Trump pulling out of Syria. Might Afghanistan be next?
By ROBERT BURNS
AP National Security Writer
Thursday, December 20
WASHINGTON (AP) — Against the advice of many in his own administration, President Donald Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. Could a withdrawal from Afghanistan be far behind?
Trump has said his instinct is to quit Afghanistan as a lost cause, but more recently he’s suggested a willingness to stay in search of peace with the Taliban. However, the abruptness with which he turned the page on Syria raises questions about whether combat partners like Iraq and Afghanistan should feel confident that he will not pull the plug on them, too.
“If he’s willing to walk away from Syria, I think we should be concerned about whether Afghanistan is next,” Jennifer Cafarella, the director of intelligence planning at the Institute for the Study of War, said in an interview Wednesday.
The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for 17 years and still has about 15,000 troops there helping government troops combat the Taliban. The approximately 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are training and advising Iraqi security forces as they continue to fight Islamic State militants, a battle the U.S. entered in 2014 after IS swept into Iraq from Syria.
Before other officials confirmed the withdrawal decision, Trump tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The aspect of this that he did not address is whether the extremists or others will fill the security vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal to regroup and pose a new threat.
The administration said it intends to continue combatting Islamic State extremists globally and could return to Syria if necessary. Still, critics launched a barrage of questions about the implications of Trump’s decision, including whether it opens the door for Turkish forces to attack the Syrian Kurds who had partnered with the U.S.
Kori Schake, deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote on the Atlantic.com website Wednesday that the Syria decision ought to unsettle every ally that relies on U.S. security assurances.
“The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan ought to be very, very worried,” she wrote. “For if Syria can be so lightly written off, the fight arbitrarily declared won, what is the argument for continuing to assist Iraq — where ISIS is even more defeated? And if Trump has so little interest in stabilizing security and assisting governance in Syria, how can Afghanistan have confidence that he won’t make the same decision about them, when the fight there is costlier and progress less evident?”
These and other questions about the Trump decision and its broader implications were on the minds of many in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, denounced what he called a betrayal of the Syrian Kurds.
“Now the President seems content to forsake their trust and abandon them to a potentially bloody conflict with Turkey,” Reed said. “This decision also significantly increases the security risks to our key regional partners in Israel, Iraq and Jordan.”
Trump has argued for a Syria withdrawal since he was a presidential candidate in 2016, and he has repeated his view several times since taking office.
On Thursday, Trump defended his decision, saying on Twitter: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer.”
He added: “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever?”
Still, the decision appeared to catch many in his administration by surprise; Pentagon officials offered no details on the timing or pace of the withdrawal, nor could they square it with numerous statements by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about the importance of remaining in Syria to assure stability.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and typically a Trump supporter, said he was “blindsided” by the decision and called it “a disaster in the making.” He said, “The biggest winners in this are ISIS and Iran.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the withdrawal would be a “grave error with broader implications” beyond the fight against IS. He called it “one more example of how the United States is not a reliable partner.”
Just last week, the U.S. special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, Brett McGurk, said U.S. troops would remain in Syria even after the Islamic State militants were driven from their strongholds.
“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” McGurk told reporters on Dec. 11. “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign.”
And two weeks ago, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. still has a long way to go in training local Syrian forces to prevent a resurgence of IS and stabilize the country. He said it will take 35,000 to 40,000 local troops in northeastern Syria to maintain security over the long term, but only about 20 percent of them have been trained.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.
The Trump Foundation is shutting down, but the president and his family still could face liability
December 19, 2018
Assistant Professor of Law, University of Chicago
Disclosure statement: Hemel does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation will shut down and distribute the money it has left to charities approved by the New York state attorney general, while the state’s lawsuit against the president and his three oldest children alleging violations of state laws governing charities proceeds.
Under the deal New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood reached with the foundation two weeks before she will leave her post and be replaced by fellow Democrat Letitia James, the state attorney general’s office will wield veto power over which charities receive the foundation’s remaining US $1.7 million in assets.
Meanwhile, Underwood’s lawsuit against Donald Trump and three of his children – Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric – will go forward even as the family foundation winds down. Underwood’s lawsuit seeks more than $2.8 million in restitution plus additional penalties from these four members of the Trump family for allegedly misusing charitable assets and to temporarily prohibit them from serving on the board of any nonprofit incorporated or authorized to conduct business or solicit donations in the state.
As a scholar of federal and state tax law, I believe that this agreement marks at most a modest victory for Underwood in her effort to hold Trump and his children accountable for alleged violations of state charity law. The more serious test will be whether a state court holds Trump personally liable for using his foundation to aid his campaign and benefit himself.
A courtroom defeat
Underwood and the foundation reached this agreement less than one month after the attorney general scored a preliminary win in her lawsuit against the Trumps.
That lawsuit details several apparent violations of federal and state law by the Trump Foundation dating back to 2007.
Among the most flagrant of these is a $25,000 contribution that the foundation made in 2013 to the re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Not only did that run afoul of laws barring foundations from contributing to political campaigns, but the Trump Foundation now admits that it misreported the gift in federal and state tax filings.
The lawsuit also alleges that Trump allowed his campaign to distribute more than $2.8 million in foundation funds to advance his presidential bid in the run-up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses – money that the attorney general says Trump should be required to pay back. And it alleges that he used tens of thousands of dollars of foundation money to benefit his hotels and golf clubs.
The Trump Foundation asked Judge Saliann Scarpulla, a trial court judge in Manhattan, to dismiss the lawsuit, but Scarpulla ruled in late November that the case could move forward.
The litigation in Scarpulla’s court is just one example of the legal woes the president’s foundation faces. In addition, New York authorities are probing whether the president or his charity broke state criminal tax laws. And Underwood has alerted the IRS and the Federal Election Commission about the foundation’s possible federal tax and campaign law violations.
In her November decision, Scarpulla said that she had been “actively encouraging” the parties to reach an agreement to dissolve the foundation but that they so far had “been unable to do so.”
After his 2016 election, Trump said he wanted to dissolve the foundation to avoid “even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President.” But New York law requires the state attorney general’s approval before that can happen.
Underwood’s predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, refused to grant that approval because of ongoing investigations into the alleged misuse of foundation funds. After he resigned in May 2018 amid allegations that he physically abused four women, Underwood took over. She asked the court to dissolve the foundation in June.
The agreement signed by Underwood’s office and a lawyer for the Trumps gives the foundation what it has wanted all along: permission to wind down.
The agreement does allow the New York attorney general’s office to approve which charities get the foundation’s remaining funds. But New York law gives the state attorney general approval authority over a charity’s plan to distribute its remaining assets any time charities – including private foundations – voluntarily dissolve.
Rather than being what Underwood called “an important victory for the rule of law,” the agreement to shut down the Trump Foundation looks to me more like a small and largely symbolic win.
A civil action
It remains to be seen whether Trump will bear any real financial consequences for allegedly using his family foundation as a personal and political piggy bank.
Scarpulla has ordered him and his oldest children to respond to the lawsuit by mid-January. By then, New York Attorney General-elect Letitia James, who currently serves as New York City’s public advocate, will have assumed the state’s top law enforcement role.
She plans to ramp up the state’s probes of Trump, his family and his businesses.
“We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well,” James told NBC News on Dec. 12.
That could – in theory – include an inquiry to determine whether Trump committed criminal tax fraud in connection with his family foundation.
The New York attorney general’s lawsuit is a civil action, not a criminal proceeding, and not all tax law violations rise to the level of a crime. New York law imposes criminal consequences for only a few tax-related offenses – most notably, tax fraud.
Under New York law, criminal tax fraud occurs when a person “knowingly” submits “materially false or fraudulent information” in connection with a tax return. To hold someone criminally liable, the prosecution must prove that the person acted “willfully” – which means with “intent to defraud” or to avoid “a known legal duty.” Criminal tax fraud is, at a minimum, a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
The hurdles to criminal prosecution are high and several of the foundation-related accusations against Trump relate to activity outside the relevant statute of limitations. In my view, any effort by New York state to prosecute the Trump Foundation, the president or his relatives for criminal tax fraud would encounter significant and likely insurmountable legal obstacles.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 23, 2018.
Trump signs order to create US Space Command
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Tuesday, December 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump launched the Pentagon’s new Space Command Tuesday, an effort to better organize and advance the military’s vast operations in space that could cost as much as $800 million over the next five years.
Trump signed a one-page memorandum Tuesday authorizing the Defense Department to create the new command. Speaking at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence said, “a new era of American national security in space begins today.”
The goal is to set up a command to oversee and organize space operations, accelerate technical advances and find more effective ways to defend U.S. assets in space, including the vast constellations of satellites that American forces rely on for navigation, communications and surveillance. The move comes amid growing concerns that China and Russia are working on ways to disrupt, disable or even destroy U.S. satellites.
The new order is separate from the president’s much touted goal of creating a “Space Force” as an independent armed service branch, but is considered a first step in that direction. The memo provides little detail on what will be a long and complicated process as the Defense Department begins to pull together various space units from across the military services into a more coordinated, independent organization.
According to one U.S. official, the command would pull about 600 staff from existing military space offices, and then add at least another 1,000 over the coming years. The roughly $800 million would mainly cover the additional staff. The costs for the existing staff would just transfer to the new command, but that total was not immediately available.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations not yet announced.
Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, said that establishing Space Command is “a critical step in accelerating our space capabilities and posture to defend our vital national interests and deter our adversaries. This combatant command will lead space operations and develop space warfighting doctrine, tactics, and techniques.”
He added that the Pentagon will continue to develop a legislative proposal to meet the president’s vision for a space force.
The first steps next year will be to nominate top leaders for Space Command, including a four-star general and a deputy. The command would likely at least begin to take form in Colorado, where the current Joint Functional Component Command for Space is already located. But there has been no final decision on a location for the new command.
Funding for the command will be included in the budget for fiscal year 2020, which will be unveiled in February.
Trump’s order accelerates what has been a decades-long effort to reorganize and improve the military’s technological advances in space, which at times has gotten less attention as the Air Force has focused on warplanes and other combat priorities.
The military’s role in space has been under scrutiny because the United States is increasingly reliant on orbiting satellites that are difficult to protect. Satellites provide communications, navigation, intelligence and other services vital to the military and the national economy.
Over the past year, the issue gained urgency amid growing competition and threats from adversary nations.
U.S. intelligence agencies reported earlier this year that Russia and China were pursuing “nondestructive and destructive” anti-satellite weapons for use during a future war. And there are growing worries about cyberattacks that could target satellite technology, potentially leaving troops in combat without electronic communications or navigation abilities.
A U.S. Space Command existed from 1985 to 2002, but was disbanded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks so that U.S. Northern Command could be established, focusing on defense of the homeland.
Although Space Command went away, its functions remained and were absorbed by U.S. Strategic Command. The Air Force retained its lead role in space through Air Force Space Command. That existing space command will be a key component of the new joint entity, raising space to the same status as other headquarters such as U.S. Cyber Command, Special Operations Command or Strategic Command.
The new Space Command will also pull from existing units in the other services, such as the Army Space and Missile Command and the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.
Officials said the process of breaking away parts of other organizations and molding them all into a new command will be done carefully, to ensure it’s done correctly without jeopardizing any ongoing operations or activities.
AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn contributed from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Advanced digital networks look a lot like the human nervous system
December 18, 2018
Salvatore Domenic Morgera
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering, University of South Florida
Salvatore Domenic Morgera has received R&D funding for networks from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Fonds de recherche du Québec, National Science Foundation, and the United States Special Operations Command.
Partners: USF provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Parents have experienced how newborns grab their finger and hold tight. This almost instantaneous response is one of the sweetest involuntary movements that babies exhibit. The newborn’s nerves sense a touch, process the information and react without having to send a signal to the brain. Though in people this ability fades very early in life, the system that enables it offers a useful example for digital networks connecting sensors, processors and machinery to translate information into action.
My research on both the human nervous system and advanced telecommunications networks has found some striking parallels between the two, including the similarity between babies’ nervous systems and the rapid-response networks now being developed to handle always-on, always-connected networks of sensors, cameras and microphones throughout people’s homes, communities and workplaces.
These insights can suggest new ways to think about designing future telecommunications systems, as well as provide new ideas for diagnosing and treating neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.
A view of human neurology
Generally speaking, the nervous system has three main components: the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system is distributed throughout the entire body, sensing inputs like pressure, heat and cold, and conveying that information through the spinal cord to the brain. This system also handles the responses from the brain, controlling voluntary movements, and does some local regulation of involuntary body functions like breathing, digestion and keeping the heart beating.
The spinal cord handles large numbers of sensory inputs and action responses passing back and forth between the brain and the body. It also handles involuntary muscular movements called reflex arcs, such as the knee jerk reflex when the doctor performs an examination or the rapid “pull away” of a hand when something hot is touched.
The brain, the center of most of the nervous system’s processing power, has several specialized regions in its right and left hemispheres. These areas take input from sensors such as the eyes, ears and skin, and return outputs in the form of thoughts, emotions, memories and movement. In many cases, these outputs are also used by other parts of the brain as inputs that enable refinement and learning.
In healthy people, these elements work together in extraordinary harmony by combining networks of cells that respond to specific chemicals, mechanical changes, light characteristics, temperature changes and pain through a process called sensory transduction. This complexity makes even one of the smallest components of the nervous system, the nerve fiber, or axon, a challenge to study.
Some of the nervous system’s interconnections, long thought to only be physical, may also be effectively wireless. The brain generates a highly specialized electric field at certain nerve fiber sites during the normal course of its operation. Measuring the characteristics of this field can offer indications that a brain is healthy, or that it may have certain neurological disorders.
Inside telecommunications networks
The current generation of advanced telecommunications networks, known as 5G, is wireless, and has three similar categories of components.
The digital equivalent of the peripheral nervous system is the “internet of things.” It is a vast and growing network of devices, vehicles and home appliances that contain electronics, software and connectivity that let them connect with each other, interacting and exchanging data.
The technological equivalent of the brain is the “cloud,” an internet-connected group of powerful computers and processors that store, manage and process data. They often work together to handle complex tasks involving large amounts of input and processing, before delivering outputs back over the internet.
In between those two types of components is the spinal-cord equivalent, a new type of network called a “fog” – a play on the fact that it’s a thinly distributed cloud – set up to shorten network connections and the resulting processing delays between the cloud and remote devices. The processors and storage devices in the fog can handle tasks that require especially rapid reactions.
In building technological networks throughout the modern world, people have apparently – and likely unconsciously – mirrored human neurology.
This offers opportunities to identify technological solutions to networking problems that could be adapted into medical treatments for neurological disorders that have no known cures.
Autism spectrum disorder, for example, is a serious developmental condition that impairs people’s ability to communicate and interact. It’s believed to occur as a result of an imbalance between two types of neural communications: People with autism spectrum disorder have too much activity in neurons that excite other neurons and too little activity in neurons that quiet other neurons down. This is like what happens when some links in a telecommunications networks get overloaded, while others are not busy at all. Software tools that manage large cloud and fog networks can even out demand and minimize telecommunication delays. These programs can also simulate – and suggest ways to reduce – the network imbalances in autism-related impairments.
Multiple sclerosis is an often disabling disease in which the body’s immune system eats away at nerve fibers’ protective coverings. This disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. Technologically, this is similar to outages at particular network connection points, which is regularly dealt with by sending messages by other routes that have working connections. Perhaps medical research can identify ways to reroute nerve messages through nearby links when some nerves aren’t working properly.
Using software and medicine together
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. In 2015, I presented work by my research lab on the discovery of new networks in the brain whose behavior indicated that Alzheimer’s disease might be an autoimmune disease, like MS is. This suggests a brain with Alzheimer’s could be like a telecommunications network being attacked by an intruder changing not just data within the network, but also the network’s structure itself.
My research group then used the human immune system as inspiration for developing software to defend computer networks against malicious attacks. This software can, in turn, be used to simulate the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in a patient, perhaps highlighting ways to reduce its effects.
The nervous system’s involvement in other autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, may offer opportunities for additional insights into digital networks, or ways sensors and software solutions might help patients. In my view, software models, made more realistic by clinical research, will help researchers understand the structure and function of the human nervous system and, along the way, make telecommunications networks and services faster and more reliable and secure.