Fdd's overnight brief

December 21, 2018

In The News


Iran’s nuclear program took precedence in U.S. policy after 2002 as the potential for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon increased. […]The JCPOA reduced the potential threat from Iran’s nuclear program, but did not contain strict or binding limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program; its regional influence; its conventional military programs; or its human rights abuses. – USNI News

Iran on Thursday blamed the United States and Israel for Albania’s expulsion of two Iranian diplomats accused of engaging in criminal activities that threatened the country’s security, The Associated Press reported. – Artuz Sheva

Donald Trump’s snap decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria surprised allies and rivals alike, and has left Israel feeling more vulnerable to threats from its arch-enemy Iran. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon, has already dug tunnels into Israeli territory and benefited from the chaos of Syria’s war by opening up weapons-supply lines from Tehran. – Bloomberg

A Tehran regime intelligence official on Thursday dismissed as “delusional” a statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week that Mossad agents “periodically” visit Iran to “catch up” on its illicit nuclear activities. – Algemeiner

Mike Saidi and Daniel Amir write: The depth and breadth of popular resentment manifested in these protests should also concern the regime deeply. […]The Islamic Republic has entered uncharted waters in the face of this widespread but still relatively disorganized and seemingly leaderless opposition. Its survival is not yet threatened, but the foundations of its popular support may be crumbling. – American Enterprise Institute


The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday failed to officially condemn Hezbollah’s terror tunnels stretching from Lebanon into northern Israel, despite hours of debate and censure from multiple countries. – Ynet

Hezbollah’s role in the Lebanese government stands to widen when it names the new health minister though it will not be putting a party member in the job, sources say, as the United States extends sanctions against the Shi’ite Muslim movement. – Reuters

Hanin Ghaddar writes: Once Hezbollah has formally blurred the line between Beirut’s policies and its own, Lebanon will be even more vulnerable—both to international sanctions and to Iranian-ordered provocations aimed at deflecting international pressure on Tehran. Accordingly, foreign governments should not only place more financial and political pressure on Hezbollah and Iran, but also impose a price on the group’s domestic political allies. Otherwise, these partners will ensure that Hezbollah can use bureaucratic means rather than weapons to enforce its agenda in Lebanon. – Washington Institute


The Pentagon must develop and submit its plan to the White House to pull U.S. troops out of Syria by Wednesday, said officials, who calculated that a full withdrawal could take as long as three months. – Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s defense minister said Thursday that Kurdish forces in Syria would be “buried” in their trenches in any Turkish operation to rout the fighters from the border, just one day after President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. – Washington Post

The Trump administration has not yet decided whether it will continue airstrikes in Syria after American troops depart, a defense official said Thursday, one of several questions officials have scrambled to answer in the wake of the president’s abrupt withdrawal announcement. – Washington Post

Residents of northeastern Syria were bracing Thursday for the fallout of President Trump’s unexpected move to withdraw U.S. troops, a decision that many in the region regard as a betrayal that will reverberate well beyond this corner of Syria. – Washington Post

America’s Kurdish allies in Syria are discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, a prominent monitoring group and a Western official of the anti-Islamic State coalition said on Thursday, a day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all American troops from the country. – New York Times

President Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw forces from Syria presented a rare and unmistakable victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose relationship with the Trump administration has been anything but predictable. – Washington Post

The United States told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that it was committed to the “permanent destruction” of Islamic State in Syria and would keep pushing for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces in the country. – Reuters

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday rejected reports that said senior-level members of President Trump’s administration were not consulted before the president decided to pull troops out of Syria this week. – Washington Examiner

President Trump’s plan to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Syria has triggered disparate responses — from worries in liberated Raqqa and Kurdish-controlled areas to approval from Syrian and Russian officials […]That assessment view has not been accepted universally, however. Several of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict have voiced their opinions on the decision. Here’s roundup of some key players. – NPR

Tommy Meyerson writes: A pullout would harm U.S. interests as well. It would shred America’s credibility as a counterterrorism partner world-wide, while abandoning a strategic area and making it harder to check jihadist, Iranian and Russian ambitions. Mr. Trump should make clear the U.S. stands with the Syrian Kurds and won’t permit a Turkish invasion. No one wants American troops to stay in Syria forever, but U.S. interests and honor demand that they stay for now. – Wall Street Journal

Hugh Hewitt writes: Listen to this general, President Trump, and to your friends who have given you credit where credit has been due[…]. Don’t put all of that at risk with a disastrous decision to invite the return of the Islamic State terrorists you ordered our military to defeat, or the rise of an Iranian-dominated crescent of terrorism and war that will draw tens of thousands of Americans back to the land where they have already secured a stable peace at great cost in lives, wounds and treasure — twice. Stay the course. Keep the peace. – Washington Post

Josh Rogin writes: When the Assad regime and Iran take over eastern Syria, the United States will realize it has made a long-term strategic blunder. But in the shorter term, millions of Syrians will suffer. The Assad regime, Russia and Iran are their killers, but Trump’s tweet sealed their fate. – Washington Post

Marc A. Theissen writes: A U.S. withdrawal from Syria will not only remove the pressure on the Islamic State, but it will also create a vacuum in Syria that will be filled by the world’s worst actors. Al-Qaeda, which has been rebuilding its capabilities while watching the United States weaken its Islamic State rival, will now have a haven. – Washington Post

Ishaan Tharoor writes: This marks a huge turn in Ankara’s fortunes. Over the course of the war in Syria, Turkey has been both a clumsy meddler and calamitous bystander. Erdogan was once bent on the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and tacitly enabled support for rebel militias and jihadist groups fighting Assad’s regime. – Washington Post

Hassan Hassan writes: The next stage in the fight against isis requires more political management than kinetic operations, and the U.S. could benefit from a rebranding of the campaign to better define what it takes to ensure the enduring defeat of isis in the coming years. […]The new phase should involve multi-country security support to eradicate isis cells and counter its insurgency tactics, a political strategy to manage the transition and resolve differences among competing forces such as Turkey and the Kurds, and economic cooperation to rebuild destroyed areas. – The Atlantic

Alex Lockie writes: For Trump, it seems he’s happy to make ISIS other countries’ problems and abandon the doomed concept of “forever war” in Syria, which would be a means to contain Iran. […]Trump’s withdrawal certainly solidifies a military victory in Syria for Putin, who saved Syrian President Bashar Assad from near certain defeat in 2015. But Trump by no means “gave” Syria to Putin. – Business Insider


A special Russian delegation arrived in Israel on Wednesday, as part of Moscow’s efforts to ease tensions between the two countries following the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian forces in September, during an attempt to repel an Israeli airstrike.  – Ynet

The European Union announced on Thursday it would commit a further 20 million euros ($23 million) to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in 2019, i24news reports. – Arutz Sheva

Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian at a roadblock in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the Palestinian health ministry said. The Israeli military, in a statement that made no mention of any casualties, said a vehicle broke through the roadblock and soldiers opened fire. It said it was investigating the incident, which occurred at night near the Palestinian city of Ramallah. – Reuters

The Israeli military on Thursday began to seal off four tunnels that it said had been dug by the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah under the border from Lebanon. – Reuters

The Ramallah-based BDS International Committee had its online donation account frozen on suspicion of ties to terrorism by its fundraising site Donorbox, according to a Ministry of Strategic Affairs report on Friday. – Jerusalem Post

IDF forces, together with the Shin Bet and the Border Police, mapped out the homes of the two Barghouti brothers for demolition late Thursday night, according to an IDF spokesperson. – Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cancellation last month of a visit to Albania could have been related to a possible plot against him, Albanian media reported Thursday, in the aftermath of the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and another diplomat from the country, reportedly over a plot to target the Israeli national soccer team. – Times of Israel

Middle East & North Africa

The Trump administration has given Iraq permission to buy Iranian natural gas without penalty for at least three more months, after pledges from Baghdad to buy American oil and energy technology, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. – Wall Street Journal

An Egyptian court acquitted 41 American, European and Egyptian employees of groups that promoted democracy and media freedom on Thursday, bringing an end to a seven-year case that was a thorn in relations with the United States and had become emblematic of the official backlash against civil society following the Arab Spring protests of 2011. – New York Times

The authorities in Morocco said on Thursday that three more suspects had been arrested in the killings of two Scandinavian tourists in the Atlas Mountains, in what Danish officials suggested was an act of terror linked to the Islamic State. – New York Times

The U.N. Security Council called a vote for Friday on a resolution that would authorize the use of U.N. monitors to observe the implementation of a cease-fire in Yemen’s important port of Hodeida and the withdrawal of rival forces from that area – Associated Press

A year after the Iraqi parliament voted to strip Palestinians of the equal-rights status they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, Palestinians living in Iraq feel marginalized and vulnerable. – Reuters

Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday the creation of three new government bodies aimed at improving the country’s intelligence operations in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has sparked international outrage. – Reuters

Nancy Okail writes: The Egyptian government has started taking steps in the right direction: First, the retrial and then, in October, President Sisi announced his intention to change the law on nongovernmental organizations. A committee is supposed to submit a new draft next month to the cabinet before it goes to Parliament. I hope such amendments would really allow human rights and democracy organizations in Egypt to do their work and hold the government accountable without being intimidated, prosecuted or jailed. – New York Times

Anna Borshchevskaya and Catherine Cleveland write: The Middle East is an expanding nexus of Russian influence, a challenge to both regional stability and U.S. interests. In light of this, a thorough understanding of the subtleties of Moscow’s strategies, including information manipulation, becomes vitally important. […]in many ways it appears that Arabic-speaking audiences have been prioritized over Western audiences in terms of Russia’s propaganda efforts. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s recent diplomatic steps, including leader Kim Jong Un’s historic summit meetings with President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, have had little effect on the lives of ordinary residents. Some still risk everything to flee. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration’s special envoy for North Korea on Friday expressed optimism about the diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear crisis, a day after the North issued a surprisingly blunt statement saying it will never disarm unless the United States removes what it calls a nuclear threat. – Associated Press

The United States has agreed to help South Korea send flu medication to North Korea, a South Korean official said on Friday, after the United States said it would help deliver aid to the North despite stalled nuclear talks. – Reuters

North Korea said it will never unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons unless the United States first removes what Pyongyang called a nuclear threat. The surprisingly blunt statement jars with Seoul’s rosier presentation of the North Korean position and could rattle the fragile trilateral diplomacy to defuse a nuclear crisis that last year had many fearing war. – Associated Press

Shocked members of Congress are now worried that President Trump may order the same kind of precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as he just did in Syria. […]But the president’s bipartisan critics in Congress might do well to focus on another part of the world where the president is frustrated that he can’t bring American troops home, South Korea. – Washington Examiner


Fresh U.S. accusations of cyber thieving by China add to friction between the countries, though both sides show signs of trying to contain the damage while trade talks are under way. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration exerted further pressure Thursday on Beijing, unsealing criminal charges against two Chinese citizens allegedly tied to a state-sponsored campaign to steal sensitive information from businesses and several U.S. government agencies, including the Navy. – Wall Street Journal

China confirmed authorities are holding a Canadian woman for working illegally in the country, the third Canadian that Beijing has acknowledged detaining since Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecommunications executive this month. – Wall Street Journal

Huawei Technologies Co., whose products have been targeted as a national security risk by the U.S. and other governments, faces a new hurdle: reduced access to the global financial system. Two banks that helped power the Chinese company’s rise as a global technology supplier, HSBC Holdings HSBC 1.59% PLC and Standard Chartered STAN -0.44% PLC, won’t provide it with any new banking services or funding after deciding that Huawei is too high risk, people familiar with those decisions said. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump has enacted a law that requires the State Department to punish Chinese officials who bar American officials, journalists and other citizens from going freely to Tibetan areas in China’s far west. – New York Times

The Chinese government lashed out Thursday at recent U.S. media reports about forced labor of mostly ethnic Muslim detainees in China’s far western Xinjiang region. – Associated Press

Editorial: FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that hackers aren’t “just Chinese officials with epaulettes on their uniforms. These are state-owned enterprises […]These aren’t rogue hackers. They are part of a systematic Chinese effort to rob the West’s technological secrets, military and economic. Like the global shunning of Huawei, the charges mean the U.S. is starting to get serious about showing Beijing there is a price to be paid for refusing to obey the rules of free global commerce. Don’t stop until the Chinese behavior stops. – Wall Street Journal

Eswar Prasad writes: With significant support inside China, the prospect of a trade deal early in the new year is real. The United States won’t get all it asks for. China is not about to abandon its state-owned enterprises, although it may be willing to subject them to greater market discipline. The best outcome for negotiations is that tariffs imposed by the United States won’t get higher and broader. So the expectation is that any deal will lead to a cessation of further hostilities but not a rollback of trade sanctions. – New York Times


A day after a contested decision to pull American military forces from Syria, officials said Thursday that President Trump has ordered the start of a reduction of American forces in Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

The discussions included representatives from the U.A.E., the host country; Saudi Arabia; and Pakistan — the only three nations that recognized the Taliban regime before it was toppled by the American invasion in 2001 and that still have varying degrees of influence over the insurgent group. – New York Times

Afghanistan – not Syria – has been the primary focus of the air wing embarked aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) since the carrier strike group entered U.S. 5th Fleet in early December, USNI News has learned. – USNI News

Afghan peace talks held in the United Arab Emirates will yield “very positive results by the beginning of next year”, the Saudi ambassador to Washington said on Thursday, adding to hopes of progress to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. – Reuters

Three years ago, the Taliban branded two of Afghanistan’s largest private television networks “intelligence outfits” and declared their employees legitimate targets[…]. Months later, in January 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a minibus and killed seven employees of Tolo TV, one of the networks that was threatened. On December 19, the other television network, 1TV, conducted a live telephone interview with the Taliban’s main spokesman – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kamran Bokhari writes: There’s a serious disconnect in timing between the U.S. need for a quick deal in Afghanistan[…] and jihadists’ political evolution, which remains extremely uncertain. Washington should avoid the strategy it used to get out of Iraq, rushing a political settlement while leaving critical details to be determined later. Doing so will only work to the advantage of the Taliban, which is hoping to gain international legitimacy without having to reform significantly. Negotiations may seem hard; true peace will be harder still. – Bloomberg


The abrupt resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sparked concern among Asia-Pacific allies who credit the retired general with building trust and tempering isolationist impulses, regional officials and analysts said on Friday. – Reuters

The governor of Indonesia’s Papua province has called for an end to a hunt for separatist rebels who killed at least 16 workers this month, saying villagers were being traumatized and should be allowed celebrate Christmas in peace. – Reuters

Malaysia is seeking $7.5 billion in reparations from Goldman Sachs Group Inc over its dealings with scandal-linked state fund 1MDB, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing the country’s finance minister. – Reuters


Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. for triggering a new arms race and raising the threat of a nuclear war, slamming Washington for abandoning Cold War-era missile treaties even as he boasted of Moscow’s plans to develop new weapons. – Wall Street Journal

The Russian operation to influence Americans through social media included an effort to persuade business owners to buy into a marketing campaign and turn over private information, an examination by The Wall Street Journal found. – Wall Street Journal

Russia’s media regulator said on Friday it would carry out checks to determine if the BBC World News channel and BBC internet sites complied with Russian law, a move it described as a response to British pressure on a Russian TV channel. – Reuters

Russia has conducted another successful test of its ship-based hypersonic missile, a weapon the United States is currently unable to defend against, according to two people with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report. – CNBC

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that people tend to underestimate the threat of nuclear war. – Washington Examiner

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Without the emotional highs of re-election and a major sporting event, Putin will face a hard struggle against a completely alienated West, even as he tries to maintain a foothold in the Middle East and Africa and keep finances at home stable enough to withstand shocks from sanctions and he deals with a weakening oil price. With no spectacular achievements on the horizon, the autocrat’s fading appeal won’t be easy to restore, and factions within the regime preparing for the post-Putin era are likely to become bolder and more visible. – Bloomberg


Authorities took the dramatic step Thursday of grounding flights all day at one of Europe’s busiest airports, upending plans for more than 100,000 passengers, after what they said was a deliberate attempt to use drones to disrupt travel. – Wall Street Journal

Greece, Cyprus and Israel said on Thursday they are ready to proceed with a U.S.-backed pipeline project that would transfer natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. […]The EastMed pipeline would bring gas from the sea between Israel and Cyprus to European Union markets via Greece. If construction goes ahead, it would spell the end for an alternative pipeline route for Israeli gas via Turkey. EastMed is expected to be 2,000 kilometers long. – Wall Street Journal

Western officials say Russia’s goal in trying to influence other countries’ politics is to undermine faith in democracy. On that score, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday effectively declared mission accomplished. His main target was Britain, where politicians are locked in a bitter struggle over how — and whether — to implement the result of the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. – Washington Post

The Netherlands is considering referring Russia to an international court after reaching an impasse with the Kremlin over responsibility for shooting down a civilian airliner over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people, many of them Dutch citizens. – New York Times

U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Serbia and Kosovo to secure a “historic” deal that would bring “long-sought” peace to the Balkan region — a sign that Washington is willing to take a more active role in mediating between the two wartime foes. – Associated Press

Britain’s media regulator Ofcom said on Thursday Russian broadcaster RT had broken impartiality rules in news and current affairs programs aired in March and April, including coverage of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. – Reuters

A man has been arrested in Sweden on suspicion of terrorism-related crimes after an explosion on Thursday at a school in the south of the country, police said. – Reuters

The Trump administration is claiming early success in its efforts to get Europe to divest itself from Russian energy, saying recent export agreements with Poland are just the beginning. […]“We are starting to see the European Parliament, in particular, take action,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. – Washington Examiner

Fareed Zakaria writes: But are things really so gloomy? As Politico’s Matthew Karnitschnig points out, support for the E.U. is at its highest level in decades. And on closer examination, while the forces of populism continue to surge in some places, the story of the past few months has mostly been one of pushback. Consider Poland and Hungary, in many ways the poster children for the populist-nationalist movement. – Washington Post

Joseph C. Sternberg writes: The real threat to the EU will come when someone figures out how to build public support for what comes after welfare—which can only be a return to economic dynamism and the small state. Brussels won’t be able to withstand that sort of political pressure, and if and when the moment comes, the EU will deserve at last to wither. – Wall Street Journal

The Americas

President Donald Trump is signing into law a bill to cut off resources to the government of Nicaragua and provides sanctions against countries that assist the Central American nation. – Associated Press

Cuba has reinserted the goal of “advancing toward a communist society” into the draft of the country’s new constitution after its removal from the first version had sparked concern among thousands of citizens, state-run television said on Thursday. – Reuters

The Nation of Islam defiantly defended its government-funded work teaching religion to federal prisoners on Thursday, calling the program “a great benefit and blessing to the American Penal System.” – Washington Examiner

Cyber Security

Facebook and Twitter said on Thursday they had removed accounts and fake news pages linked to the Bangladesh government which had posted anti-opposition content, days ahead of an election in the South Asian nation. – Reuters

A former security chief for the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee was sentenced on Thursday to two months in jail for lying to investigators about his contacts with journalists. – Reuters

Mark Zuckerberg kicked off 2018 with a promise: He was going to fix Facebook. […]Over the last 12 months, the Silicon Valley tech giant has lurched from scandal to crisis, barely recovering from one self-inflicted wound before the next damaging report drops. Its issues have been varied: Some have landed it in hot water with lawmakers, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while some have literally been matters of life and death — like the social network’s role in spreading hate speech that fueled genocide in Myanmar. – Business Insider

Erin Dunne writes: Lapses in cybersecurity have real and serious consequences for the U.S. and its allies. The president should champion fixing them and mitigating a real national security threat rather than pursuing a vanity project like the border wall. – Washington Examiner


After months of deliberating how to stand up a Space Force, a sixth branch of the military proposed by President Donald Trump, Pentagon leaders have decided to funnel the new organization under the Department of the Air Force, Defense News has learned. – Defense News

As we look to 2019, a handful of programs will see some overdue movement in the first part of the year. Among them is the Improved Turbine Engine Program — the U.S. Army’s effort to to design and develop a new engine to power both existing helicopters and the vehicles developed as part of the Future Vertical Lift program. – Defense News

The U.S. Army has chosen to move forward with the Iron Fist Light active protection system for its Bradley Fighting Vehicle, after evaluating the APS’ ability to be installed on the vehicle. – Defense News

Geoffery S. Corn and Rachel E. VanLandingham write: So when can our soldiers justifiably, hence lawfully, kill a suspected Taliban bomb-maker? Golsteyn himself recently suggested that if he is guilty of murder for killing an individual he believed would engage in future violence against U.S. and coalition partners, then American drone operators should also be prosecuted for killing those labeled as “unknown insurgent[s].” – USA Today

Ben Connable and Micheal Mcnerney write: Recent Army thinking on will to fight makes a similar case. The Army argues that, “Fundamentally, all war is about changing human behavior.” The consequences of ignoring these arguments can be severe. Failure to appreciate will to fight can and sometimes does contribute to tactical or strategic defeat. – War on the Rocks

Long War

U.S. allies in Europe face a continuing “significant threat” of terrorist attacks from Islamic extremists, even as terrorism is taking a back seat in U.S. security planning that increasingly focuses on challenges from China and Russia, according to a report due for publication this week. – Wall Street Journal

A French jihadist suspected of helping the brothers who carried out the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings has been arrested in Djibouti and is awaiting transfer to France, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Friday. – Reuters

Moroccan authorities said on Thursday that four suspects in the murder of two female Scandinavian tourists in the Atlas Mountains had pledged allegiance to Islamic State before the killings. – Reuters

Tom Rogan writes: The relentless targeting of ISIS leaders, especially those involved in the group’s foreign direct action wing, damaged the group’s ability to conduct spectacular attacks in the vein of the Paris 2015 assault. Perhaps more importantly, these ground operations threw ISIS off balance, forcing its leaders to move around more regularly rather than sit in position developing their plans. There was also a poetic justice to these actions. […]As with Bosnia, history will be kind to the U.S. and British special forces communities here. – Washington Examiner

Emily Estelle writes: The Islamic State is not defeated in Syria, as the Trump administration asserted this week. The Islamic State is also alive and well in Africa. Militants affiliated with or inspired by the Islamic State have developed footholds across the continent, especially in regions facing instability, conflict, and poor governance. – American Enterprise Institute

Trump Administration

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would resign at the end of February after President Trump ordered the drawdown of all troops from Syria and many from Afghanistan, because his views no longer “aligned” with the president’s, an abrupt departure of a military figure considered a stalwart of national security. – Wall Street Journal

A senior Justice Department ethics official concluded acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker should recuse from overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe examining President Trump, but advisers to Whitaker recommended the opposite and he has no plans to step aside, people familiar with the matter said. – Washington Post

Abrupt plans for U.S. troop pullouts from Syria and Afghanistan and the departure of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are raising fresh concerns among U.S. allies about a new phase of volatility in Washington’s military posture and foreign policy. – Wall Street Journal

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker chose not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation even though a top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an “abundance of caution,” a senior official said Thursday. – Associated Press

J Kael. Watson writes: The great risk today, almost two years after the Senate voted 99 to 1 to confirm Mr. Mattis, is that an overtly political person will take his place. The likelihood of a new Pentagon chief who prioritizes loyalty to a president over loyalty to the ideals and values of the country could signal a renewed willingness to blur lines in the moral conduct of American foreign policy.- New York Times

Eli Lake writes: This resignation, though, is different. As I wrote two months ago, Mattis provided Trump with a powerful shield. Whatever you thought of his views, Mattis embodied military virtue and the spirit of public service. As long as he served the president, reluctant Republicans could point to the Pentagon and say: If Mattis supports Trump, then so do I. […]They can no longer do that. – Bloomberg

John Podhoretz writes: The Mattis resignation signals Trump’s maturation as a foreign policy leader in the sense that he no longer seems to feel he needs to listen to anyone about the unintended consequences of his actions. He is taking the reins. But he’s never ridden a horse. – Commentary Magazine