Last week, we gave you a sample of the kinds of actionable intelligence analysis that President Donald Trump may be missing if, as the Washington Post reported recently, he “rarely if ever” reads the Presidential Daily Brief, a highly classified intelligence briefing he receives each morning.
Here’s my look at the kinds of assessments the intelligence agencies would likely provide Trump — points he shouldn’t miss before he starts his week.
To: President Trump —
Kim Jong Un thinks he won the Olympics
Medal count aside, Kim Jong Un views North Korea’s Olympic games as a victory. Images of his sister and North Korea’s athletes dominated headlines, with much less attention paid to North Korea’s illegal weapons programs. Kim behaved during the Olympics — we did not have missile or nuclear tests — which was a purposeful move to show that he could literally and figuratively play nicely with other countries while continuing his malign behavior.
His goal was to normalize North Korea on the international stage, and we assess that he thinks he succeeded. North Korea feels like they have the upper hand on the diplomatic track — which may be the driving force behind North Korea’s announced openness to speaking with the United States on Sunday despite canceling their previous meeting with Vice President Pence and meeting directly, and very publicly, with the South Koreans. Increased financial pressure as a result of US sanctions may also be at play, but we assess that Kim wants to be viewed as in control of all dynamics, including on the diplomatic front.
Despite a strong financial pressure campaign, including new US sanctions announced last week, North Korea will continue to try to keep momentum in Pyongyang by encouraging South Korea and other countries to work with North Korea in the driver’s seat.
Xi probably has 10 years to make China great again
The Communist Party in China has viewed President Xi’s tenure as successful, which is the driving force behind their proposal to amend the country’s constitution to allow President Xi Jinping to serve a third term in office.
In October, the Party exalted Xi to the same status as Mao Zedong when they wrote Xi’s name and ideas into the Party’s constitution. President Xi has only been President for 5 years, but was just given a second 5 year term in October.
With the proposed amendment to his term limits coming this early, he will be looking out at a 10 year horizon (if the Party wants him to serve three terms, they will guarantee that he serves three terms), which will give him a broad mandate to pursue his agenda to restore China’s greatness. We can expect more attention to China’s global presence and shoring up its military, which could have implications for US interests in North Korea, Taiwan, and the contested South and East China seas.
Mexico isn’t paying for a border wall
As Mexico looks toward its Presidential election in July, President Peña Nieto is less likely to agree to US requests to fund any part of a US-Mexico border wall. While constitutionally banned from seeking re-election, Peña Nieto is supporting his former Finance and Foreign Minister, José Antonio Meade, to run on his party’s ticket.
He’ll be facing a crowded field, with six candidates slated to run including leftist frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who asked a human rights commission to denounce the border wall.
In the run-up to the election, Peña Nieto is also more likely to try to distance himself from the United States and focus on policies and messages that speak to his domestic audience to bolster voter support for his party before the election. Peña Nieto is under domestic pressure — in the spring of 2017, 28% of Mexicans expressed a favorable opinion of the Mexican President, less than half the share that supported him in 2011 (61%).
The border wall and the US decision to renegotiate NAFTA will likely be flashpoints in the run up to the election, with Peña Nieto trying to bolster domestic support. Polling from last spring shows that 94% of Mexicans disapprove of the border wall.
Afghanistan: Taliban still playing bloody games
Despite ratcheting up aerial and ground offensives against the Taliban, violence in Afghanistan has not decreased in recent weeks. More than 20 security forces were killed over the weekend and suicide bombings have ripped the country.
Afghan President Ghani has vowed revenge. The Taliban took note of your comments that we are not prepared to talk right now and issued an appeal to the American people asking them to pressure US officials to end the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, which could be an indication that they are in fact under real pressure because of enhanced military action or stronger measures by Pakistan to clamp down on their activity within Pakistani borders following the US decision to cut off security assistance to Islamabad.
Over 15,000 troops are in Afghanistan but there are indications that the Taliban seized more, not less, territory in 2017. Keeping the pressure on Pakistan to deny the Taliban support within its borders could shift dynamics.
Putin positions himself as rainmaker in Syria as violence continues
This weekend Russia agreed not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, humanitarian access to Eastern Ghouta, and evacuation of the wounded after the civilian death toll reached over 500. We’ve had a series of ceasefire agreements in Syria during the almost 7 years of conflict, none of which have meaningfully stemmed the violence. Hours after the ceasefire, regime bombing resumed.
We assess that violence will continue as long as Putin wants it to. Putin is working with Assad, Turkey and Iran — he is planning another summit with Turkey and Iran in the coming weeks — to position himself as the best person to mediate an end to the conflict despite his strong bias and ongoing support for the regime.
We assess that he is calling the shots and will also seek to try to cement his role as the rainmaker in Syria while continuing to supply support to the regime, including through Russian mercenaries who have clashed with US soldiers on the ground. Russia sent its most advanced fighter jet to Syria last week, which could also lead to more direct confrontation with US troops on the ground.