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NYT: Trump has spoken repeatedly to advisors about withdrawing from NATO

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We should flag this NYT piece as a heads-up, so that it doesn’t come as too much of a shock when the decision to withdraw from NATO is eventually made.

Although it wouldn’t be a shock in any meaningful sense at this point, would it? To the contrary: Trump’s antipathy to NATO is so patent and longstanding that it’d be surprising if his presidency ends without him trying to withdraw from the treaty. The recent one-two punch of retreat from Syria (quickly) and Afghanistan (more slowly) fills the mind with thoughts of further withdrawals to come. And no candidate for that is so obvious as his favorite whipping boy in Brussels. A strong NATO and a strong Russia is an either/or proposition. Trump’s preference on that question has always been clear.

If you thought the release of the Mueller report was shaping up to be a sh*tstorm of unprecedented magnitude now, imagine some sort of formal allegation of collusion being made while POTUS is busy trying to cripple the chief deterrent to Russian expansionism in Europe.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set…

Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said. With a weakened NATO, they said, Mr. Putin would have more freedom to behave as he wishes, setting up Russia as a counterweight to Europe and the United States.

An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said — essentially, doing the Russian leader’s hardest and most critical work for him…

[J]ust when officials think the issue of NATO membership has been settled, Mr. Trump again brings up his desire to leave the alliance.

Normally when the Times drops something splashy and Russia-related on him, POTUS runs to Twitter to call it fake news. I note with interest that there’s no tweet denying this story as of 2:30 ET.

This line made me laugh: “When Mr. Trump first raised the possibility of leaving the alliance, senior administration officials were unsure if he was serious.” Some of the Times’s sources compared it to his endless chatter about seizing Iraq’s oil as “compensation” for ousting Saddam but I don’t think the two are analogous. To follow through on the latter would present all sorts of knotty problems, starting with what to do when the Iraqi government says no. Withdrawing from NATO is something he could attempt to do via a pen stroke.

And there’s no warning about when that stroke might come. Trump similarly grumbled to aides off and on through his first year in office about their delays in launching the trade war he wanted. Then, one morning last year, he woke up and declared to the public that steel and aluminum tariffs were on the way. NATO withdrawal will proceed the same way, I’m sure. There’ll be no lengthy logistical deliberations with the Pentagon, no roundtable sessions with Bolton and Pompeo and Shanahan about the pros and cons. Trump doesn’t like face-to-face confrontation, and pushing his team to pull out of NATO would get him plenty of that. The way this’ll happen is that he’ll be on the toilet one morning and decide that today’s the day. The fateful tweet will go out and advisors at the White House and Pentagon will be left to decide whether to resign in protest Mattis-style or scramble to implement the policy.

I think the eventual polling when he tries to withdraw will look a lot like the polling right now on the wall. In fact, to some extent it already does. Note the Democratic trend line from this Pew survey taken in 2017:

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That Democratic spike is due in part no doubt to anger at Putin for meddling in the 2016 campaign but partly too it’s being driven by a backlash to Trump. He was a NATO skeptic on the trail that year, they hate him, so naturally they’ve rediscovered NATO’s virtues to counter him. Democratic feelings about a border wall have developed in much the same way. What the poll above doesn’t capture, though, is the inevitable Republican cave-in on NATO when POTUS finally pulls the plug and the right goes into wagon-circling mode. That’ll be wall-like too, as Republican support for a border wall has strengthened as Trump has dug in. Eventually, I think, we’ll end up with polling on NATO looking a lot like polling on Trump’s job approval. A majority of the public will support staying in the treaty, with Democrats overwhelmingly in favor and Republicans strongly but less overwhelmingly opposed. (There’ll be a hawkish minority within the GOP that continues to back NATO, after all.)

But maybe I’m underestimating American voters’ skepticism. NATO is a prisoner of its own success: Because it’s been so useful in checking Russian ambitions, it’s easy for younger voters especially to conclude that Russia has no ambitions. A mostly peaceful Europe and a Russia “content” to nibble at Ukraine is simply How The World Is. Why should we continue to pour money into an unnecessary hedge against that, particularly when European partners aren’t meeting their defense-spending obligations? I figure apologists for withdrawal will divide into four groups once it happens. There’ll be the group that wants whatever Trump wants, irrespective of the merits; there’ll be the group that thinks Russia simply isn’t a threat (and also sees no application of NATO potentially to Chinese expansionism); there’ll be the group that concedes Russia is a threat but believes NATO without the United States is very much equal to the task; and, my favorite, there’ll be the group that thinks a little more Russian-fascist influence over the godless leftists in western Europe might be good for everyone.

Put them all together, though, and support for withdrawal will still be a minority position. Within Congress too: Although any indication by the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military that he’s done with NATO would send Europe into crisis, this is one of the few policies on which I think Senate Republicans really would join with Democrats to defeat Trump soundly. POTUS should consider carefully what that rebuke will feel like and how the GOP will go forward before he does anything.

Exit question: Who’s leaking all of these hair-raising Trump/Russia stories to the NYT lately? There was the one about the FBI investigating him for working with Russia after he fired Comey, then the one about him being weirdly secretive about what he and Putin said to each other in face-to-face chats, now this one about him wanting to grant Putin’s fondest foreign-policy wish. Maybe those earlier stories were connected to this one. If word got around within the administration that Trump might be drifting towards pulling out of NATO, hawks may have begun scrambling to ramp up suspicions about the president’s relationship with Putin. Withdrawal from NATO would be a wrenching political crisis under the best circumstances. Withdrawal at a moment when the public’s being given reason to suspect that the president might be a — deep breath — Russian asset would be crazy reckless.

The post NYT: Trump has spoken repeatedly to advisors about withdrawing from NATO appeared first on Hot Air.

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Stephen Booth: There are reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. But its security provisions aren’t one of them.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

In the vociferous debate about the proposed Brexit deal, the implications for UK security and foreign policy have come a distant second to economic and institutional considerations. However, this week Richard Dearlove, former MI6 head, and Charles Guthrie, former chief of defence staff, have written to Conservative Associations warning that the Brexit deal will “threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways” and bind the UK into “new sets of EU controlled relationships”. We certainly should debate the UK’s future security and foreign policies in light of Brexit, but there are several reasons why these dire warnings about the proposed deal are either misplaced or implausible.

Successive UK governments have cooperated selectively with the EU in security and foreign policy, reflecting concerns about the direction of travel or degree of integration. The UK secured opt-outs from EU law enforcement and internal security integration and many Brexiteers cited the erosion of these protections by ECJ jurisprudence as justification for withdrawal. Nonetheless, matters of external security, defence and foreign policy were largely protected by our national veto, the threat of which the UK successfully used to prevent EU ambitions for an autonomous military HQ, for example.

At the root of concerns about the proposed deal seems to be a fear about what might happen, rather than what the Withdrawal Agreement actually says. It is true that, during the transition period, the UK will be bound by EU foreign and defence policy decisions. The UK may be consulted on a case by case basis, but we will no longer have a formal role in shaping these decisions or be able to lead any resulting operations. However, crucially, throughout the transition period, the UK can refuse to apply EU decisions for “vital and stated reasons of national policy” – we have a de jure veto. The UK will be bound by existing EU rules on police and judicial cooperation during this time, but will be excluded from new rules that fall under our existing law enforcement and Schengen opt-outs.

If the UK were to enter the Backstop, either in 2021 or by 2023, there is no agreed provision for UK-EU security and foreign policy cooperation. UK commitments under EU law and the Withdrawal Agreement would fall away and the basis for cooperation would need to be negotiated either separately or under the auspices of a comprehensive UK-EU future partnership. The UK would not be legally obliged as a result of the deal to do anything, although the Withdrawal Agreement provides both sides with the option of agreeing a successor security agreement – obviously the UK would have a veto over this.

It is further argued by the deal’s critics that “buried in the Agreement is the offer of a ‘new, deep, and special relationship with the EU in defence, security and intelligence”, which would undermine the UK’s three core security and foreign policy relationships with NATO, our US bilateral agreements and Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements”. This warning presumably refers to the joint UK-EU Political Declaration on the framework for the future partnership.

First, as many critics of the deal have pointed out, the Political Declaration is not legally enforceable, whereas the Withdrawal Agreement would be. At this stage, it is simply an “offer” and does not bind the UK. Indeed, the lack of legal enforceability of the Political Declaration is the typically-cited reason for opposing the deal. Here the assumption is that the Political Declaration is binding. It is not.

Second, the future relationship foreseen in the Political Declaration is impossible to reconcile with the claim that it would undermine the UK’s core security relationships. Indeed, the declaration states that the entire future relationship should provide exceptions for matters of national security, which is the “sole responsibility” of the UK and the EU’s member states respectively. The UK could “participate on a case by case basis” in EU-led security and defence missions and be consulted accordingly. Intelligence sharing would be “voluntary” and the parties would “produce intelligence products autonomously”. The UK and the EU would pursue “independent sanctions policies driven by their respective foreign policies”. None of this would compel the UK, or the EU, to do anything at all with regards to external or security policy, other than keep the other party informed.

Finally, it is unclear what alternative, if any, form of cooperation with the EU the authors of these warnings would find acceptable. There is no doubt that past and future UK governments would rank the three core relationships with NATO, bilaterally with the US and Five Eyes, as the most important (a Jeremy Corbyn-led government might prove the exception). However, successive governments have also acknowledged that the UK must also promote its interests, both offensively and defensively, with European partners and allies. The UK has a close bilateral relationship with Europe’s only other globally-relevant military and defence power, France. This is underpinned by bilateral treaty, but France is actively pursuing its foreign policy interests via the EU and therefore cooperation with the French could well mean working with the EU to some degree. The question is on what basis.

Leaving the EU is likely to mean the UK will not be able to formally shape, lead or veto EU foreign policy or defence decisions in the future. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. Equally it means we will not be directly bound by them. It is possible to argue that the EU is being short-sighted in only offering the UK take it or leave it European cooperation on security and foreign policy issues. This may yet change, and if the EU wants to secure UK cooperation, our ability to provide resources and capabilities will be of immense value and therefore provide us with influence.

Nevertheless, it will be up to future governments to work out how best to further UK foreign policy interests independently of and sometimes in cooperation with the EU. Nothing agreed to date would prevent the UK from refusing to take part in EU-led or “controlled” initiatives or from insisting that any future cooperation would only be provided under a NATO umbrella.

There are many valid reasons to be sceptical about the Brexit deal. My judgement is that, on balance, it is worth supporting. But the concerns raised by Sir Richard and Lord Guthrie don’t stand up to scrutiny.

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Coats, Nielsen, Wray: Of course we’re taking election interference seriously

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If so, they’re taking it more seriously than their boss. In a briefing today at the White House, DNI Dan Coats specifically announced that Donald Trump had tasked him to make a response to foreign interference in the upcoming midterms a “top priority,” and called the threat from Russia “pervasive.” Joining him at the dais were the two top officials in domestic counter-intelligence operations, FBI director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen:

“The intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats to upcoming U.S. elections, both the midterms and the presidential election in 2020,” Coats said at a White House briefing with other intelligence agency leaders.

The illegal activity includes criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign financing, cyber attacks against voting infrastructure along with computer intrusions targeting elected officials and others, U.S. officials said.

“In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” Coats added. “We will continue to monitor and warn of any such efforts.”

The FBI has open investigations into election interference, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the briefing.

The White House also had NSA director Paul Nakasone on hand to underscore the message:

This muscular presentation followed claims by Trump that the threat was overblown, and at least this time was calculated to boost Democrats. Coats told the press that the disruption campaign isn’t aimed at any one party or outcome, at least passively rebutting Trump:

So what prompted this sudden display of assertiveness? Frustration over a perceived lack of action from the White House on Russia prompted a bipartisan coalition of Senators to fill the gap. Earlier this morning, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Robert Menendez unveiled a “sanctions bill from Hell” aimed at weakening support for Vladimir Putin by hitting his allies where it hurts most:

A bipartisan Senate contingent has introduced what Republican Lindsey Graham has called the “sanctions bill from hell,” targeting Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The legislation, which was introduced just as senators were departing for a shortened August recess on Wednesday, targets Russian oligarchs and Putin family members for additional sanctions, and it would seek to require a two-thirds vote of the Senate for any attempt by the U.S. to abandon NATO.

“We must confront this challenge — not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. Because ultimately, Putin’s true aim is to undermine all of us — our country, our freedom, and all that America stands for,” said Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona, who has joined in the Graham-led legislation.

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, teamed up with Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey in leading the latest legislative push.

There won’t be any immediate action on the bill, as the Senate just left for a shortened two-week recess. They return on August 15th, but the House won’t come back into session until after Labor Day. The bill appears to be a warning shot across Donald Trump’s bow, expressing the consensus on Capitol Hill that Trump’s going too easy on Putin and not getting tough on Russia for its hostile actions against the US.

That’s a consensus borne of personal experience, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told CNN:

Two leading senators are asserting that President Donald Trump has not focused on the clear threat the Kremlin poses in the 2018 elections, with one Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee contending that Russian hackers may have already targeted most — if not all — sitting US senators.

Ratcheting up the push for a more robust US response to Russian interference in the midterms and 2020 elections, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are now slated to get a committee vote this month on a bipartisan bill aimed at shoring up the nation’s election system. But the two senators said their plan has run into hurdles for months — and say the Russian threat is real headed into the midterms.

In a joint interview as the primary season wraps up and with the November midterms less than 100 days away, the senators told CNN Wednesday that there is far more that has to be done — from the White House on down to the states.

“The intelligence community has been very active on this, the Department of Homeland Security has been active on this,” Lankford said. “While the President has been inconsistent in his tweets, and some of the messaging that he’s put on it, he’s the only one in the government that hasn’t been paying attention to this.”

It’s not all about Russia, or at least not directly. After statements by Trump during recent meetings with NATO, the Senate wants more control over the status of the alliance. The bill would require a two-thirds assent from the Senate before any president could act to remove the US from NATO, including our Article V obligations for common defense against an attack on any member. As ABC reports, the bill also provides for a much more robust cyberwarfare posture in relation to Russian efforts at disruption, as well as a demand for a new ruling from the State Department on whether Russia qualifies for the status of state sponsorship of terrorism:

This looks like a kitchen-sink approach to Russia sanctions. Given the mood of the country — and especially that of senators dealing with Russia-originated hacking attempts — there seems little doubt that this will pass if and when Mitch McConnell takes it up after the recess. It might pass so overwhelmingly that even a veto by Trump could end up getting overridden, and a veto itself might make Trump even more vulnerable to accusations of going soft on America’s enemies.

That may be the reason for introducing this just as the Senate goes into recess. It effectively gives Trump a couple of weeks to get tough himself and pre-empt this action by the Senate. It appears patience has just about run out across the aisle for a robust response from the White House, and both Democrats and Republicans want Trump to know it.

The post Coats, Nielsen, Wray: Of course we’re taking election interference seriously appeared first on Hot Air.

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