– – – Tearline – – – Aug. 31, 2017

In this week's Tearline: A face off in the Doklam Plateau, Mexico offers assistance for Hurricane Harvey, civilian casualties continue to mount in Syria, and Trump's plans to unravel the Iran Deal.

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Tearline noun | ‘ter ï lin
The portions of an intelligence report that provide the substance of a more highly classified or controlled report without identifying sensitive sources, methods, or other operational information.

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What was that?!

North Korea and the United States aren’t the only countries that have been engaging in dangerous brinkmanship over the past few months. Since June, Indian and Chinese troops have literally been facing off in the Doklam Plateau because China began building a road in a territory disputed by China and Bhutan. With the world’s two most populous countries eye to eye and with tensions mounting for weeks, there was a real danger that miscalculation could lead to conflict. On Monday, both countries announced that they were withdrawing their troops. However, China has not promised to stop constructing the road that caused the incident in the first place. While the situation seems settled for now, there is potential for it to heat up again should China resume construction.

As the fighting has intensified in Raqqa, Syria, civilian casualties have mounted. Other theaters where the United States is involved in active combat have also seen an increase in civilian casualties in 2017. As President Donald Trump pays less attention to the details of American involvement in multiple conflicts and allows military commanders more leeway to use force as they see fit in certain circumstances, this increase in civilian casualties is a serious concern. The less oversight civilians have over the military, the more the military will be prone to using force in ways that do not incorporate other concerns such as diplomatic and strategic goals.

What’s missing?

As President Trump looks to demonstrate the art of the deal, he appears set on destroying what he calls “the worst deal ever”—the 2015 agreement between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Trump is gunning to declare Iran noncompliant. The problem? There is no evidence that Iran has violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The lack of evidence doesn’t seem to faze President Trump, who is pressuring the U.S. intelligence community to find something that will help his case. Intelligence agencies are fearful of repeating the same mistakes that were made in 2003, when intelligence reports were used to justify the invasion of Iraq despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction actually existed. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for the JCPOA to stay in place. Tune in this October—the next time the U.S. has to certify that Iran is living up to the agreement—to see if President Trump gets his way.

What’s on deck in the world for next week

Leaders of the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—will meet in China next week. The BRICS grouping has created a new international development bank capitalized at $100 billion and is primarily focused on cooperation to boost economic growth, though it is clearly a rebuke of the World Bank- and International Monetary Fund-led system of international development. Next week’s meetings will likely focus, as usual, on ways to enhance trade and growth. BRICS is yet another illustration of the tectonic shifts happening in geopolitics – from the rise of China in Asia to climate change – and an unfortunate reminder that President Trump seems oblivious to them all.

Better ideas

The devastation in Texas this week from Hurricane Harvey is tragic. People, local governments, active-duty military, and National Guard from around the country are pitching in to help. The Mexican government has also offered assistance. Scientists are noting that Hurricane Harvey might have been made more destructive by climate change—yet another reminder that the United States must act immediately to try to prevent catastrophic climate change and to prepare cities like Houston for adapting to it. Here’s an example of a plan created by the Center for American Progress for Charlotte, North Carolina.

Quote of the week

In the wake of the U.N. condemnation of President Trump’s statement equating white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated, “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values” but that “the president speaks for himself.” While these statements distance Tillerson from his boss, they are also telling the world that it cannot trust Trump to represent the very country he was elected to lead.

Read of the week

Secretary Tillerson sent a letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlining Secretary Tillerson’s plan to reorganize the State Department’s special envoy positions. The proliferation of special envoys is certainly worth reviewing, and some of these positions can and should be folded back into relevant bureaus. However, certain envoy positions are crucial because particular issues require a full time, high-level official and staff to make progress. The elimination of special envoy positions for climate change, Sudan and South Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Iran nuclear deal implementation, among others, would severely damage the United States’ ability to make progress on these issues. And the elimination or diminution of other positions, such as the envoys for international disability rights and global women’s issues, would send the wrong message to the world about America’s priorities. Unfortunately, this is just another example of Secretary Tillerson and President Trump gutting America’s diplomatic capabilities. No wonder more and more senior career officials are quitting.

Weekly Trump-Russia reminder

Trump’s presidential campaign wasn’t the only thing Trump was ramping up in late 2015; he was also accelerating plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Felix Sater, a business associate of Trump’s, bragged about how his connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin would help seal the deal on the construction of the tower. Sater also said he found financing for the project through a bank that the United States was sanctioning at the time. While the project ultimately withered on the vine, President Trump continues to state that he has had no ties to Russia despite evidence suggesting that he had tried for years to invest in the country.

223 days still violating the Constitution

President Trump has been violating the Constitution’s prohibition against corruption by foreign governments for 223 days, because his companies are receiving payments from foreign governments. For an in-depth look at Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, see this CAP interactive map and series of columns.

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