How Trump might counter 'Animal Assad'

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the ...

Posted: Apr 9, 2018 11:26 AM
Updated: Apr 9, 2018 11:26 AM

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States. Modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues the President needs to know to make informed decisions.

Here's this week's briefing:

'Animal Assad': Unleashed and undeterred

Reports indicate the Syrian regime, yet again, launched a suspected chemical weapons attack against civilians -- this time in Douma in beleaguered Eastern Ghouta. Douma was the last rebel held foothold in the area, and talks between the rebels and the regime collapsed on Friday.

The Syrian government and its patron, Russia, denied any involvement and said that the rebels in Douma made up the chemical weapons attack to try to increase international involvement in Syria and impede Syrian regime advances.

Sadly, this is a horrifically familiar scene. The regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its people, denied it and continued to maintain the support of Russia and Iran.

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, feels uninhibited -- particularly because options to counter his strength, short of military intervention, are limited. Russia has prevented any real action against Assad at the UN Security Council, where it has used its veto power to impede efforts to hold Assad accountable for his actions, including ending an extended investigation into the regime's potential use of chemical weapons.

The State Department condemned the attack on Saturday evening, and Vice President Mike Pence condemned it on Sunday. Meanwhile, Mr. President, your tweets have garnered quite a bit of attention -- particularly this one: "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad."

The fact is, Assad does not feel deterred from using every tool in his tool box to target civilians, so the immediate question is what kind of action will deter him going forward?

Verbal condemnations are not working. Sanctions against Russia for its support for Assad aren't working (we even sanctioned more Russians for its support for the Syrian regime last week). And almost a year after the US missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to another chemical weapons attack (which Syria also denied), the international community is wondering if another military strike is imminent and if military action is the only thing that Syria, Russia and Iran will respond to.

We now have 2,000 US troops in Syria -- you have said you would like to withdraw them soon -- but their mission is countering ISIS, not fighting the regime. Ambassador John Bolton starts as National Security Advisor on Monday and the National Security Council may propose another strike, additional ground forces or shifting the mission of the existing 2,000 US service members to address chemical weapons' use and asking other countries to devote resources to countering Assad's use of such weapons.

But bear in mind that Russia has mercenaries in Syria -- despite denials -- who have come into contact with US troops, so any military action in Syria could involve confrontation with Russia.

Mexico: We won't be treated like a pi-ata

With the deployment of National Guardsmen to the southern border and with the Mexican presidential race underway, we anticipate more Mexican backlash against a border wall and US suggestions -- including via tweet -- that Mexico is to blame for illegal immigration, cross-border drug flows, crime or the NAFTA "cash cow."

The current President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, issued a video last week in which he said that "If your recent statements are the result of frustration due to domestic policy issues, to your laws or to your Congress, it is to them that you should turn to, not to Mexicans. We will not allow negative rhetoric to define our actions." He referenced the Mexican Senate's unanimous resolution condemning your rhetoric.

Mexican presidential candidates also made statements. The leading candidate in the polls, Andr-s Manuel L-pez Obrador, has said that "neither Mexico nor its people will be treated like a pi-ata by any foreign government." He added that Mexicans will never accept the use of force or militarization of the border and that he will go to the United Nations if you try to build the wall.

Candidate Ricardo Anaya went further, saying Mexico won't be treated like a doormat and calling for Mexico to limit anti-terrorism cooperation as long as the National Guard is on the border.

With the National Guard deploying, efforts to renegotiate NAFTA underway and increasing tensions between our two countries, it is highly likely that Mexican presidential candidates will continue to campaign against your administration's policies. It is also expected that the next Mexican president will be elected, at least in part, because of his anti-Trump agenda, which could have implications for cooperation going forward.

Russian threat matrix: Rinse and repeat

It's going to be another bumpy ride with the Russians this week. We assess that they'll continue to follow their historic pattern of misbehavior: do something wrong, vehemently deny it, accuse others of wrongdoing and try to throw the West off balance.

Just looking at their reaction to Sergei Skirpal, we have our case in point. The international community assesses that it was highly likely that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack against Skirpal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. The international community responded by kicking out Russian diplomats and seizing diplomatic property.

And now Russia has said "with a high degree of probability" that the intelligence services of other countries are behind the attack. Russia even called for a special UN Security Council meeting into the attack (the same council it manipulates to avoid any real action against Syria) and used the meeting to tell the UK it would be sorry for accusing Moscow of the attack.

We also expect Russia to respond to the new US sanctions, issued last week against seven oligarchs, 12 oligarch owned companies, Russian government officials, and the Russian state-owned weapons company.

The Russian PR machine launched into action right after the sanctions were issued and vowed a harsh response. We anticipate that Putin will look for a tit-for-tat response to these most recent sanctions -- perhaps creating his own list of wealthy Americans to sanction. Back in 2014, after the US sanctioned Russian lawmakers for their actions in Crimea, Russia sanctioned 9 US lawmakers.

Sanctioning American businessmen this time around won't actually do much (it will be symbolic) because wealthy Americans don't have a lot of assets in Russia. But it's possible that Russia may also try to up the ante with something that really pulls at the heartstrings of the American people.

Planning for talks with North Korea

News leaked that there are secret talks underway to prepare for a meeting with Kim Jong Un. Reports had first surfaced last month that we are using intelligence channels to communicate with the North Koreans, and there are now more public reports that outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, your new Secretary of State nominee, has been leading our efforts to prepare for a summit through intelligence channels and that he may meet with his North Korean counterpart before a leader-to-leader meeting.

Intelligence channels are the logical way to go because US intelligence officials have been in direct contact with the North Koreans before. In 2014, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper traveled to North Korea and brought home US hostages.

The intel-to-intel channel can be used to work out tricky logistics, like where the meeting is going to take place. The North Koreans unsurprisingly will want the meeting in Pyongyang because Kim has historically not liked to travel (though he did go to China a few weeks ago).

But we should consider saving this trump card for when the North Koreans have actually done something. They have talked about denuclearization, but we have yet to see any freeze on their nuclear program or actual steps. They need to do what it takes to deserve a presidential visit.

If our intelligence professionals think the North Koreans are serious, incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton will lead a complex interagency process to determine North Korean motivations, US goals and red lines for the summit, and our strategy to achieve them. Bolton's reputation as a hawk -- and his public statements about wanting military action against North Korea -- mean he'll have an uphill battle convincing the national security team and the North Koreans that he's running an unbiased process that will give diplomacy a real chance.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312521

Reported Deaths: 5498
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion42641849
Lake27152455
Allen18010298
Elkhart17177221
St. Joseph16799229
Hamilton13011167
Vanderburgh9751120
Tippecanoe858727
Porter827986
Johnson6389165
Hendricks6098157
Vigo608384
Monroe536750
Clark515077
Madison5060122
Delaware4905103
LaPorte465595
Kosciusko462339
Howard344277
Warrick325672
Bartholomew316863
Floyd316277
Wayne307770
Cass299931
Marshall299144
Grant272550
Noble255046
Hancock253852
Henry247537
Boone244554
Dubois237931
Dearborn219030
Jackson215534
Morgan210843
Knox187819
Gibson186925
Shelby182155
Clinton180321
DeKalb177831
Lawrence177648
Adams168222
Miami162614
Wabash162521
Daviess156443
Fayette149234
Steuben147113
Jasper144412
Harrison142924
LaGrange142630
Montgomery142127
Whitley137114
Ripley132115
Huntington127410
Decatur126143
Putnam124627
Randolph124519
Wells124429
White123222
Clay122523
Posey122116
Jefferson118816
Scott109020
Greene102653
Jay99013
Sullivan96416
Starke92021
Jennings85314
Fulton84518
Spencer8378
Perry82521
Fountain7798
Washington7527
Franklin69927
Carroll68613
Orange67328
Vermillion6243
Owen6087
Tipton57627
Parke5706
Newton56312
Rush5438
Blackford53412
Pike50919
Pulaski39515
Martin3585
Brown3424
Benton3402
Crawford2941
Union2702
Switzerland2575
Warren2382
Ohio2317
Unassigned0266

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 382743

Reported Deaths: 6274
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin51161671
Cuyahoga37222743
Hamilton30493372
Montgomery20518236
Butler15199148
Lucas14566417
Summit13933327
Stark9193206
Warren841976
Mahoning7530300
Lake710067
Lorain6690106
Clermont593651
Delaware572537
Licking564577
Trumbull5584147
Fairfield554464
Greene538066
Clark5218101
Allen494989
Marion476759
Medina471657
Wood4598107
Miami437568
Pickaway404048
Portage358972
Columbiana357698
Tuscarawas342667
Richland328539
Wayne327394
Mercer296047
Muskingum252510
Hancock245940
Ross244559
Auglaize236435
Darke232560
Erie230268
Putnam229449
Ashtabula228354
Geauga211851
Scioto200616
Union19668
Shelby194017
Lawrence193039
Athens19134
Seneca182919
Belmont170229
Madison163119
Sandusky157729
Preble156521
Huron155519
Defiance144823
Holmes140439
Logan133517
Knox131718
Fulton128726
Jefferson128613
Crawford126817
Washington125227
Ottawa124530
Clinton109115
Williams10799
Ashland107825
Highland103718
Brown10135
Henry101323
Hardin99719
Champaign9825
Van Wert97318
Jackson96212
Fayette92717
Morrow9202
Guernsey89314
Coshocton85215
Perry82912
Adams80313
Pike7661
Gallia76513
Wyandot73217
Paulding66511
Hocking64516
Noble62224
Carroll48810
Meigs39612
Monroe32321
Morgan2685
Vinton2246
Harrison2193
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 43°
Angola
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 40°
Huntington
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 43°
Decatur
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 43°
Van Wert
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 43°
Mostly Cloudy Black Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events