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US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quits, cites policy differences with Trump

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US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly announced his resignation on Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria and pressed forward on discussions to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

Mattis will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years in the post, the latest high-profile exit to shake the Trump administration.

In his resignation letter, Mattis told Trump that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours”.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Mattis was retiring – but that’s not what the former Pentagon chief said.

The announcement came a day after Trump surprised Washington’s allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria, and as he continues to consider shrinking the American deployment in Afghanistan.

Trump’s decision to pull soldiers out of Syria has been sharply criticised for abandoning Washington’s Kurdish allies, who may well face a Turkish assault once US troops leave, and had been staunchly opposed by the Pentagon.

Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasised the importance of standing up for US allies – an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.

“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

Philip J Crowley, a former US assistant secretary of state and national security council senior official, said behind Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria and the rumoured, at least partial withdrawal from Afghanistan “was the lack of any kind of strategic process within the American national security system”.

“These are very consequential decisions,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I think both of them are defensible in one way … but in both cases then you need some sort of strategic shift: we finished our military operation here and then we’re moving ahead with a diplomatic initiative there,” Crowley added.

“The fact that the president seems to have done both of these things by instinct without broad consultation either within the American government or the allies around the world is contrary to how Jim Mattis would do business – and did do business throughout his distinguished career.” 

Successor to be announced

Mattis’ departure was quickly lamented by politicians on both sides of the aisle, who viewed him as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never before held political office or served in the military. 

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“This is scary,” tweeted Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, who is a Democrat. 

“Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”

Mattis’ departure has long been rumoured, but officials close to him have insisted that the battle-hardened retired Marine would hang on, determined to bring military calm and reason to the administration’s often chaotic national security decisions and soften some of Trump’s sharper tones with allies.

Opponents of Mattis, however, have seen him as an unwanted check on Trump.

A White House official said Mattis informed Trump of his decision to leave the administration on Thursday afternoon. Trump said a replacement would be chosen soon.

Crowley said what the US had lost in Mattis was “the last genuine conventional thinker in terms of national security policy, someone who understands the importance of alliances and the importance of predictability in terms of policy.”

He added: “President Trump seems to surround himself now increasingly with more political thinkers and so it will be unclear who will be offered the job, who will take the job and what their prospective longevity will be.”

Clashes over policy decisions

At the start of the Trump administration in January 2017, the president had gushed about his respect for Mattis. 

The “Mad Dog”, as Mattis was nicknamed, was widely respected in the military. He served for 44 years, holding key positions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a senior NATO commander.

But Trump and Mattis quickly clashed on major policy decisions.

During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional US international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticised.

Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites”. Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.

En route to his first visit to Iraq as defence secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump’s assertion that the US  might take Iraqi oil as compensation for US efforts in the war-torn country.

The two also were initially divided on the future of the Afghanistan war, with Trump complaining about its cost and arguing for withdrawal. Mattis and others ultimately persuaded Trump to pour additional resources and troops into the conflict to press towards a resolution.

Trump also chafed at the Pentagon’s slow response to his order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. That effort has stalled due to multiple legal challenges.

Long list of departures

The Pentagon has appeared to be caught off guard by a number of Trump policy declarations, often made through Twitter. Those include plans that ultimately fizzled to have a big military parade this month and the more recent decision to send thousands of active duty troops to the southwest border.

During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional US international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticised.

Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites”. Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.

En route to his first visit to Iraq as defence secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump’s assertion that the US  might take Iraqi oil as compensation for US efforts in the war-torn country.

The two also were initially divided on the future of the Afghanistan war, with Trump complaining about its cost and arguing for withdrawal. Mattis and others ultimately persuaded Trump to pour additional resources and troops into the conflict to press towards a resolution.

Trump also chafed at the Pentagon’s slow response to his order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. That effort has stalled due to multiple legal challenges.

Long list of departures

The Pentagon has appeared to be caught off guard by a number of Trump policy declarations, often made through Twitter. Those include plans that ultimately fizzled to have a big military parade this month and the more recent decision to send thousands of active duty troops to the southwest border.

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Iran defies US sanction, sends five fuel tankers to Venezuela!

he news breaking at this hour is that the Iranian regime sent five Oil tankers to deliver a much-needed fuel to Venezuela. The report has it that one of the vessels entered the Venezuelan waters, a moment ago.

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Hassan Rouhan

The news breaking at this hour is that the Iranian regime sent five Oil tankers to deliver much-needed gasoline to Venezuela. The report has it that one of the vessels entered the Venezuelan waters, a moment ago.

The oil tanker Fortune encountered no signs of US interference as it eased through Caribbean waters toward the Venezuelan coast late on Saturday. Venezuelan officials celebrated the arrival.

In a tweet, the Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said, “Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” “Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people.”

Hassan Rouhan
Hassan Rouhan

 Hassan Rouhani, had earlier warned of retaliatory measures, should the Trump administration takes any action, that would impede the deliveries. The story is still developing. Please expect more updates.

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Fact Checks’: Medical journal refutes Trump’s claims about the WHO

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Trump and WhO

A British medical journal Tuesday rebutted claims by President Donald Trump that the World Health Organization had consistently ignored reports of the virus spreading in China in early December, including ones featured in its publication.

In a letter published Monday, Trump’s excoriated WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the organization had “failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts.”

“This statement is factually incorrect,” The Lancet, a general medical journal, responded in a statement. “The Lancet published no report in December 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.”

The journal said the first reports it published were on January 24, adding that the scientists and physicians who led one of the studies were all from Chinese institutions.

“They worked with us to quickly make information about this new epidemic outbreak and the disease it caused fully and freely available to an international audience,” the statement said.

A second Lancet paper, also published on January 24, described the first scientific evidence confirming person-to-person transmission of the new virus, according to the journal. This report included scientists and physicians from Hong Kong and mainland China, it added.

The Lancet said allegations leveled against WHO in Trump’s letter were “serious and damaging” to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic.

“It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January,” the publication added.

Trump’s letter came as tensions ran high at the WHO’s general assembly Monday, with calls for an independent inquiry of the health body’s handling of the crisis and further criticism from the U.S. delegation.

Some observers say the WHO was far too credulous in believing Beijing’s reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.

In his letter, Trump also accused WHO of “missteps” and threatened to make the freeze on U.S. funding for the organization permanent.

Trump’s letter, which was posted to his Twitter account and cane during the World Health Assembly, accused the organization of an “alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China.”

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190,000 Africans may die of COVID-19 in 2020 – WHO

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On Thursday, the World Health Organisation warned that Africa could lose up to 190,000 lives to COVID-19 in 2020 if containment measures fail.

The UN health agency cited a new study by its regional office in Brazzaville which found that between 83,000 and 190,000 could die and 29 to 44 million be infected during the period.

The research is based on prediction modelling and covers 47 countries with a total population of one billion, the WHO said in a statement.

“The model predicts the observed slower rate of transmission, lower age of people with severe disease and lower mortality rates compared to what is seen in the most affected countries in the rest of the world,” the statement said.

“The lower rate of transmission, however, suggests a more prolonged outbreak over a few years.”

WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said that “while COVID-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots”. 

“COVID-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region,” he added. “We need to test, trace, isolate and treat.”

Smaller countries as well as Algeria, South Africa and Cameroon were at exceptionally high risk unless effective containment measures were in force, the WHO said.

Africa has so far recorded 53,334 cases and 2,065 fatalities – out of a global death toll of nearly 267,000 -according to an AFP tally.

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Uber Cuts 3,700 Jobs

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Uber cuts 3,700 jobs amid a massive slump in its ride-hailing operations during the pandemic.

The cuts amount to around 14 percent of Uber’s global workforce, which does not include its contract drivers.

The company announced a regulatory filing, which also said chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi would waive his base salary for the remainder of the year.

The move comes a day ahead of Uber’s earnings report and follows a 17 percent staff cut by its US rival Lyft.

“Today’s cost-cutting move ahead of tomorrow’s earnings is a painful, but unfortunately a necessary, move for Dara & co. to make in this unprecedented COVID-19 environment,” said Daniel Ives at Wedbush Securities.

“On the other side of this dark valley, the Uber business model will likely look a lot different for the next few years (at least), and the company must rationalize costs and a smaller operation to focus on attaining profitability in this ‘new normal’ backdrop.”

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