– – – Tearline – – – June 22, 2017

In this week's tearline: Is the Trump foreign policy strategy to have no strategy? Shooting down planes, Korea on the horizon, and the massive voter information breach.

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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?!

The Trump administration seems to be risking getting the United States into a wider conflict in Syria without a clear strategy or endgame. On Sunday, after American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters were attacked by pro-Bashar al-Assad forces, an American F/A-18 plane shot down a Syrian warplane that was bombing SDF fighters. While American forces have claimed collective self-defense, Russia has argued that downing the plane is an act of aggression and threatened to shut down the hotline between American and Russian forces coordinating in Syria. To make matters worse, two top National Security Council advisers are pushing for an offensive against pro-Assad, Iranian-backed forces in southern Syria without outlining the limits of U.S. engagement in the conflict. The Trump administration needs a strategy for Syria ASAP.

What’s missing?

White House support for new congressional sanctions against Russia. Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a sanctions bill against Russia by a vote of 97-2, tightening up existing sanctions and adding new ones targeting “corrupt Russian actors,” as well as hitting the Russian military, intelligence, and energy sectors. The bill also keeps an eye on the White House, requiring that any efforts to loosen sanctions must have congressional buy-in before changes can be made. The White House is none too pleased. Given President Donald Trump’s own conflicts of interest in Russia, we wonder why…

What’s on deck in the world for next week

Trump is set to host foreign summits with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 26 and newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in June 29–30. Indian news is pessimistic to say the least, “dismayed” by Washington’s lack of attention to Asia and cautioning readers to lower their expectations. The meeting is an opportunity to strengthen the bilateral partnership between two large democracies, and one that Trump should not miss.

Trump’s meeting with President Moon poses a larger challenge, especially since Trump does not have a strategy on North Korea—a common theme in this administration. Moon is more willing to engage with North Korea, which could open a gap between the United States and South Korea in strategies on North Korea. Signs of divergence may already be emerging, as Moon has halted further deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system batteries in South Korea. What’s more, the visit comes at a time of extremely high tension between Washington and Pyongyang following the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea and released to the United States in a coma.

Trump might want to break out the flashcards for these meetings; the potential impact on Asia-Pacific security is enormous—and not in a good way.

Better ideas

Late last week, the Trump administration rescinded Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program as part of what Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly deemed “house cleaning.” The administration left the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program untouched—for now—but has put immigrant families at risk of being torn apart. The CAP Mexico team argues that the administration must work with Congress to enact commonsense immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for the current unauthorized population and places a premium on family reunification—not the opposite. Read more here.

Quote of the week

According to Trump, “It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime.” That was his claim last week when he announced that he would roll back some of Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to “empower the Cuban people.” Trump is clearly overlooking that the policy of isolation that he is returning to failed miserably for decades before former President Barack Obama’s deal.

Read of the week

A cybersecurity firm, UpGuard, discovered that the information of 198 million American voters was exposed in a publicly accessible cloud. UpGuard breaks down the breach here, warning that the information, gathered by Republican data firm Deep Root Analytics, puts personal information about Americans in every state and the District of Columbia out in the open. Take this as reminder that while cybersecurity issues can seem larger than life, they put all Americans—and our democracy—at risk.  

Weekly Trump-Russia reminder

President Trump recently claimed that he’s in the middle of a witch hunt “for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” He’s now using this as justification for threatening to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and to remove special counsel Robert Mueller from the Russia probe. Congressional Democrats have warned Trump of the consequences if he does so, including impeachment.

154 days still violating the Constitution

President Trump has been violating the Constitution’s prohibition against corruption by foreign governments for 154 days, because his companies are receiving payments from foreign governments.

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Michael Fuchs

Senior Fellow

Stefanie Merchant

Special Assistant