Trump na­tional se­cu­rity picks un­der scru­tiny

Rom­ney for sec­re­tary of state?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump met yes­ter­day with Mitt Rom­ney, one of his most vo­cal Repub­li­can Party crit­ics now con­sid­ered a long-shot choice for sec­re­tary of state, af­ter nam­ing three po­lar­iz­ing con­ser­va­tives to fill key na­tional se­cu­rity and ju­di­cial posts. Anti-im­mi­gra­tion Sen­a­tor Jeff Ses­sions, one of Trump’s ear­li­est sup­port­ers dur­ing the cam­paign, was nom­i­nated Fri­day to be at­tor­ney gen­eral, sig­nal­ing Trump is pre­pared to take his hard line on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion into the White House. To lead the CIA, Trump tapped hawk­ish Con­gress­man Mike Pom­peo, a stri­dent op­po­nent of the Iran nu­clear deal and a sharp critic of Trump’s cam­paign ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing hear­ings into the 2012 at­tack on the US mis­sion in Benghazi, Libya.

The in­com­ing com­man­der-in-chief also ap­pointed re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral Michael Flynn, a top mil­i­tary coun­sel to the 70-year-old Repub­li­can bil­lion­aire-turned-world-leader, as his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor. Hours af­ter the picks were re­vealed, New York state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral an­nounced that Trump had reached a $25 mil­lion set­tle­ment in class ac­tion suits ac­cus­ing his now-de­funct Trump University of fraud.

Re­as­sur­ing sig­nals

The case had been a cloud over his cam­paign for months, and the deal spares him the em­bar­rass­ment of fur­ther le­gal wran­gling as he forms his gov­ern­ment. At­tor­ney Daniel Petro­celli hailed it as a “vic­tory for every­body.” In New York, Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence was booed at a per­for­mance of award-win­ning Broad­way mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton,” whose cast made an un­usual on-stage plea for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to “up­hold our Amer­i­can val­ues and work on be­half of all of us.”

While his picks suggest he is ad­her­ing to conservative po­si­tions, Trump made ef­forts to send re­as­sur­ing sig­nals about sta­bil­ity and con­ti­nu­ity re­gard­ing Amer­ica’s place in the world. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he had a “good talk” with Trump by tele­phone, telling AFP in Brus­sels he was “ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent” that the in­com­ing pres­i­dent re­mains com­mit­ted to the transat­lantic al­liance.

Kansas law­maker Pom­peo, 52, co-au­thored a re­port slam­ming then-sec­re­tary of state Clin­ton’s han­dling of the Benghazi at­tack, in which the US am­bas­sador to Libya and three other Amer­i­cans died. Deeper con­tro­versy sur­rounds Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Flynn, 57, who is set to play an in­flu­en­tial role in shap­ing pol­icy for a pres­i­dent with no ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment or di­plo­macy, in­clud­ing how to con­tend with an in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive Rus­sia.

Flynn raised eye­brows when he trav­eled to Moscow and dined along­side Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. And he has re­fused to rule out en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques like wa­ter­board­ing, which have been de­scribed as tor­ture and which Trump re­peat­edly con­doned while cam­paign­ing.

Flynn has de­scribed Is­lam as a “can­cer” and a “po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy”, and in Fe­bru­ary tweeted that “fear of Mus­lims is ra­tio­nal.”

He is highly re­spected as a dec­o­rated mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who helped com­bat in­sur­gent net­works. But Pres­i­dent Barack Obama fired him as head of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency in 2014 fol­low­ing com­plaints about his lead­er­ship style.

Flynn’s ap­point­ment does not re­quire Se­nate ap­proval. But that of Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral does, and he has bag­gage: Racially charged com­ments he made in the 1980s and which once cost him a chance for a job for life as a fed­eral judge.

A panel de­nied him a fed­eral judge­ship in 1986, af­ter hear­ing tes­ti­mony that he had used racially deroga­tory re­marks to de­scribe blacks, that civil rights groups were “com­mu­nistin­spired” and “un-Amer­i­can,” and joked that the only is­sue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use.

Ses­sions has also been a fiery op­po­nent of im­mi­gra­tion, wag­ing war on ef­forts to pass com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form through Congress in 2007 and 2013. Sen­a­tor Chuck Schumer, who will be the cham­ber’s top Demo­crat come Jan­uary, warned that Ses­sions could have a con­fir­ma­tion fight on his hands. “Given some of his past state­ments and his staunch op­po­si­tion to im­mi­gra­tion re­form, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Divi­sion at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice,” Schumer said.

‘Work­ing all week­end’

The ap­point­ments came a day af­ter the pres­i­dent-elect met with a for­eign leader for the first time: Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who said he could have “great con­fi­dence” in Trump as a US leader.

Some US al­lies have been rat­tled by Trump’s cam­paign com­ments that ques­tioned whether he would main­tain US loy­alty to joint se­cu­rity ar­range­ments and free trade ac­cords. Rom­ney the mod­er­ate, failed 2012 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date-would be a long-shot choice for sec­re­tary of state, along­side for­mer New York mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani.

If cho­sen, Rom­ney would bring a more ortho­dox Repub­li­can world­view to for­eign pol­icy. In 2012, he de­scribed Rus­sia as the top geopo­lit­i­cal threat-a sharp con­trast to Trump, who has ex­changed com­pli­ments with Putin. Rom­ney had de­scribed Trump as a “fraud,” re­buk­ing the ty­coon for pro­pos­als such as ban­ning the en­try of all for­eign Mus­lims.—AFP

SALT LAKE CITY: This file photo taken on March 3, 2016 shows for­mer Gov­er­nor and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney dur­ing a speech for Hinck­ley In­sti­tute of Politics at the University of Utah. —AFP

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