Syria Strikes Departure from Trump's 'America First' Agenda - Ex-CIA Director

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden called the missile strikes carried out by the United States against a Syria government airfield "a remarkable flip" from the policies US President Donald Trump spoke about during the presidential campaign.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The missile strikes carried out by the United States against a Syria government airfield last week marked a major departure from the policies US President Donald Trump spoke about during the presidential campaign, former CIA Director Michael Hayden said in an interview on Monday.

"What’s really remarkable is that [it’s] about as far away from ‘America first’ as you can get," Hayden stated on CNN. "That’s America doing something unilaterally for what I call the good of the order, rather than a narrowly-defined American self-interest. It was a remarkable flip from the man we saw in the campaign."

In 2013, Trump warned former President Barack Obama against military intervention in Syria.

On April 7, the US fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat Air Base near the city of Homs in response to a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians.

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US missile strike in Syria: What we know so far about target, victims & reactions

The US launched a missile strike on a Syrian airbase, killing at least six people, including civilians, and wounding several others. Reactions to the operation continue to roll in, with Russia condemning it while EU countries and others express support.

US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike on an airfield in Shayrat, near Homs, which resulted in a Friday pre-dawn strike in which 59 Tomahawk missiles were deployed.

Six MiG-23 fighter jets were destroyed in the operation, along with a material storage depot, a training facility, a canteen and a radar station, according to Russia's Ministry of Defense (MoD).

READ MORE: 1st footage of destruction at US-hit Shayrat airbase in Syria (VIDEO)

However, the airfield's runway remained intact, according to the MoD, which described the operation's efficiency as “quite poor.”

Syrian officials have so far confirmed that six people were killed and several others wounded in the operation.

However, the governor of Homs told RT that at least five people had been killed, three of whom were Syrian soldiers. He also stated that at least seven people had been wounded.

Meanwhile, Syria's SANA news agency has reported nine civilian deaths, including four children. 

Global reaction 

The office of Syrian President Bashar Assad called the US strike “reckless”,“irresponsible” and “shortsighted,” claiming the motives the strike weren't based on true facts.


U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations against Syria on April 7, 2017. © Ford Williams / Courtesy U.S. Navy / Handout via REUTERS

The Syrian Army called the strike “blatant aggression,” stating that it makes the US a partner of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist organizations.

Homs Governor Talal Barazi told Syrian state television that Syria's leadership and policy will not change as a result of the missile attack, pledging that the targeted airfield will be rebuilt and continue to play a role in fighting terrorists.

Russia also condemned the strike, saying it is suspending an agreement with the US to prevent incidents and ensure flight safety during military operations in Syria. Under the agreement, the two sides had exchanged information about planned flights in the area.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that strike reminds him of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was launched without approval from the UN Security Council. He went on to state that Washington has not presented any evidence to back its allegation that Damascus was behind the chemical attack.

Iran, a key ally of Assad, called the strikes “dangerous” and “destructive,” saying they violate international law.

Meanwhile, European countries have expressed support for the assault, including France, Germany, the UK and Italy.

@DefenceHQ Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has welcomed US strikes on a Syrian airfield last night, saying they were 'limited and appropriate'.

French President Francois Hollande said Assad bears full responsibility for the strike, and said Russia should take it as a “warning” to push for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk says the strike is a needed action against “barbaric” chemical attacks, adding that the EU will work with the US to end the Syrian conflict.

@eucopresident US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.

Meanwhile, Turkey has also voiced support for the operation, with Ankara accusing Damascus of “humanitarian crimes.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the operation "positive" and a "concrete step taken against the war crimes of the Assad regime," but said it isn't enough on its own. He added that "serious steps" are needed for the protection of innocent Syrians, Reuters reported.

The prime minister of Israel, a staunch ally of the US, said Trump has sent a message that chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Benjamin Netanyahu went on to say that he hopes the message will extend not only to Damascus, but to other countries, including Iran and North Korea.

Saudi Arabia called the strike a “courageous decision” by Trump, expressing its full support, SPA news agency reported, citing a statement from Riyadh. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also expressed support for the strike.

Japan has also voiced support for the operation.

China, which has historically sided with Russia at the UN in opposing condemnation of Assad's government, said it had “noted” the latest developments, but did not mention the missile attack specifically. It went on to state that the most urgent task to was to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

Further steps 

Following the strike, Moscow called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he regards the strike as an “aggression against a sovereign nation,” according to his spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He also said Putin believes the strike was carried out “in violation of international law” and “under an invented pretext.”

Rand Paul  © Eric Thayer

Moscow also vowed to take “a number of measures” to strengthen and improve Syria's air defense system in order to protect “vital parts of Syrian infrastructure,” according to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov.

The missile strike, which Trump said was in America's national interest in order to prevent the use of chemical weapons, came after a chemical attack took place in Idlib, Syria, earlier this week. The US operation took place before any investigations were concluded.

Up to 86 people, including 26 children, are alleged to have been killed in the chemical attack, with images showing civilians choking and fainting, and some foaming at the mouths.

Washington has accused the Syrian government of being behind the “barbaric” attack.

However, Russia's Ministry of Defense has confirmed that the chemical release was the result of the Syrian Army destroying a rebel warehouse where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped to Iraq. The ministry called the information “fully objective and verified.”

The Syrian Army also completely denied deploying chemical or toxic material, stating that it “has not used nor will use” such materials “in any place or time, neither in the past or in the future.”

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US Pulls Funding for UN Population Fund

The UN Population Fund rejects state department's claim that agency backs "coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization".

The U.S. State Department announced that it is discontinuing its funding for the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA is an organization that focuses on family planning and maternal and child health in more than 150 countries worldwide. This marks U.S. President Donald Trump's first step in reducing funding for United Nation organizations. This move has raised some concerns since the U.S. is the major contributor to the UN.

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The State Department revealed that it withheld $32.5 in funding because the UNFPA "supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization." In January, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which withholds U.S. funding for international organizations that perform abortions or provide information about abortion. One of Trump's recent executive orders, which references all global health assistance, withheld at least half a billion dollars in U.S. funding. Trump's proposed 28 percent budget reduction for diplomatic and foreign aid, specifically, included reduced financial support for the United Nations and its agencies.

UNFPA stated that it regrets the U.S. government's decision to end funding, which it said is based on an "erroneous claim" that the agency supports coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China. The agency added that its mission is "to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled." The statement from UNFPA also declared, "The support we received over the years from the government and people of the United States has saved tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities, and especially now in the rapidly developing global humanitarian crises."

The State Department said the funds will instead be transferred to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health activities.

UN officials have warned that abrupt funding cuts could trigger more global instability and argued that dollars for diplomacy are more effective than military spending in combating terrorism. President George W. Bush had also defunded the UNFPA, from 2002 to 2008, arguing that its presence in China constituted participation in the country’s "one-child" family planning policy. At that time, the U.S. government had pulled $34m of funds.

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Putin ready to meet Trump at upcoming Arctic summit in Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would be ready to meet with US President Donald Trump at the upcoming summit of Arctic countries in Finland, if the talks are properly prepared.

“I believe Finland suits this purpose well, and Helsinki is a very convenient platform to organize an event like this,” Putin said, when asked if he thought a meeting between him and Trump was possible in Finland.

Putin was speaking at the International Arctic Forum in Russia’s northwestern city of Arkhangelsk.

However, he added that any meeting between him and Trump should be well prepared “by both sides.”

“If this happens, we – and I personally – would be glad to take part in such an event. If not, the meeting [with Trump] could take place in the framework of the G20 summit [set to take place in July],” Putin concluded.

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin © Reuters / Sputnik

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said earlier that his country would “certainly be very happy to have the opportunity to hold such a summit.”

The summit is set to take place at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki on September 18-20, 2017, according to the event’s official website.

Russia considers the US a great power, and would like to get its relationship with Washington back on track, and claims alleging anything else are lies and fiction, Putin said.

The Russian president added that, while relations between Moscow and Washington are currently “at zero level,” he counts on the situation improving someday – and the sooner the better.

The anti-Russian card is being played by various political forces in the US to reinforce the positions of certain politicians, Putin added, slamming as nonsense claims that the Russian ambassador to the US had held “spy” meetings with officials connected to Trump.

Putin also slammed the way the Russian ambassador is being treated in the US. The diplomat’s contacts have been limited and any meetings he has are regarded as a spy activities, according to the Russian president.

Putin warned that the attempt of some US political forces to bring US-Russian relations to the point of “Caribbean crisis” [October missile crisis] is a huge mistake.

Putin also confirmed that he will personally meet with Rex Tillerson to discuss the fight against terrorism during the US secretary of state’s upcoming visit to Moscow.

The US State Department said Tillerson is planning to visit Russia in April following a G-7 meeting in Italy. An exact date hasn’t been announced.

READ MORE: US delegation ushers out media as Tillerson starts talking to Lavrov at G20

The first high-profile Russia-US meeting was held in mid-February, when Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Bonn, although journalists were asked to leave when the US’ top diplomat began speaking.

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Trump to sign order sweeping away Obama-era climate policies

U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday to undo a slew of Obama-era climate change regulations that his administration says is hobbling oil drillers and coal miners, a move environmental groups have vowed to take to court.

The decree's main target is former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, requiring states to slash carbon emissions from power plants - a critical element in helping the United States meet its commitments to a global climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015.

The so-called "Energy Independence" order will also reverse a ban on coal leasing on federal lands, undo rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas production, and reduce the weight of climate change and carbon emissions in policy and infrastructure permitting decisions.

"We're going to go in a different direction," a senior White House official told reporters ahead of Tuesday's order. "The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work."

The wide-ranging order is the boldest yet in Trump’s broader push to cut environmental regulation to revive the drilling and mining industries, a promise he made repeatedly during the presidential campaign. But energy analysts and executives have questioned whether the moves will have a big effect on their industries, and environmentalists have called them reckless.

"I cannot tell you how many jobs the executive order is going to create but I can tell you that it provides confidence in this administration’s commitment to the coal industry," Kentucky Coal Association president Tyler White told Reuters.

Trump will sign the order at the Environmental Protection Agency with Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. presidents have aimed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, which triggered soaring prices. But the United States still imports about 7.9 million barrels of crude oil a day, almost enough meet total oil demand in Japan and India combined.


Environmental groups hurled scorn on Trump's order, arguing it is dangerous and goes against the broader global trend toward cleaner energy technologies.

"These actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American," said billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, the head of activist group NextGen Climate.

Green group Earthjustice was one of many organizations that said it will fight the order both in and out of court. "This order ignores the law and scientific reality," said its president, Trip Van Noppen.

An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that human use of oil and coal for energy is a main driver of climate change, causing a damaging rise in sea levels, droughts, and more frequent violent storms.

Trump and several members of his administration, however, have doubts about climate change, and Trump promised during his campaign to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, arguing it would hurt U.S. business.

Since being elected Trump has been mum on the Paris deal and the executive order does not address it.

Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change who helped broker the Paris accord, lamented Trump's order.

"Trying to make fossil fuels remain competitive in the face of a booming clean renewable power sector, with the clean air and plentiful jobs it continues to generate, is going against the flow of economics," she said.

The order will direct the EPA to start a formal "review" process to undo the Clean Power Plan, which was introduced by Obama in 2014 but was never implemented in part because of legal challenges brought by Republican-controlled states.

The Clean Power Plan required states to collectively cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Trump’s order lifts the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management's temporary ban on coal leasing on federal property put in place by Obama in 2016 as part of a review to study the program's impact on climate change and ensure royalty revenues were fair to taxpayers.

It also asks federal agencies to discount the cost of carbon in policy decisions and the weight of climate change considerations in infrastructure permitting, and reverses rules limiting methane leakage from oil and gas facilities.

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When Trump Goes Low...

U.S. President Donald Trump's approval rating fell to a new low over the weekend.

According to Gallup, Trump's approval rating dropped to 36 percent – one point lower than his previous worst. It fell below former Presidents Barack Obama's and Bill Clinton's lowest scores of 38 and 37 percent, respectively. Other former presidents such as George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon all had approval ratings lower than 36 percent at least once, said Gallup.

RELATED: Trump 'Winning Winning Winning' at Worst President Ever: Poll

Trump entered office posting numbers that ranked him among the most unpopular presidents to occupy the White House. But approval ratings are inconstant, which means Trump's numbers will likely fluctuate throughout his presidency. The Republicans' inability to dismantle Obamacare – their first agenda item – is likely responsible for the president's current dismal performance as reported by Gallup.

In mid-January, Trump was 8 points higher with a 44 percent approval and a 51 percent disapproval rating during his transition period. His predecessor, President Barack Obama, enjoyed almost twice as high approval rating (83 percent) during his 2008 transition period. And, George W. Bush – who, like Trump, lost the popular vote – posted a very respectable 61 percent approval rating during his transition to enter the White House.

It is unclear how the sagging approval will affect Trump moving forward. While he won last year's electoral vote as a widely disliked candidate, he had competed against another unpopular choice, Hillary Clinton.

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Trump Son-In-Law to Oversee White House Office to Revamp Govt

The news comes after Ivanka Trump received her own office in the White House along with access to classified information and a government-issued phone.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday is set to announce his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will take on a White House role to oversee a broad effort to overhaul the federal government, The Washington Post reported, citing statements from both men.

Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and currently serves as a senior adviser, will lead the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation with an eye on leveraging business ideas and potentially privatizing some government functions, the Post said.

"The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens," Kushner told the Post in an interview.

Some of the areas he will focus on are veterans' care, opioid addiction, technology and data infrastructure, workforce training and infrastructure, according to the report.

In a statement to the Post, Trump said: "I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government."

The move comes just days after Trump suffered his first major political setback. Fellow Republicans pulled their healthcare plan after years of promising to undo former President Barack Obama's 2010 health law.

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Trump Failing to Drain Swamp, Address Conflicts of Interest

Pre-election promises seem to have all but vanished, according to a report from advocacy groups. 

One of Donald Trump’s key election promises was to “drain the swamp” from lobbying and corporate donations in Washington. But a new report from advocacy groups has explained how this promise is all but broken, with a mountainous catalogue of conflict of interests, scandals, corruption and cronyism from within the Trump family.

RELATED: Cruel or Crueler? Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on Health Care

According to “Broken Promises: How Trump is Profiting Off the Presidency and Empowering Lobbyists and Big Donors,” published by Every Voice and Public Citizen, Trump has broken virtually every swamp draining pledge.

“Trump has filled his administration with the same major donors and Wall Street executives he claimed he would fight if elected,” Public Citizen said in a press release.

As a well-established billionaire businessman, Trump initially vowed to address the conflicts of interests with the presidency by isolating himself from his business interests through handing control over to his sons. But the report said that Trump had failed to properly divest and his ethical plan was well below other administrations.

Trump was seen to have a long list of questionable activities since he was inaugurated two months ago, where a number of his business partners were in attendance.

While the president said that his business would not pursue any new foreign deals, the company then restarted a project in the Dominican Republic and settled trademark disputes in China. 

Furthermore, a number of government policies were seen to benefit his businesses. The controversial Muslim travel ban failed to include countries where Trump businesses had dealings and the plan to scrap regulations for Wall Street could see increased profits for Trump companies.

Rollbacks on environmental regulations could also benefit Trump owned golf courses, while plans to curb lobbying with the federal government was also appear to have gone by the wayside.

“Trump refuses to take his conflicts of interest and the threat of wealthy special interest influence in his administration seriously, he fails the millions of voters who supported him because of their sincere belief he’d reduce the power of lobbyists and big donors if elected,” said head of Every Voice, David Donnelly.

Trump’s family was also seen to be benefiting from his new post, as his wife Melania's attorney, for instance, recognized the business and marketing opportunity of being first lady and she was earlier criticized for promoting here Jewelry brand through the White House's official website.

RELATED: Haters Gonna Hate: Kaepernick Gives $50,000 to Meals on Wheels 

After retailer Nordstrom chose to drop his daughter Ivanka’s clothing company, Trump went on the attack, tweeting that she had been “treated so unfairly” by the company.  

More recently, Ivanka was seen sitting in on a business and labor meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite not being elected or even a government employee, she is reportedly taking up office in the West Wing and has been issued with government equipment. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, has already been appointed as one of Trump’s main advisors. 

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