The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Russian officials blamed Syrian rebels on Wednesday for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians in a northern rebel-held area of Syria. Images of children lying limp and elderly men foaming at the mouth circulated around the globe on Tuesday, drawing international outrage and incredulous condemnation. Monitoring groups said at least 72 people had died, making it the deadliest chemical assault since 2013.

Western leaders including President Trump blamed the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and called on its patrons, Russia and Iran, to stop such attacks. But a Russian military spokesman asserted on Wednesday that the chemical weapons came from the rebel side, explaining that Syrian warplanes had been targeting rebel workshops that contained toxic agents.

In the U.S., President Trump’s statement called the attack a “reprehensible” act against innocent people “that cannot be ignored by the civilized world.” But he also denounced President Obama for failing to make good on his famous “red line” statement in 2012. New York Times, Washington Post, BBC News
Washington Post editorial: In Trump’s World, Is It Okay to Use Chemical Weapons? Now We Will Find Out.
New York Times editorial: A New Level of Depravity, Even for Bashar al-Assad
The House Intelligence Committee wants Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, to testify in its probe of alleged Russian election interference. Rice has spent this week denying that the Obama administration didn’t leak intelligence about Trump or his associates for political purposes, after it was reported that she requested the names of Trump associates in intelligence reports to be ‘unmasked’ while she was serving as national security adviser. Bloomberg, New York Times, Politico
Politico: Schiff: White House Documents Will Be Shown to Intelligence Panels
New Yorker: Susan Rice and the Latest Bogus Attempt to Justify Trump’s Wiretapping Tweet
National Review: Susan Rice’s White House Unmasking: A Watergate-Style Scandal

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration is considering security reforms that would force visitors to the U.S. to provide cellphone contacts and social-media passwords and answer questions about their ideology before entering the country. The changes being considered could apply to visitors from America’s closest allies like France and Germany, and could include subjecting more visa applicants to intense security reviews. Wall Street Journal
JustSecurity: Five Questions for Secretary Kelly about Password Demands at the Border

ISIS arrest: A South Carolina teenager was arrested last week after going to the airport in Charleston to catch a flight to Jordan, allegedly to go fight for ISIS overseas. Zakaryia Abdin, 18, was paroled last year after being convicted for a 2015 plot to rob a gun store in North Carolina, then attack troops at military bases near Raleigh. According to court documents, Abdin told an undercover FBI informant who he thought was an ISIS recruiter that he wanted to carry out an Orlando-style attack. NBC News, Charlotte Observer

Gorsuch nomination: The Senate is barreling toward a bitter showdown over the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to have Gorsuch confirmed by Friday, when lawmakers leave town for a two-week recess. Given Democratic resistance to Gorsuch’s nomination, Republicans are widely expected to do what was once unthinkable and eliminate the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominees. Washington Post

North Korea fired a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, days before President Trump hosts China’s Xi Jinping at Mar-a-lago, where North Korea will be at the top of the agenda. After news of the launch, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a terse statement. “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” he said. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Washington Post, CNN
Guardian editorial: Trump and North Korea -- The Risks Are Growing

ISIS on Trump: ISIS on Tuesday released a recording mocking President Trump, saying that the U.S. is “being run by an idiot.” The Hill, New York Post

Kushner in Iraq: Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told senior Iraqi military officials during a two-day trip to the country that he hopes the U.S.-Iraq alliances endures for many generations. Wall Street Journal

Tikrit bombings: Militants unleashed multiple suicide attacks in the city of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday, killing at least 22 people. Los Angeles Times

Lahore attack: A Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a vehicle carrying census workers in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people — two data collectors and four soldiers who were escorting them. Associated Press

Boeing and Iran: Boeing announced a tentative agreement on Tuesday to sell up to 60 737s to an Iranian airline, a $6 billion deal that could test the Trump administration’s stance toward Iran. New York Times
What’s at stake when the president alleges politics in intelligence: “The U.S. intelligence community is on the verge of a crisis of confidence and legitimacy it has not experienced since the 1970s,” write Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes in Lawfare. “Back then, the crisis was one of the community’s own behavior. The community survived because it entered a ‘grand bargain’ with Congress and the American people. And it is that very grand bargain that today’s crisis now threatens.”

Trump embraces the Sunni autocrats: “The President wants to foster a bloc among often fractious Sunni leaders to counter the influence of Shiite Iran, take a larger role politically and physically in fighting extremism, and help navigate peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “Trump’s strategy could, however, rejuvenate the old authoritarian order of sclerotic autocrats and impervious monarchies in the Middle East.”

Putin is soft on terrorism: “While St. Petersburg mourns the dead, Russia’s president is calling for a war against terrorists,” writes Molly McKew in Foreign Policy. “Don’t fall for it.”

A world unsafe for democracy: “This week marks the centenary of America’s entry into World War I, when Woodrow Wilson vowed that ‘the world must be made safe for democracy,’” writes Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. “He and his fellow statesmen failed to do so in their day. We are failing in ours.”

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief.

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