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The Last Word From James Mattis

The Last Word From James Mattis

We begin with a word on yesterday's events in Washington. We encourage you to read this resignation letter from US Defense Secretary James Mattis.


It appears intended, at least in part, as a response to President Trump's surprise announcement this week that ISIS has been defeated and that US forces will soon be withdrawn from Syria. (Late last evening came news the president is also considering a plan that would withdraw thousands of US troops from Afghanistan.)

Any informed debate on the continued presence of US troops in Syria will include wise arguments on both sides. Those who believe the troops should remain insist the US has interests and allies to protect in the Middle East and unfinished business with thousands of ISIS fighters still operating in both Syria and Iraq.

Those who say troops should be withdrawn argue that Russia and Iran are already the dominant influences in Syria and that the American public doesn't support an open-ended US commitment of troops and taxpayer dollars to help keep the peace in eternally unstable Middle Eastern countries.

But this much-needed debate isn't happening, because President Trump appears to have made this decision without full consultation with US allies or even with the Pentagon. That's the argument we see in General Mattis' letter.

Mattis will be replaced, and his replacement might well be a remarkably capable person. Hysteria and hyperbole over the resignation are unwarranted. But as we enter what's sure to be a year of bitter political infighting in Washington, it appears President Trump is taking foreign-policy counsel mainly from himself and acting without listening to those he should trust.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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110: At least 110 people were killed in Nigeria's conflict-ridden Borno state on Saturday, when armed men attacked agricultural workers as they tended their fields. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the brutal attack, but analysts say the assault was likely the work of Boko Haram or Islamic State-linked groups that have gained a foothold in the Sahel region in recent years.

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