Trump warns Europe he will free ISIS fighters if allies won’t prosecute them

President Donald Trump threatened Sunday to release hundreds of Islamic State fighters being held in Syria if allies in Europe don’t agree to take custody of the militants.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a late-night tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them.”

Trump, who intends to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, said the likely destination for the militants would be European countries. “The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go,” Trump said.

During the civil war in Syria, hundreds of militants flooded into the country, many coming from Europe to join ISIS’ ranks. It’s unclear how many of the militants Trump is referring to are actually European citizens.

Trump’s comments come as global leaders wrap up three days of security talks in Munich, where the conflict in Syria was among the agenda items.

James Jeffrey, the U.S.’s special representative on Syria issues, said in Munich that the U.S. will leave northeastern Syria, but the troop pullout will not be abrupt.

“It will be an orderly step-by-step withdraw,”Jeffrey said without offering a timeline.

In December, Trump called for a complete withdraw of U.S. forces in the country. And on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that the U.S. still plans to wind down the mission in Syria.

Still, the U.S. said it intends to keep its coalition together and wants allies to play a larger role in the broader campaign to root out ISIS elements.

Jeffrey said there are hundreds of ISIS cells scattered throughout the region. U.S. air power will remain ready to respond when needed, he said.

Trump has essentially declared victory over the group, which has been forced out of all its former strongholds in Iraq and Syria. But there remain concerns that ISIS could regroup if the U.S. pulls out. Trump said the time has come for other countries to pick up the slack.

“We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!,” Trump tweeted.

[Stars and Stripes]

Reality

Trump promised in the campaign he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS in 90 days. Instead:

1. 90 days came and went.

2. Said you’ll have a plan soon.

3. Your plan was to give the generals 90 days to formulate a plan.

4. Their plan was Obama’s strategy.

5. You take credit for #winning.

Trump Orders Big Troop Reduction in Afghanistan

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.

More than 7,000 American troops will begin to return home from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, a U.S. official said. The move will come as the first stage of a phased drawdown and the start of a conclusion to the 17-year war that officials say could take at least many months. There now are more than 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump announced Wednesday that he would pull all of the more than 2,000 American troops from Syria.

Taken together, the Syria withdrawal and the likely Afghan drawdown represent a dramatic shift in the U.S. approach to military engagement in hot spots around the world, reflecting Mr. Trump’s aversion to long-running military entanglements with their high costs and American casualties.

“I think it shows how serious the president is about wanting to come out of conflicts,” a senior U.S. official said of how the Syria decision affects his thinking on Afghanistan. “I think he wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”

The shifts may have proven too drastic for some in the administration. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis submitted a letter expressing his intent to leave, saying, “you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

Mr. Mattis’s unexpected departure raises questions about whether Mr. Trump’s plans will proceed as he directed.

The plans for troop withdrawals also reflect Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and his “America First” approach to overseas involvements. In a Twitter message on Thursday, he wrote, “Time to come home & rebuild.”

In both the Afghan and Syrian conflicts, Mr. Trump earlier this year voiced an interest in bringing troops home within the year or less, moves that were widely opposed within the U.S. national security establishment.

But Mr. Trump’s impatience has deepened, and in recent days, the debate has grown more pointed, according to those familiar with the discussions. The Pentagon over the last weekend fended off a push by Mr. Trump to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan starting in January, officials said.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Syria, like earlier foreign-policy decisions including his decision to leave the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, was made without a formal consultative process within his cabinet, officials and lawmakers said, cementing his inclination to make key national security decisions on his own or in small groups that include national security adviser John Bolton and a few others. He also apprised few international leaders of his intentions.

The Pentagon and U.S. Central Command declined to comment on the Afghanistan plans. The move to reduce U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and Africa comes alongside a new national security strategy that designates geopolitical competitors such as Russia and China greater threats than terrorists or failed states.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Syria was widely criticized by Democrats and Republican alike in Congress and national security experts across the government, an outcome that also is likely to greet his decision on Afghanistan.

[Wall Stree Journal]

Trump told Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer off camera that ‘new NAFTA’ bill would make Mexico pay for the wall

President Donald Trump is willing to shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for “the wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump said throughout the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for his wall, but now he’s saddling the American taxpayer with the cost as part of the next government funding bill.

Yet, when the cameras were off, CNN reporter Josh Dawsey tweeted that Trump told the two Democratic leaders that Mexico would still be paying for the wall because it was folded into the new NAFTA bill.

Trump got Mexico and Canada to sign a “new NAFTA” last week, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau humiliated Trump at the time for the agreement being essentially the same as the old NAFTA.

If it was true that the new NAFTA paid for the wall, it’s unclear why Trump still needs the funds from the American taxpayer.

[Raw Story]

Trump points to French riots to justify pulling out of Paris climate deal

President Trump on Tuesday cited recent riots in France as justification for his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate deal, which he called “fatally flawed.”

“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protestors in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago. The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters in the world,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president argued that he has “been making great strides in improving America’s environment,” but suggested the Paris agreement put the burden for environmentally-friendly policies on American taxpayers.

The president’s tweet came after France on Tuesday delayed plans to implement steep taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline as part of Macron’s effort to reduce emissions.

“No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in announcing the delay.

The announcement was preceded by intense protests in Paris, where demonstrators vandalized monuments and clashed with police, injuring more than 100 people. The protesters had lashed out against the planned fuel tax and, more broadly, Macron’s leadership.

Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, which includes nearly every country as part of a global effort to combat climate change. The accord does not allow nations to submit exit paperwork until November 2019, and the United States’s departure would not be effective until November 2020.

The president has long voiced skepticism about the existence of climate change, and his administration has undone a number of environmental regulations established during the Obama years.

Trump late last month dismissed the findings of a government report that warned of dire consequences if the country does not address climate change. The president went on to dispute the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to climate change.

[The Hill]

Stock markets plunge after Trump’s ‘Tariff Man’ tweet

Stocks took a nosedive on Wall Street as investors worried that a US-China trade truce reached over the weekend wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank almost 800 points Tuesday.

Boeing and Caterpillar, two major exporters which would have much to lose if trade tensions don’t ease, weighed the most on the Dow.

Bond prices soared sharply, sending yields lower, as traders shoved money into lower-risk investments.

The sharp drop in yields hurt banks because it makes it harder to earn money from lending. JPMorgan Chase sank 4.5 percent.

The S&P 500 lost 90 points, or 3.2 percent, to 2,700.

The Dow dropped 799 points, or 3.1 percent, to 25,027. The Nasdaq fell 283 points, or 3.8 percent, to 7,158.

The markets plunged after President Donald Trump unleashed a threatening tweet Tuesday morning.

“President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man,” Trump tweeted.

[New York Post]

Trump says country ‘would save billions’ if Democrats agreed to fund border wall

President Trump on Monday claimed that the country would “save billions of dollars” if Democrats voted to provide billions of dollars in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The president went on to repeat a threat to close the southern border and said that immigrants will not be allowed in the “country illegally.”

“Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump has previously threatened to shut down the southern border in response to an approaching caravan of Central American migrants.

He has additionally directed thousands of troops deployed to the border, and attempted to curb certain immigrants from being able to claim asylum as the group of migrants trekked toward the U.S. border.

The president revived his calls for a border wall on Monday as Congress grapples over wall funding while trying to pass spending bills and avert a partial government shutdown.

The Senate passed its version of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill with bipartisan support over the summer. The measure would allocate $1.6 billion for border security, including fencing.

The White House has since demanded $5 billion for border security, including wall funding, putting Democrats and the president at an impasse.

Trump has threatened to veto a bill that does not include adequate funding, while Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Democrats oppose spending more than $1.6 billion.

Cracking down on illegal immigration and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a hallmark of the Trump administration after focusing heavily on the issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Congress has until Dec. 7 to pass seven appropriations bills to keep the entire government funded. The president previously signed five funding bills in September, and agencies covered by those bills would not be affected by a shutdown this month.

Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route back from the Group of 20 Summit on Saturday that he would consider approving a two-week extension of government funding to provide more time in the wake of the death of former President George H.W. Bush.

[The Hill]

Trump says he will withdraw from NAFTA, pressuring Congress to approve new trade deal

President Donald Trump said he intends to formally notify Canada and Mexico of his intention to withdraw from the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA agreement in six months. The move would put pressure on Congress to approve his new trade deal with the two U.S. neighbors.

“I’ll be terminating it within a relatively short period of time. We get rid of NAFTA. It’s been a disaster for the United States,” Trump said on board Air Force One after departing Buenos Aires, where he signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with the leaders of those two countries.

“And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well,” Trump added.

Trump’s comments confirmed what many have long suspected — that he would use the act of withdrawing from NAFTA as a cudgel to force Congress into passing the new deal.

But it also could be seen as an admission that the new agreement is not popular enough to be approved on its own merits, so Trump has to use the threat of disrupting the entire North American economy to round up the votes in Congress to get the deal past the finish line.

While a number of business groups do support the new deal because it contains new provisions on digital trade and strengthens intellectual property rights protections, others are simply relieved that it would keep much of the original agreement in place.

House Democrats, who are likely to hold the key to whether the new agreement is approved, have complained that labor and environmental provisions are not strong enough and have signaled they would like those concerns addressed as part of the implementing legislation.

Trump’s untested move would send the administration and Congress into a legal wilderness. The NAFTA deal includes a provision that allows a withdrawal after providing a six-month notice, but opinions differ on whether the president can act on his own.

Lawmakers passed legislation to implement the original deal in 1993. It’s uncertain whether a withdrawal initiated by the president would repeal the law that put the deal into force.

The president needs to take a look at the Constitution — it gives Congress authority over trade,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in September. “The president cannot pull America out of NAFTA without Congress’s permission.”

A 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service seems to be back up that position.

“It could be argued that because international trade is an area of shared constitutional authority, Congress must have a role in any decision by the United States to terminate or withdraw from an FTA,” CRS said.

Others argue Congress ceded authority to the executive branch decades ago that would allow Trump to terminate trade deals. They say Section 125 of the Trade Act of 1974 provides the underlying legal basis for a president to terminate or withdraw from an agreement and revoke any tariff reductions.

[Politico]

Trump Wanted To Illegally Steal Iraqi Oil To Pay for Wars

President Trump twice raised to the Iraqi prime minister the idea of repaying America for its wars with Iraqi oil, a highly controversial ask that runs afoul of international norms and logic, sources with direct knowledge tell me.

  • Trump appears to have finally given up on this idea, but until now it hasn’t been revealed that as president he’s raised the concept twice with Iraq’s prime minister and brought it up separately in the Situation Room with his national security team.

In March last year, at the end of a White House meeting with Iraq’s then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Trump brought up the subject of taking oil from Iraq to reimburse the United States for the costs of the war there.

  • “It was a very run-of-the-mill, low-key, meeting in general,” a source who was in the room told Axios. “And then right at the end, Trump says something to the effect of, he gets a little smirk on his face and he says, ‘So what are we going to do about the oil?'”

Between the lines: On the campaign trail, Trump complained that the U.S. had spent trillions in Iraq and lost thousands of lives but got “nothing” in return. He lamented that usually in war “to the victor belong the spoils” and he repeatedly said the U.S. should have seized Iraq’s oilfields as reimbursement for the steep costs of the war.

  • Top national security figures from both parties condemned Trump’s idea, calling it outrageous and unworkable — a violation of international law that would fuel the propaganda of America’s foes.

In the March meeting, the Iraqi prime minister replied, “What do you mean?” according to the source in the room. “And Trump’s like, ‘Well, we did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil.'”

Al-Abadi “had clearly prepared,” the source added, “and he said something like, ‘Well, you know Mr. President, we work very closely with a lot of American companies and American energy companies have interests in our country,'” the source added. “He was smirking. And the president just kind of tapped his hand on the table as if to say ‘I had to ask.'”

  • “I remember thinking, ‘Wow. He said it. He couldn’t help himself,'” the source said.
  • A second source who was in the room confirmed this account. “It was a look down and reach for your coffee moment,” the second source said.
  • A third source, who was briefed at the time on the conversation between Trump and al-Abadi, told me the back and forth “made its rounds” around the National Security Council. “It was still early on in the administration, and we were all still trying to figure out how this was going to go, and so it was one of those horror stories … he’s really going to do this.”

Why it matters: Trump’s desire to raid Iraq’s oil is illegal and unworkable. But it reveals a great deal about his approach to the Middle East. Trump remains hellbent on extracting payments from Middle Eastern countries, in the form of natural resources, for the trillions of dollars America has spent since the early 2000s. Bob Woodward and others have reported on the formal steps Trump took to push his team to extract rare minerals from Afghanistan as repayment for the war. (Security concerns have stymied that effort; though Afghan’s leadership was more open to Trump’s pitch than Iraq’s leaders have been.)

Trump’s national security team has mostly pushed back on or ignored these desires to raid Middle Eastern natural resources. The president raised the issue of oil again with al-Abadi on a phone call in the summer of 2017. The conversation was vague and didn’t go anywhere, but H.R. McMaster admonished Trump afterward, according to a source with direct knowledge.

  • In the source’s recollection, the former national security adviser said to Trump, “We can’t do this and you shouldn’t talk about it. Because talking about it is just bad,” the source said, channeling McMaster, “It’s bad for America’s reputation, it’ll spook allies, it scares everybody, and it makes us look like — I don’t remember if he used words this harsh — like criminals and thieves, but that was the point he was trying to get across.”
  • “You won’t be able to do it anyway and you’ll harm our reputation and your own reputation just from talking about it.”

Trump did not react kindly, the source said. “It was frustration that he was trying to get his advisers to do things that he wanted them to do and they were just pushing back.”

The bottom line: It’s not a one-time thing. Two sources described being in the Situation Room in 2017 with Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis and national security officials discussing Iraq. Both said Trump brought up the prospect of seizing Iraq’s oil, and Mattis pushed back.

  • “Trump was like, ‘We’re idiots,'” recalled one of the sources who was in the Situation Room for the conversation. “[Trump] was like, ‘What are we doing there, what do we get out of this, why don’t we take the oil?’… And then Mattis spoke up. Made the same point that H.R. made. There’s no physical way to do it. It would be a violation of international law, it would be demoralizing for allies in the region, it would give our enemies propaganda — they’d be able to accuse us of theft.”

Asked about our reporting, Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said, “We do not discuss internal deliberations, and the secretary’s advice and counsel to the president is private.” And an NSC spokesperson said, “We do not comment on the details of the president’s conversations with foreign leaders.”

[Axios]

Trump Announces All Asylum Seekers Must Now ‘Stay in Mexico’ Until Claims Approved in Court

On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced via a pair of tweets that migrants seeking asylum will now have to remain in Mexico until their claims are approved in court.

“Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our Country legally. Other than that our very strong policy is Catch and Detain. No ‘Releasing’ into the U.S.,” Trump wrote.

He then added in a second tweet: “All will stay in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!”

Trump’s announcement comes just days after the Washington Postreported on plans to implement the policy as early as Friday.

According to DHS memos obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, Central American asylum seekers who cannot establish a “reasonable fear” of persecution in Mexico will not be allowed to enter the United States and would be turned around at the border.

The plan, called “Remain in Mexico,” amounts to a major break with current screening procedures, which generally allow those who establish a fear of return to their home countries to avoid immediate deportation and remain in the United States until they can get a hearing with an immigration judge. Trump despises this system, which he calls “catch and release,” and has vowed to end it.

At the time, Department of Homeland Security spox Katie Waldman said the policy will not start “this week.”

Yet, Trump also teased plans to close the entire border while speaking with reporters on Thanksgiving Day.

Earlier today, WaPo also reported that the Trump administration had reached a deal with Mexico to allow migrants to wait in the country. However, incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez has since deniedsuch deal exists.

The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is likely to meet court challenges in the days ahead especially since just this past Monday a San Francisco judge ruled Trump may not rewrite immigration laws.

[Mediaite]

President Trump says raking can prevent fires: Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö denies the conversation

While touring a town ravaged by the Northern California Camp Fire on Saturday, President Trump said Finland’s president claimed the country doesn’t have many problems with forest fires because it spends “a lot of time on raking.” Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said the topic of raking never came up in their conversation.

Mr. Trump was visiting Paradise, California, this weekend with California Gov. Jerry Brown, California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones when he was asked what could be done to prevent a similar disaster in the future. The wildfire has been called the deadliest and most destructive in the Golden State’s history.

“You gotta take care of the floors. You know? The floors of the forest. Very important,” said Mr. Trump. “I was with the President of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a ‘forest nation.’ And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem.”

Niinistö said he doesn’t remember mentioning raking leaves with Mr. Trump, but did say the two leaders spoke about the California wildfires when they met in Paris in early November.

“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Niinistö told lta-Sanomat, Finland’s second-largest paper on Sunday. He also told the newspaper that he remembers uttering the phrase “we take care of our forests” during their conversation.

Twitter quickly learned of the raking comments, with many from Finland ridiculing Mr. Trump by tweeting images of themselves or others raking in the forest. Some used the hashtag #haravointi, which is translated to #Raking in english.

The Camp Fire in Butte County in Northern California, one of two major blazes in California, has scorched some 150,000 acres of land, killed 77 people and led to at least 1,000 missing people.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has burned 96,949 acres and killed three people.

[CBS News]

Media

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