Foreign Affairs

Gabbard Made Secret Trip to Syria

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) “has just departed war-torn Damascus following a trip her aides described as a ‘fact finding’ mission to work toward ending the nearly six year conflict in Syria,” Foreign Policy reports.

“Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran who drew speculation about an appointment in the Trump administration after she met privately with the president-elect in November, has frequently bucked her party and Washington’s foreign policy establishment in debates over the Syrian conflict.”

McCain Says Putin Is Greater Threat Than ISIS

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Morning Joe that Russian president Vladimir Putin poses a greater threat to the United States than ISIS.

Said McCain: “I think when you look at Russian increasing capabilities and, by the way, they are closing the gap as far as military capabilities is concerned rather dramatically between themselves and the United States.  And that should alarm us all.  But look at his behavior, look at what he has – what he has done.  He has made no bones about what he wants to do.  And he’s done it, but he’s played a very weak hand in the most clever fashion.  He’s got the world’s 15th largest economy and yet he’s now a major player in the Middle East.”

Britain Will Leave the Single European Market

Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain will leave the EU’s single market — but will “seek greatest possible access to it” — as it exits the trade bloc, the New York Times reports.

May said she wanted Britain to be part of a customs union agreement with the other EU states, and remove as many trade barriers as possible. She did not provide details, but said she had an “open mind” on how to do it.

Trump Again Says NATO Is Obsolete

“In comments that are likely to create fresh tensions with the United States’ closest European allies, President-elect Donald J. Trump described NATO as ‘obsolete’ in an interview published on Sunday and said other European nations would probably follow Britain’s lead by leaving the European Union,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Trump has made similar comments before. But the fact that he made them in a joint interview with two European publications — The Times of London and Bild, a German newspaper — and did so days before assuming the presidency alarmed European diplomats.”

Meanwhile, a Russian government spokesman told Sky News that Russia agrees with Trump that NATO is obsolete.

Trump Sees Possible Deal with Putin

President-elect Donald Trump told the Times of London that he was open to working with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a nuclear reduction deal to ease American sanctions.

Politico: “Although Trump’s team Sunday denied a separate Times of London report that his first foreign visit was to be a summit with Putin in Reykjavik, Trump himself revealed an openness to easing sanctions on Russia that the U.S. and NATO allies have imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of territory in Ukraine and Crimea.”

Russia Relationship Is Disturbing Beyond Wild Allegations

Matthew Yglesias: “Allegations now floating around range from the salacious (Russia has Trump sex tapes made at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow) to the serious (using intermediaries, Trump and Russia agreed to an explicit quid pro quo in which Russia would give him electoral help and in exchange he would shift US foreign policy). None of this is proven, and much of it is unprovable (if the FSB has a secret sex tape, how are we going to find it?) but the truth is that these kind of allegations, though difficult to resist, simply shouldn’t matter much compared to what’s in the public record.”

The Big Risk of Inexperience

James Hohmann: “For the first time in American history, both the president and the nation’s chief diplomat are poised to have no prior government, military or legislative experience. This is a recipe for trouble. Rex Tillerson’s shaky performance yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee underscored why.”

“The world was already a tinderbox, and Donald Trump has only contributed to the instability in the two months since he won the election. Russia, which got the outcome it wanted, is emboldened. China is on the march. Democracy is in retreat. The already-wobbly western alliance is in danger.”

Ex-British Spy Fears Reprisals from Russia

A former MI6 officer who produced a dossier making lurid allegations about Donald Trump is “terrified for his safety” after he was unmasked by an American publication, the Telegraph reports.

“Christopher Steele, 52, fled from his home in Surrey on Wednesday morning after realizing it was only a matter of time until his name became public knowledge. A source close to Mr Steele said on Wednesday night that he now fears a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow.”

New York Times: How a sensational, unverified dossier became a crisis for Donald Trump

Mexico Still Not Paying for the Wall

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated “that Mexico would not pay for a border wall between it and the U.S., despite President-elect Donald Trump’s claims to the contrary earlier in the day,” Politico reports.

Said Nieto: “It is evident that we have some differences with the new government of the United States, like the topic of the wall, that Mexico of course will not pay.”

Commission Should Investigate Trump-Russia Ties

Max Boot: “There is only one way to get to the bottom of this tawdry affair: Appoint a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate all of the allegations and issue a public report. The former C.I.A. directors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden, among other possible choices, would provide instant credibility if they were appointed to lead such a panel.”

“If Mr. Trump is genuinely innocent of any untoward connections with the Kremlin, wouldn’t he want a full investigation to clear his name? That he so adamantly opposes any such inquiry speaks volumes.”

“Yet the speculation, which was gaining currency even before the publishing of the dossier by BuzzFeed, isn’t going away. The reason is obvious: Mr. Trump appears to be infatuated with the autocrat in the Kremlin.”

Grassley Says Trump Would Be Immune from Blackmail

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) told WBZ in Boston that he’s not concerned that Russia may have information which could compromise President-elect Donald Trump.

Said Grassley: “It seems to me that when you go back through the campaign and all the things that Trump said that ought to give him political problems and all the things that were caught on tape  —  that he would probably just as soon not have the world know about it  –  it’s kind of improbable to me that anybody who knows anything about Trump  —  that’s going to end up hurting Trump. And he was elected President of the United States.”

Russia Says It Has No Compromising Material on Trump

Russia “denied it has compromising material on Donald Trump, calling a dossier of unverified allegations an ‘absolute fabrication’ and an attempt to damage U.S.-Russian relations,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov: “This is a clear attempt to damage our bilateral relations. Truly, there are those who whip up this hysteria, who will break their necks to support this ‘witch hunt'”

He added that “the Kremlin wasn’t involved in collecting compromising information on anyone, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”

Mike Allen: “Just asking: Would they really tell us if they had the goods on the president-elect?”

FBI Sought Surveillance of Trump Campaign Officials

The Guardian “has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The FISA court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus.”

“According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.”

Officials Say Russia Has Compromising Info on Trump

“Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” CNN reports.

“The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.”

And there’s this: “The two-page document also noted allegations that there was an exchange of information between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government during the campaign, two national security officials told CNN.”

‘Anger Is a Strategy’

The Wall Street Journal offers this insight into Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s negotiating approach:

He spent hours with the company’s negotiating teams, preparing for every potential aspect and plotting tactics, including the theatrical, according to people he worked with.

In a meeting in Yemen in the 1990s, he threw a book and stormed out of talks. The tantrum was preplanned, one person said. “Anger is a strategy, not an emotion,” Mr. Tillerson told colleagues.