Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Anna Salvatore, Tia Sewell
Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 1:50 PM

Lawfare’s daily roundup of national security news and opinion.

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Last night, President Trump fired Christopher Krebs, who led the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure the election, according to the Washington Post. Krebs directed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). For the past few weeks since the election, CISA’s Rumor Control Web page has directly refuted President Trump’s unfounded claims of ballot fraud and manipulated election systems in the United States.

The president also ordered the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, reports the New York Times. The troop reduction comes at a time of critical instability in the Afghan state—peace negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government are currently stalled as Taliban fighters have launched offensive attacks near important cities in the country. “If it were not for the air support of U.S. forces, the Taliban would be sitting inside Kandahar city now,” an Afghan Army regimental commander in Kandahar Province said Tuesday. 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed the withdrawal  as a “good step” towards ending the civil war in Afghanistan. According to France 24, U.S. allies such as Germany are concerned that American troops’ departure will empower the Taliban. “We should not create additional hurdles [to peace],” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “[which is] something that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would most certainly lead to.”

More than three million people in the U.S. are likely infected with the coronavirus and contagious, writes the Washington Post. This estimate by a team of epidemiologists at Columbia University is significantly higher than the government’s official case count. “It’s bad; it’s really, really bad,” said Michael Shaman, an expert on the team. “We’re running into Thanksgiving now and that’s only going to make it worse.” 

The Republican majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has released a new report on confronting China, according to the Wall Street Journal. In the report, the lawmakers press for a multilateral approach with expanded help from Europe—a strategy that coincides with the stated policy objectives of the incoming Biden administration.

Today, a U.S. district court judge dealt a setback to the outgoing Trump administration in a decision that blocked expulsions of unaccompanied children intercepted at the U.S.’s southern border, reports Reuters. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in the District of Columbia ruled that the policy, which the Trump administration said was aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, would likely cause minors to suffer irreparable harm.

A U.S. federal judge has agreed to drop drug trafficking and corruption charges against Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, the former Mexican defense minister, writes the Journal. The move granted an unusual request made by Attorney General William Barr, which prosecutors said was made out of foreign policy concerns. Judge Carol B. Amon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York said, “Although these are very serious charges against a very significant figure … I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the government’s position.” 

Iraq and Saudi Arabia opened the Arar border crossing for the first time in 30 years, according to Reuters. The two countries cut trade ties after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Three rockets apparently fired by an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq struck the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad late on Tuesday, writes the Post. Initial reports indicate there was no damage to American facilities, nor injuries to U.S. personnel. Other rockets, which landed outside of the embassy, killed a young child and wounded five Iraqi civilians.

According to Reuters, the U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Iran, including blacklisting a wealthy Iranian foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and sanctioning theIranian intelligence minister for violently stifling protests last year in the city of Mahshahr. These punishments are part of the Trump administration’s broader crackdown on Iran, which has included withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal and floating the idea of missile strikes against an Iranian nuclear site. 

The New York Times predicts how climate policy will look under the Biden administration. According to interviews with his transition team members, the president-elect will likely pass an executive order early on requiring every federal government agency to address climate change. President-elect Biden may also create a coordinating council on climate change policy, much as there are councils for national security and economics. 

Conflict is worsening in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, reports France 24. The United Nations has warned of a “full-scale” humanitarian crisis as thousands of Ethiopian refugees flee to nearby Eritrea and Sudan. According to CNN, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began attacking Tigray on Nov. 4 after accusing the region’s ruling party of attacking a federal army base. 

The U.S. military has successfully tested shooting down an intercontinental ballistic missile from a warship at sea for the first time, writes the Post. The test comes as the U.S. has stepped up its missile defense capabilities in response to North Korea’s growing weapons arsenal. Until now, the Pentagon has relied on missile interceptors based in silos in Alaska and California to defend the country against incoming ICBMs.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

David Priess explained why the intelligence community isn’t currently sharing the President’s Daily Brief with President-elect Joe Biden.

Rohini Kurup shared the FBI’s 2019 annual report on hate crimes and summarized the report’s key findings.

Sean Quirk analyzed the latest developments in the South China Sea—including an uptick in Chinese military activity around Taiwan—in this month’s edition of Water Wars.

Bryce Klehm shared a letter from two Democrat senators urging the acting inspector general of the Department of Defense to investigate the appointment of the newly selected General Counsel to the National Security Agency.

Jen Patja Howell posted yesterday’s edition of the Lawfare Podcast featuring an interview with Lawfare’s foreign policy editor, Dan Byman, on the reported killing of top Al Qaeda leadership in Iran.

Jordan Schneider shared an episode of ChinaTalk featuring an interview with Paul Haung on conflict between China and Taiwan.

Tia Sewell posted a livestream of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the 2020 election and social media, with testimony from tech CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey.

Stewart Baker shared an episode of the Cyberlaw Podcast, titled “Trump’s Multiple Re-Entry China Policy Vehicles.”

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Anna Salvatore is a rising freshman at Princeton University. She previously served as the editor in chief of High School SCOTUS, a legal blog written by teenagers. She is now a fall intern at Lawfare.
Tia Sewell is a former associate editor of Lawfare. She studied international relations and economics at Stanford University and is now a master’s student in international security at Sciences Po in Paris.

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