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: 666516

Reported Deaths: 12726
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion912711659
Lake48687890
Allen36102644
Hamilton32445398
St. Joseph30306514
Elkhart25510420
Vanderburgh21326382
Tippecanoe20220205
Johnson16466363
Porter16068281
Hendricks15944302
Clark12060182
Madison11799323
Vigo11685234
Monroe10419164
Delaware9891179
LaPorte9831199
Howard9112201
Kosciusko8597111
Bartholomew7522147
Hancock7462134
Warrick7451153
Floyd7263173
Wayne6661192
Grant6462158
Boone616691
Morgan6129128
Dubois5936112
Dearborn551270
Cass5485100
Marshall5451105
Henry542995
Noble513178
Jackson465567
Shelby463391
Lawrence4195113
Gibson405185
Harrison403265
Clinton397553
Montgomery391684
DeKalb387478
Miami358263
Knox357885
Whitley351238
Huntington349477
Steuben340055
Putnam333960
Wabash333176
Ripley327962
Adams325449
Jasper319143
White298152
Jefferson296274
Daviess285996
Fayette272756
Decatur271688
Greene262680
Posey261432
Wells259075
Scott251850
LaGrange242470
Clay241644
Randolph226077
Spencer219430
Jennings216744
Washington213027
Sullivan203739
Fountain202842
Starke189951
Owen183654
Fulton179737
Jay178728
Carroll176919
Perry174036
Orange171451
Rush165622
Vermillion161543
Franklin159935
Tipton149541
Parke140216
Pike128533
Blackford120627
Pulaski107644
Newton96832
Brown95340
Benton92413
Crawford92213
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54211
Unassigned0427

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 977736

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1129551251
Cuyahoga968561881
Hamilton738821067
Montgomery47506923
Summit40668831
Butler35827531
Lucas35779720
Stark29581826
Warren22574275
Lorain22190424
Mahoning19578551
Lake18545332
Clermont18519205
Delaware16597121
Licking15089194
Fairfield14644188
Trumbull14423424
Greene13659221
Medina13517237
Clark12376256
Wood11656170
Portage11127172
Allen10820216
Richland10372188
Miami10059194
Muskingum8238117
Columbiana8168210
Pickaway8094111
Tuscarawas8075232
Marion8020127
Wayne7933199
Erie6961146
Ross6173132
Geauga6114142
Hancock6030121
Scioto600488
Ashtabula5998154
Lawrence527586
Union516341
Darke5052116
Belmont4999137
Huron4859108
Jefferson4836137
Sandusky4798112
Washington474396
Seneca4734111
Athens466149
Mercer459781
Auglaize456582
Shelby442679
Knox4054105
Putnam400593
Madison395455
Fulton383161
Ashland382683
Brown374852
Defiance373788
Crawford360098
Logan357373
Preble353987
Clinton342455
Highland328451
Ottawa325371
Williams303568
Jackson291846
Champaign290949
Guernsey288845
Perry271148
Fayette269943
Morrow261437
Henry247861
Hardin247359
Holmes244497
Coshocton240756
Van Wert230157
Gallia223938
Adams218239
Pike217228
Wyandot212450
Hocking195054
Carroll182143
Paulding161034
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117237
Morgan102120
Harrison100731
Vinton76613
Unassigned00
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