After Trump urging, Japan announces plan to bolster defense with purchase of 147 F-35s

Japan’s government on Tuesday approved its first aircraft carrier and various increases in its military defense capabilities amid pressure from the Trump administration to spend "massive amounts" on American military defense products to lower its trade surplus with the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported. The new guidelines, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s … Continue reading “After Trump urging, Japan announces plan to bolster defense with purchase of 147 F-35s”

Japan’s government on Tuesday approved its first aircraft carrier and various increases in its military defense capabilities amid pressure from the Trump administration to spend "massive amounts" on American military defense products to lower its trade surplus with the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported.

The new guidelines, approved by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, effectively counter Trump's criticism while ensuring Japan will bolster is defense capabilities against rising threats.

Japan will spend $10 billion on 147 F-35s over the next decade and refit an existing helicopter carrier into a ship that can deploy 42 U.S.-made F-35B stealth fighters capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings.

JAPANESE 'TSUNAMI FISH' FOUND OFF THE CALIFORNIA COAST SEVEN YEARS LATER

Abe has long sought to enhance Japan’s military cooperation with allies. The measure emphasizes Japan’s need to counter potential threats from North Korea and China as it enlarges its navy.

Proponents say purchases of costly American weapons will reduce the U.S. trade deficit while enhancing military cooperation with allies. The guidelines said Japan will seek more cost-efficient purchase of advanced-capability U.S. equipment while pushing for more joint research and development.

But critics argue that purchasing American weapons will negatively affect Japan’s defense industry. Japan’s hope for developing its own F-2 fighter jets, for example, is uncertain. It was unclear whether the F-2 successor would be made-in-Japan or jointly developed.

The guidelines called for created specialized units in space, cyberattacks, electronic warfare while integrating the ground maritime and air forces to better coordinate operations.

Preparations for U.S.-Japan trade talks are underway and could occur as earlier as next month, Bloomberg reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bradford Betz is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @bradford_betz.

Venezuelans regret gun ban, ‘a declaration of war against an unarmed population’

CUCUTA, Venezuela/Colombia border – As Venezuela continues to crumble under the socialist dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro, some are expressing words of warning – and resentment – against a six-year-old gun control bill that stripped citizens of their weapons.

“Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight,” Javier Vanegas, 28, a Venezuelan teacher of English now exiled in Ecuador, told Fox News. “The government security forces, at the beginning of this debacle, knew they had no real opposition to their force. Once things were this bad, it was a clear declaration of war against an unarmed population.”

Under the direction of then-President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2012 enacted the “Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament Law,” with the explicit aim to “disarm all citizens.” The law took effect in 2013, with only minimal pushback from some pro-democracy opposition figures, banned the legal commercial sale of guns and munitions to all – except government entities.

Chavez initially ran a months-long amnesty program encouraging Venezuelans to trade their arms for electrical goods. That year, there were only 37 recorded voluntary gun surrenders, while the majority of seizures – more than 12,500 – were by force.

In 2014, with Nicolás Maduro at the helm following Chavez’s death but carrying through his socialist “Chavista” policies, the government invested more than $47 million enforcing the gun ban – which has since included grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town square.

A former gun store owner inside Venezuela – who told Fox News he has now been relegated to only selling fishing supplies since the ban – said he can’t sell any type of weaponry – even a slingshot – and underscored that even BB ammunition and airsoft guns are only issued to police and military officers.

The punishment for illicit carrying or selling a weapon now is 20 years behind bars.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – MARCH 04: A sticker on a car window honors former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez near the military barracks where Chavez is entombed on March 4, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (2014 Getty Images)

Prior to the 2012 reform, there were only around eight gun stores in the entire country. And the process of obtaining a legal permit to own and carry was plagued by long wait lines, high costs and bribery “to make the process swifter” at the one department allowed to issue licenses, which operated under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense.

“Venezuelans didn’t care enough about it. The idea of having the means to protect your home was seen as only needed out in the fields. People never would have believed they needed to defend themselves against the government,” Vanegas explained. “Venezuelans evolved to always hope that our government would be non-tyrannical, non-violator of human rights, and would always have a good enough control of criminality.”

He said it didn’t take long for such a wide-eyed public perception to fall apart. “If guns had been a stronger part of our culture, if there had been a sense of duty for one to protect their individual rights, and as a show of force against a government power – and had legal carry been a common thing – it would have made a huge difference,” he lamented.

Since April 2017, almost 200 pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela – armed mostly with stones – were shot dead by government forces in brutal retaliation to their call to end the oppressive socialist regime. The once oil-wealthy nation has continued its downward spiral into financial ruin, extreme violence, and mass human rights violations. An estimated three million Venezuelans have been forced to flee since 2015.

“Venezuela shows the deadly peril when citizens are deprived of the means of resisting the depredations of a criminal government,” said David Kopel, a policy analyst, and research director at the Independence Institute and adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University. “The Venezuelan rulers – like their Cuban masters – apparently viewed citizen possession of arms as a potential danger to a permanent communist monopoly of power.”

More than three million Venzuelans have fled into neighboring Colombia since the crisis of 2015.

Although the bill was sold to the population as a hardline effort to improve security, and sharply reduce crime, many now point to Venezuela as a case study for how gun prohibition can actually produce the opposite effect.

IN VENEZUELAN CRISIS, FAMILIES CAN'T EVEN AFFORD TO PROPERLY BURY THE DEAD

ECUADORIANS SAY ASSANGE'S TIME IN LONDON EMBASSY MAY BE NEARING END

The violent crime rate, already high, soared. Almost 28,000 people were murdered in 2015 – with the homicide rate becoming the world’s highest. Compare that, according to GunPolicy.org – an international firearms prevention and policy research initiative – to just under 10,000 in 2012, and 6,500 thousand in 2001, the year before Chavez came to power.

The total number of gun deaths in 2013 was estimated to 14,622, having steadily risen from 10,913 in 2002. While comprehensive data now goes unrecorded by the government, in September this year, Amnesty International declared Venezuela had a murder rate “worse than some war zones” – 89 people per 100,000 people – and three times that of its volatile neighbor Brazil.

Much of the crime has been attributed by analysts to government-backed gangs – referred to in Spanish as “collectivos” – who were deliberately put in place by the government.

“They were set up by the government to act as proxies and exert community control. They're the guys on the motorcycles in the poor neighborhoods, who killed any protesters,” said Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan-American president and founder of Asymmetrica, a Washington, D.C.-based political risk research and consulting firm. “The gun reform policy of the government was about social control. As the citizenry got more desperate and hungry and angry with the political situation, they did not want them to be able to defend themselves. It was not about security; it was about a monopoly on violence and social control.”

So while Venezuelan citizens were stripped of their legal recourse to bear arms, the “collectivos” – established by Chavez when came to power – were legally locked and loaded. Deemed crucial to the survival of the socialist dictatorship, the “collectivos” function to brutally subjugate opposition groups, while saving some face as they aren’t officially government forces, critics contend.

Eduardo Espinel, 35, who serves as a representative for the rapidly growing Venezuelan population in the Colombian border town of Cucuta – having fled his ailing nation two years ago under the threat of being kidnapped by local gangsters – said the law had proliferated the violence by allowing the collectivos to freely and legally shoot and kill.

“Everyone else but the common citizen. This law asks for the disarming of the common people, but everyone else can carry,” Espinel said. “The kind of law might make sense in a normal country, but in Venezuela, it makes no sense. People are faced with crime and have no easy means to defend themselves.”

Eduardo Espinel, 35, who serves as a representative for the rapidly growing Venezuelan population in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, said a gun bam law had actually proliferated the violence in Venezuela. (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

And Maribel Arias, 35, who was once a law and political science student at the University of Los Andes in her home state of Mérida but fled to the Colombian border with her family two years ago – living mostly on the streets as she and her husband take turns finding odd jobs such as selling water and attending bathrooms and while sharing the parenting duties of tending to their four children – bemoaned that they simply cannot rely on the nation’s law enforcement.

“The people of Venezuela should have rights for gun carrying because there is just too much crime and people should have the right to defend themselves because the justice system is not working,” Arias asserted. “If you call the police, the police come only if they want. If they capture the criminal maybe they will take away whatever they stole, but they normally go free again. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Maribel Arias, 35, who fled to the Colombian border with her family two years ago – living mostly on the streets as she and her husband take turns finding odd jobs while sharing the parenting duties for their four children – said Venezuelans cannot rely on the nation’s law enforcement.

Many contend the gun ban has in some ways hurt police and law enforcement, who have themselves become a more fervent target of street gangs. There was a 14 percent increase in police murders in 2016. And more than 80 percent of assailants subsequently stole the officer’s gun, according to Insight Crime.

Some experts contend many of the weapons and ammunition used by gangsters were once in the hands of government forces, and obtained either through theft or purchase from corrupt individuals.

And adding to the complication, the ranks of the police force are beleaguered by crime and corruption. “Crimes are committed by police, a lot of the criminals are police themselves,” said Saul Moros, 59, from the Venezuelan city of Valencia.

Luis Farias, 48, from Margarita, said that gun violence was indeed bad when guns were freely available for purchase. But it became much worse after the gun ban was passed. “Now the criminal mother is unleashed,” Farias said. “Trying to ban guns didn’t take guns off the streets. Nobody cares about the law; the criminals don’t care about the law.”

“Crimes are committed by police, a lot of the criminals are police themselves,” Saul Moros, 59, from the Venezuelan city of Valencia. (left) Luis Farias, 48, said gun violence was bad when guns were freely available – but became much worse after the so-called prohibition. (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

A black market in weapons is also thriving. There are an estimated six million unregistered firearms circulating in Venezuela, but they remain far from reach for the average, non-criminal Venezuelan.

“The black market of weapons is very active, mostly used by violent criminals,” said Johan Obdola, a former counter-narcotics chief in Venezuela and now president of Latin America-focused, Canada-based global intelligence and security firm IOSI. “Venezuelans simply looking to protect themselves from the regime are totally vulnerable.”

Prices vary daily. But an AR-15 rifle goes for around $500, sources said, while handguns sell for about $250. Those prices are far beyond the reach of the average Venezuelan.

“Most guns can be bought illegally in a sort of pyramid structure. A big irregular group or criminal organization has the best access to weapons directly from the government, and they sometimes even get access to basically new unused weaponry," explained Vanegas. "The longer down the pyramid you are, you must get your weapon from the nearest big irregular group that overpowers you within your territory. This is not an option for any moral person, due to the fact that you need to deal with criminals in order to get an illegal gun. And for many obvious reasons, people will not even consider this.”

The Venezuelan government denies it is in a deeply deteriorating crisis, caused by its own policies. Rather, it blames the United States and opposition leaders for waging an “economic war.”

Feb. 22, 2014: A group of masked men run for cover after riot police launched tear gas in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP)

According to Omar Adolfo Zares Sanchez, 48, a lawyer, politician, and former mayor of Campo Elías municipality in the Venezuelan state of Mérida, it is now all but too late to make guns legally accessible to the average person.

“Without a doubt, if there had been a balance of armed defense we could have stood up and stopped the oppression at the beginning,” he contended. “But there is too much anarchy on the streets now. Making guns easier for anybody to buy now would start a civil war.”

Other Venezuelans argue that while violence has indeed rapidly increased in the years since the gun ban, it might have been that much worse as the economy collapsed, and the country deteriorated.  “The problem from the beginning and still now is that there are too many people in Venezuela who are lawless. Crime is a way of living,” said Emberly Quiroz, 25, mother of three. “Access to weapons won’t solve the problem.”

Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma and investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

CIA Director Gina Haspel to brief Senate leaders on Khashoggi murder, source says

CIA Director Gina Haspel is expected to brief leaders of multiple Senate committees Tuesday about the October murder of Saudi activist and writer Jamal Khashoggi, a source told Fox News.

The source said the briefing will include leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armed Services Committee and Appropriations Committee.

Haspel did not attend a briefing about Khashoggi's killing that was given to all senators last week by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Her absence upset lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowing to hold up Congress' agenda for the current lame-duck session until he heard from the CIA director.

""I'm not going to be denied the ability to be briefed by the CIA," said Graham, who added: "The question for me is whether or not the CIA supports the conclusion with a high degree of confidence that the[Saudi] crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman} was complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi."

Sen. Graham wants CIA briefing on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham calls briefing from Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mattis ‘inadequate’ because CIA Director Haspel wasn’t there; Rich Edson reports.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince, known informally as "MBS," must have at least known of the plot. However, the CIA's findings have not been made public and President Trump has equivocated over who was to blame. Following the Nov. 28 briefing, Pompeo and Mattis told reporters there was no direct evidence tying MBS to Khashoggi's murder.

DC, MARYLAND OFFICIALS READY WITH SUBPOENAS IN TRUMP HOTEL CASE

Sen Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speculated that Haspel didn't attend the briefing because she "would have said with a high degree of confidence that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

At the time, a CIA spokesman denied that Haspel was told to stay away from the briefing.

Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, which he had visited for marriage paperwork.

HOW DEMS APPARENTLY USED ELECTION LAW CHANGE TO ROUT CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS

Trump has said it may never be known who was responsible for the killing, and in public comments — and a long and unusual statement last week — he reinforced the United States' long alliance with the Saudis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

3 sites eyed for Trump-Kim summit in early 2019, president says

President Trump said Saturday that his next face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will likely be held in January or February, at a site yet to be determined.

Three unspecified locations are under consideration, the president said aboard Air Force One as he returned from a weekend trip to Buenos Aires to attend the G-20 summit, Reuters reported.

“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship,” Trump said of Kim, according to the report.

“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship.”

— President Donald Trump, on contact with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

The president added that he plans at some point to invite Kim to the United States.

Talks on a follow-up to the two leaders’ first meeting in June in Singapore have been underway since July, a senior U.S. official told Reuters in October.

The primary goal of discussions between the U.S. and North Korea remains the creation of “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” said a White House statement issued Saturday following Trump’s meeting in Argentina with Chinese Present Xi Jinping.

China’s influence as North Korea’s largest trading partner is viewed as key to any significant agreement between the U.S. and North Korea.

U.S. officials are seeking a “substantive next step” toward denuclearization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Saturday, adding that Washington has been seeing good progress in discussions with Pyongyang.

“We're not having missiles launched, there haven't been any nuclear tests,” Pompeo noted, citing a change in behavior from North Korea, which conducted a series of missile tests in 2017 that alarmed its closest neighbors – and had the U.S. concerned that Pyongyang was developing the capability to strike any site on the continental U.S.

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The launches – and reports of a test of a hydrogen bomb test in September 2017 — were often accompanied by fiery rhetoric from Kim, prompting Trump to often respond in kind.

At the U.N. General Assembly in New York that year, for example, Trump said the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued with its provocative actions.

The Trump-Kim summit in June of this year was designed to help ease the tensions between the two nations – though critics have questioned whether North Korea has complied with agreements reached at the historic meeting.

More recently, “We continue to have conversations about the right next step that is the right substantive next step,” toward denuclearization, Pompeo said.

China’s influence as North Korea’s largest trading partner is viewed as key to any significant agreement between the U.S. and North Korea.

Hundreds of US troops on alert in Uruguay to protect Trump at G20

Some 1,000 American troops and aircraft based in Uruguay are on alert to protect President Trump as he attends the G20 summit in Argentina this week.

The protection for Trump, who will do a 48-hour diplomatic blitz of high-level meetings with foreign leaders at the summit, was assured after the Uruguayan government approved the entry of American troops after much debate in the country.

Earlier this month, Uruguay’s Senate approved a law that allowed the U.S. to deploy its military in the country as an effort to provide security for the G20 summit.

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The bill authorized the entry into Uruguay of three U.S. fuel cargo aircraft, two transport aircraft and three AWACS planes as well as 400 U.S. military personnel and civilians who would be the crew and provide support and maintenance.

But the measure didn’t pass without any controversy, with Uruguay’s left-wing groups and trade unions speaking out about the presence of American troops, deeming them a risk to Uruguay’s safety.

“The armed forces of the United States have not been and will not be welcome in Latin America,” said Constanza Moreira, a left-wing politician, who eventually voted in favor of the bill.

"The armed forces of the United States have not been and will not be welcome in Latin America."

— Constanza Moreira, left-wing Uruguayan lawmaker who ultimately OK’d the troops’ presence

“I am against it. They didn’t give me freedom of action. This is what I call the club of the rich. We don’t support rich clubs. Uruguay has nothing to do with the G20. I do not understand why Uruguay is being used as a base of operations,” she added, according to left-leaning People’s Dispatch.

One of the largest trade unions in the country, PIT-CNT, also released a statement opposing the presence of American troops, claiming they represented “a risk to national sovereignty” and that it didn’t make sense logistically as the summit will be held in neighboring Argentina.

At the G20 summit, Trump has jam-packed eight meetings with foreign leaders, but on Thursday he announced that he will cancel a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin over Russia's tensions with Ukraine after the Russian military seized three Ukrainian naval ships.

The White House also said the meetings with the leaders of Turkey and South Korea would be substituted with informal conversations, while a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be held jointly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Putin accuses Ukrainian president of playing ‘dirty game’ amid warnings of ‘full-scale war’ with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday lashed out against Ukraine and accused the government of playing a “dirty game”, claiming they set up the naval incident that led to the seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships with the crew becoming prisoners.

Speaking during an investment forum in Moscow, Putin accused Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of attempting to score political points in a bid to get re-elected.

"This is a dirty game within the country [Ukraine],” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the [Ukrainian] president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year."

— Vladimir Putin

“This is a dirty game within the country (Ukraine),” Putin said. “It is a provocation initiated by the current authorities, and I think by the (Ukrainian) president, in light of the upcoming elections to be held next year.”

“The incident in the Black Sea happened, it is a border incident, no more.”

Video

Putin’s remarks came after the Ukrainian government imposed the country’s first ever martial law in parts of the country that are vulnerable to a possible military action from Russia, with Poroshenko saying there was the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion.

Western governments came out in support of Ukraine and accused Russia of violating international law. Earlier this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Ukrainian president that the alliance is supporting the country’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty,” though Ukraine is not part of the military alliance.

TRUMP THREATENS TO CANCEL PUTIN MEETING AMID RUSSIA-UKRAINE TENSIONS

President Trump said he’s not “happy” about the situation and floated the possibility of canceling planned talks with Putin at this week's G20 summit in Buenos Aires. “I don't like that aggression,” Trump said in a recent interview with the Washington Post.

The Kremlin responded to the martial law in Ukraine with a pledge to deploy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems on the Crimean peninsula soon, according to the Interfax news agency.

CAPTURED UKRAINIAN SAILORS SEEN ON RUSSIAN TV APPARENTLY CONFESSING TO ‘PROVOCATIVE’ ACTION

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Putin on Wednesday also reiterated the Kremlin’s story of how the clash between the ships occurred, saying Ukrainian vessels violated Russia’s territorial waters.

Russia’s main intelligence agency, the FSB, released a video on Tuesday that interviews three Ukrainian seamen, all of whom say Ukraine violated the Russian border. It was not immediately possible to ascertain if the men were talking under duress. One of them was apparently reading from a teleprompter.

But the video posted by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appears to contradict Putin’s version of the event as it shows an apparent Russian commander shouting “slam him from the right” as the Russian vessel hits the Ukrainian ship.

UKRAINE IMPOSES MARTIAL LAW AMID 'EXTREMELY SERIOUS' THREAT OF RUSSIAN INVASION

Poroshenko on Tuesday appeared on national television and warned of the threat of “full-scale war” with Russia. “I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia,” he said.

He went on to claim that Russia is building up its military presence along the Ukraine-Russian border, noting that with the number of tanks had tripled.

Ukraine and Russia have been involved in a long-term conflict starting in 2014. Russia-backed separatists have occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine and have held the control until this day, while Russia annexed Crimea in a referendum that most western countries deem illegal and illegitimate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

Ex-CIA station chief: The Khashoggi murder, human rights and US foreign policy — a precarious balance

Last week, President Trump stirred some controversy when he assured Saudi Arabia the U.S. would remain a “steadfast partner” in spite of the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi. 

The U.S. imposition of sanctions on seventeen Saudis who were involved in Khashoggi’s murder was not a strong enough response for a bipartisan group of Senators including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who favor harsher sanctions against the Saudi royal family.

Khashoggi’s ghastly murder and Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran in Yemen, which has resulted in a horrific humanitarian crisis, have sparked another round of heated debate about U.S. human rights policy.

U.S. national security relies as much on lethal strikes against our irreconcilable enemies as on a “soft power” commitment to human rights enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The U.S. is a beacon of hope for people all over the world who derive inspiration from our guiding principles including the rule of law, freedom of the press, democracy, and civil liberties.

Integrating human rights into U.S. foreign policy however, presents a myriad of challenges.  President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accurately emphasized the world in which they make policy is “dangerous, mean and nasty.” The U.S. has for decades struggled with competing political, military and economic priorities, which are sometimes antithetical to making human rights the preeminent foreign policy objective.   Following 9/11 for example, the U.S. allied with Pakistan’s President Musharraf, who imposed martial law.

There long has been tension between international humanitarian law and an individual state’s territorial integrity. International law implies a duty not to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states but makes exceptions for human rights violations.

One of the most egregious failures to defend human rights took place during the Clinton administration.   President Clinton was well aware, including through CIA intelligence reporting, of the genocide in Rwanda but purposely failed to take any action to protect the roughly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were murdered during a 100-day period in 1994.  Clinton was averse to embroiling the U.S. in another conflict after Somalia, lacked confidence in UN peacekeeping, and did not consider Rwanda to be of enough strategic importance to warrant U.S. intervention.

Aside from the intrinsic ethical and moral value in promoting human rights, governments, which respect human rights are less likely to threaten our national interests.  We must however be realistic about the extent to which the U.S. has to throw weight positively to influence other countries’ treatment of their own citizens.

The CIA has delivered its input and it’s over to our elected officials to decide the policy. 

The U.S. has defended human rights not only with sanctions but also through private diplomacy, public statements from the bully pulpit, and channeling economic and military assistance to countries and organizations, which promote the right to life and liberty and freedom of opinion and expression.  Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush publicly challenged Russian President Putin’s denial of basic freedoms of expression, assembly and the press during Kremlin-controlled parliamentary and presidential elections.

Former Saudi intelligence director and Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal claimed “the CIA is not necessarily the highest standard of veracity or accuracy in assessing situations.” Faisal was understandably trying to degrade the CIA’s influence on policy to enhance his defense of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.   He would have done better to consider the veracity of Saudi claims, given his government’s evolving official rendition of the murder, the ghastly audio tape Turkey provided to CIA Director Gina Haspel, and CCTV coverage of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

But most importantly this debate is not about intelligence but rather U.S. foreign policy.

CIA delivers analytical judgments with low, medium, and high levels of confidence.  At the very best, the CIA might produce an assessment with “near certainty.”  It is always the president’s responsibility and prerogative to incorporate intelligence in his policy deliberation and decision-making.  But intelligence is not the only factor the president considers.   The Trump administration has rightly emphasized our strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, which includes counterterrorism collaboration, countering Iran, and support for Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms.

Former CIA Director John Brennan has called on Congress to declassify the CIA’s findings on Khashoggi’s murder.  A career intelligence officer, Brennan should have been sensitive to the risk of exposing CIA sources and methods and more considerate of House and Senate Intelligence oversite committees, which routinely hold closed hearings.  But of greatest importance is the bottom line, if we take the media leak at face value: the CIA assessed with a high degree of confidence that Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

President Trump delivered a very clear and direct public statement of U.S. policy relating to the Khasghoggi murder. Some of our citizens support his “America first” approach to Saudi Arabia, and some do not.  The CIA has delivered its input and it’s over to our elected officials to decide the policy.  Here’s hoping they ensure we do not entangle our intelligence community in what matters most to our nation: a policy debate about when and how to incorporate human rights into our national security strategy.

Daniel N. Hoffman is a former CIA station chief who joined the Fox News Channel as a contributor in August 2018. Follow him on Twitter @danielhoffmanDC.

Trump goes unnamed but is clearly referenced as Obama, Bush-era figure talk politics in Texas

Without mentioning President Trump, former President Barack Obama praised his indictment-free tenure Tuesday during an invitation-only gala in Houston.

Obama’s remarks came at the tail end of an hour-long interview with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III during the 25th anniversary celebration of the nonpartisan Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, the Houston Chronicle reported.

“Not only did I not get indicted, nobody in my administration got indicted," Obama said to a crowd of more than 1,000. "By the way, it was the only administration in modern history that that can be said about. In fact, nobody came close to being indicted, probably because the people who joined us were there for the right reasons."

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, who moderated the conversational interview between both men, asked Baker, 88, what he was most proud of in his time serving three presidents.

"I’m most proud that I had the privilege of serving two presidents as chief of staff, of being secretary of treasury, of being secretary of state, of running five presidential campaigns, and of leaving Washington without getting indicted," Baker responded.

Since taking office almost two years ago, several Trump aides and associates have been indicted or pleaded guilty to various crimes. On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort violated his plea agreement by lying to the FBI and his office.

At one point Meacham compared Trump to the fictional Harry Potter villain Voldemort.

Obama and Baker covered a wide range of topics, including redistricting, with Obama calling Texas a “champion of gerrymandering” and the evolution of the media and its impact on partisanship.

Baker, who served under Ronald Reagan and both Bush presidents, said "the responsible center in American politics has disappeared."

"Whether it was Cronkite, Brinkley, or what have you, there was a common set of facts, a baseline around which both parties had to respond to," Obama added.  "By the time I take office, what we see is if you are a Fox News viewer, your reality is dramatically different than a New York Times reader."

On foreign policy, Baker raised concerns over America's standing in the world under Trump's watch.

"American leadership in the world is absolutely imperative,” he said. “No other country can do it," adding that America won the Cold War "because we had alliances."

The former president also called for a stop to what he said was the growing threat of bigotry, FOX 26 Houston reported.

“In those environments, you then start getting a different kind of politics. You start getting politics that's based on ‘That person’s not like me and it must be their fault," Obama said. "And you start getting politics based on a nationalism, that's not pride and country, but hatred for somebody on the other side of the border."

Prior to the gala, Obama met with former President George H.W. Bush, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath tweeted.

"The two had a very pleasant and private visit at the Bush residence, where they rekindled what was already a very warm friendship," he wrote on Twitter.

Ex-CIA station chief: The Khashoggi murder, human rights and US foreign policy — a precarious balance

Last week, President Trump stirred some controversy when he assured Saudi Arabia the U.S. would remain a “steadfast partner” in spite of the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi. 

The U.S. imposition of sanctions on seventeen Saudis who were involved in Khashoggi’s murder was not a strong enough response for a bipartisan group of Senators including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who favor harsher sanctions against the Saudi royal family.

Khashoggi’s ghastly murder and Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran in Yemen, which has resulted in a horrific humanitarian crisis, have sparked another round of heated debate about U.S. human rights policy.

U.S. national security relies as much on lethal strikes against our irreconcilable enemies as on a “soft power” commitment to human rights enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The U.S. is a beacon of hope for people all over the world who derive inspiration from our guiding principles including the rule of law, freedom of the press, democracy, and civil liberties.

Integrating human rights into U.S. foreign policy however, presents a myriad of challenges.  President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accurately emphasized the world in which they make policy is “dangerous, mean and nasty.” The U.S. has for decades struggled with competing political, military and economic priorities, which are sometimes antithetical to making human rights the preeminent foreign policy objective.   Following 9/11 for example, the U.S. allied with Pakistan’s President Musharraf, who imposed martial law.

There long has been tension between international humanitarian law and an individual state’s territorial integrity. International law implies a duty not to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereign states but makes exceptions for human rights violations.

One of the most egregious failures to defend human rights took place during the Clinton administration.   President Clinton was well aware, including through CIA intelligence reporting, of the genocide in Rwanda but purposely failed to take any action to protect the roughly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were murdered during a 100-day period in 1994.  Clinton was averse to embroiling the U.S. in another conflict after Somalia, lacked confidence in UN peacekeeping, and did not consider Rwanda to be of enough strategic importance to warrant U.S. intervention.

Aside from the intrinsic ethical and moral value in promoting human rights, governments, which respect human rights are less likely to threaten our national interests.  We must however be realistic about the extent to which the U.S. has to throw weight positively to influence other countries’ treatment of their own citizens.

The CIA has delivered its input and it’s over to our elected officials to decide the policy. 

The U.S. has defended human rights not only with sanctions but also through private diplomacy, public statements from the bully pulpit, and channeling economic and military assistance to countries and organizations, which promote the right to life and liberty and freedom of opinion and expression.  Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush publicly challenged Russian President Putin’s denial of basic freedoms of expression, assembly and the press during Kremlin-controlled parliamentary and presidential elections.

Former Saudi intelligence director and Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal claimed “the CIA is not necessarily the highest standard of veracity or accuracy in assessing situations.” Faisal was understandably trying to degrade the CIA’s influence on policy to enhance his defense of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.   He would have done better to consider the veracity of Saudi claims, given his government’s evolving official rendition of the murder, the ghastly audio tape Turkey provided to CIA Director Gina Haspel, and CCTV coverage of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

But most importantly this debate is not about intelligence but rather U.S. foreign policy.

CIA delivers analytical judgments with low, medium, and high levels of confidence.  At the very best, the CIA might produce an assessment with “near certainty.”  It is always the president’s responsibility and prerogative to incorporate intelligence in his policy deliberation and decision-making.  But intelligence is not the only factor the president considers.   The Trump administration has rightly emphasized our strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, which includes counterterrorism collaboration, countering Iran, and support for Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms.

Former CIA Director John Brennan has called on Congress to declassify the CIA’s findings on Khashoggi’s murder.  A career intelligence officer, Brennan should have been sensitive to the risk of exposing CIA sources and methods and more considerate of House and Senate Intelligence oversite committees, which routinely hold closed hearings.  But of greatest importance is the bottom line, if we take the media leak at face value: the CIA assessed with a high degree of confidence that Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

President Trump delivered a very clear and direct public statement of U.S. policy relating to the Khasghoggi murder. Some of our citizens support his “America first” approach to Saudi Arabia, and some do not.  The CIA has delivered its input and it’s over to our elected officials to decide the policy.  Here’s hoping they ensure we do not entangle our intelligence community in what matters most to our nation: a policy debate about when and how to incorporate human rights into our national security strategy.

Daniel N. Hoffman is a former CIA station chief who joined the Fox News Channel as a contributor in August 2018. Follow him on Twitter @danielhoffmanDC.

Heather Nauert a ‘leading contender’ to replace Haley as UN ambassador, sources say

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert is a "leading contender" to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, two sources familiar with the selection process told Fox News on Monday.

Nauert met with President Trump in the Oval Office earlier Monday, though it is not known if they discussed the position. Several other officials have been named as potential candidates, including U.S. Ambassador to France Jamie McCourt.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, surprised many observers earlier this month when she announced she would leave the post of U.N. envoy by the end of this year. She had been considered an effective advocate for U.S. interests at the world body, as well as an independent force in the Trump administration.

TRUMP TELLS FOX NEWS CARAVAN MIGRANTS 'WASTING THEIR TIME'

Nauert, a former Fox News host, was named State Department spokesperson in April 2017. Earlier this year, she also was named acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs after the dismissal of Steve Goldstein from that post.

On Oct. 20, Trump told The Associated Press after a Nevada campaign rally that he was interviewing five candidates to replace Haley — three women and two men — and said he hoped to select someone "very quickly." When asked if he would prefer to have a woman in the job, he said "Yes," later adding: "I think I might prefer that, but we'll see."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.