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December 21, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis' departure doesn't just sum up the major opposition to President Trump's withdrawal from Syria. It also represents a whole new "phase" in Trump's foreign policy, The Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg says in an analysis published Friday.

After Trump declared ISIS defeated in Syria and moved to immediately withdraw from the country, Mattis submitted a resignation letter with no kind words for the president. Mattis was one of Trump's longest-standing senior officials in a tumultuous White House and had led the Pentagon through two distinct "phases" of Trump's foreign policy, Goldberg outlines in the paragraph below.

Mattis' departure also means that the United States is entering the third phase of Trump’s foreign policy. In the first year of his presidency, Trump paid attention mainly to domestic issues, and did not afflict America’s diplomatic and national-security establishment with an undue number of his ignorant and damaging foreign-policy views. In the second year, he became more destructively engaged, but he listened, on occasion, to those in his administration who possessed actual expertise in foreign policy. We are now entering the third year of his presidency, and third phase of his foreign policy: Trump alone, besieged, but believing, perhaps more than ever, in the inerrancy of his beliefs. [The Atlantic]

While former President Barack Obama dismissed Mattis as head of U.S. Central Command three years ago, he held on because he "understood ... Trump's intellectual, ideological, and characterological defects," Goldberg says. Without Mattis' guidance, "the dangerous part begins," he adds. Read Goldberg's insightful anaylsis in full at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

The Senate voted Thursday, 56-41, to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen's war. Just minutes later, they unanimously voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, reports The Washington Post.

Both moves are major rejections of President Trump, seeing as he never wavered in his support of the kingdom despite Khashoggi's murder and apparent human rights violations against Yemeni civilians. The vote to revoke military support also called into question Trump's war powers, but will likely expire before Trump gets a chance to sign or veto it, The New York Times says, making its passage largely symbolic.

Khashoggi's October murder in Turkey's Saudi consulate set a wave of lawmakers against the president, even those who usually back Trump's policies. While Trump repeatedly refused to accept the CIA's reported findings that bin Salman directed the killing, allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vehemently countered him. As it turns out, every Republican and Democrat voted against the president Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

The other Senate move on Thursday comes days after several humanitarian groups implored the federal government to withdraw its military support in the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were backing efforts to fight Houthi rebels in the country, putting millions at risk of famine along the way. The House just squashed a similar resolution earlier this week to end Saudi support, the Times notes. Still, this shows there's a powerful coalition of Saudi skeptics in the Senate. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 13, 2017

On Thursday, the United States dropped a 21,000-pound bomb on Afghanistan in an attempt to disrupt Islamic State fighters. While the bomb — nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," or the "MOAB" — has been around since at least 2003, Thursday marked the first time it had ever been used in combat.

One of the major questions about the Trump administration's use of the MOAB is why former Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush never used the weapon in their respective conflicts and wars even though it was available. A 2003 article about the MOAB tests reveals it was never thought to be a realistic option:

Military analysts in the U.S. say that because the 21,000-pound massive ordnance air burst, or MOAB, is so huge, it can be dropped only from a military cargo plane that flies slowly and at relatively low altitudes, making the plane vulnerable to antiaircraft weapons. And because the bomb causes devastation across such a broad swath, it is unlikely to be used against anything but a large concentration of entrenched enemy troops — just the kind of target likely to be armed with antiaircraft weapons.

"It's really quite improbable that it would be used," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va.

"The Pentagon is committed to avoiding large concentrations of civilians, and it is committed to avoiding putting its pilots and its planes at unnecessary risk. The only real use for this kind of indiscriminate terror weapon is to scare the bejesus out of Saddam Hussein."

The MOAB shares the same acronym as Hussein's memorable threat in 1990 that he would wage the "mother of all battles" against U.S. troops. [The Los Angeles Times]

Back when the MOAB was first developed, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld countered criticism of its creation with an ominous claim: "There is a psychological component to all aspects of warfare." Jeva Lange

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