the comments on the original post or on Facebook, asked about the US’s response to the Iranian missile test on Sunday, January 29. On Friday, February 3, the Trump administration levied sanctions against 13 individuals and 12 companies associated with Iran’s missile program. This was followed by a war of words, with President Trump and National Security Adviser Flynn warning Iran about further tests and telling Iran that they had it easy under President Obama, while Iran called out Trump as an “inexperienced person.” The sanctions are rather limited, as they do not touch Iran’s $16 billion deal with Boeing and aren’t significantly more punishing that the sanctions regime already in place.

So, what did Iran likely learn from these events? Given that they conducted a series of missile tests on Saturday, February 4, the day after the imposition of the new sanctions, it’s likely that they learned–rightly or wrongly–that the Trump administration is lots of bluster but is ultimately nothing to fear. True, the most recent missile launches were conducted entirely within Iranian sovereign airspace, making them less problematic for the international community. But the test should still be seen as an act of defiance.

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