Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Trump visits Afghanistan in 2019. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is working quickly to shift U.S. policies and, where possible, bind the incoming Biden administration to them.

Why it matters: All of these steps are being taken without any coordination with Biden's team, which still lacks access to the intelligence and resources typically made available during a transition. In many cases, the Trump administration is trying to proactively thwart Biden's agenda.

Afghanistan

The U.S. will reduce its troop counts in both Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 ahead of Biden's inauguration, from 4,500 and 3,000, respectively (both numbers had already been reduced sharply this year).

Those announcements came from acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller because Trump had days earlier removed an obstacle to the troop reductions: Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He also installed loyalists in key Pentagon positions.

  • Miller's announcement came despite dire warnings from Senate Republicans and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
  • Their concern is that an expedited NATO exit would leave only a vulnerable Afghan army to maintain security, which would offer terror groups like al-Qaeda room to operate.

But a reduction to 2,500 troops — not to zero, as Trump had promised — is likely a policy Biden can live with.

  • He has long supported withdrawal from Afghanistan, while keeping open the possibility of leaving a counterterrorism force behind.

Where things stand: The U.S.-Taliban peace deal in February included an understanding that the two sides would reduce their attacks on one another.

  • But since then, the Taliban has conducted more attacks on Afghan targets than during any other period of the war, while breaking its pledge to cut ties with al-Qaeda, per WSJ.
Iran

Trump asked his national security team last week for military options to strike Iran's nuclear program, the NY Times reports.

The backstory: Trump was reacting to reports that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to 12 times the maximum amount allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • He was convinced not to strike Iran by aides who said it would risk a war.
  • But, per the Times, he "might still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq."

The other side: Biden blames Iran's buildup on Trump's exit from the nuclear deal, and he says he'll rejoin the pact if Iran returns to compliance.

  • But the Trump administration is trying to make that more difficult, mainly by piling new sanctions on Tehran that it hopes the new administration will find politically difficult to lift.

Trump's administration is also taking or contemplating other steps that align with its broader anti-Iran campaign, which could make life difficult for Biden.

  • The administration announced a $23 billion arms deal with the UAE that would make the Emirates the first Arab country to possess the F-35, America's most advanced fighter aircraft.

The administration is also considering designating the Houthi rebel group, which controls much of Yemen and is linked to Iran, as a terror organization.

  • The UN says that would make the peace deal it is trying to strike in Yemen much more difficult.
  • Meanwhile, five major aid organizations operating in Yemen wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has reportedly been pushing for the move, to warn that it "could undermine the overstretched humanitarian response in Yemen, threatening the lives of up to 24 million Yemenis who require humanitarian assistance."
Israel

Pompeo on Thursday became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

  • He brought with him a new policy — goods exported to the U.S. from the settlements must now be labeled “Made in Israel."
  • The policy announced by Pompeo is more radical than the Israeli government's position on the settlements, Axios' Barak Ravid writes, in that it signals U.S. recognition of de facto Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank.

The big picture: While the rest of the world views the settlements as illegal under international law and not part of Israel, the Trump administration has taken several steps intended to legitimize them and blur the differentiation between Israel and the West Bank.

What to watch: Pompeo's announcement puts another hurdle in place for Biden if, as expected, he seeks to roll back Trump's policies on settlements.

Go deeper

Updated 14 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia denies Netanyahu met secretly with crown prince

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif at a press conference on Nov. 18. Photo: Menahem Kahana/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled in secret Sunday to the city of Neom on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli sources told me.

The latest: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan on Monday denied the meeting took place — a signal that the Saudis may be unhappy with the leak or are at least trying to publicly distance themselves from the meeting. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has not denied the story.

Updated Nov 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden to name Antony Blinken as secretary of state

Anthony Blinken, then deputy secretary of state speaks at a 2016 summit 2016 in New York City. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

President-elect Joe Biden will name as secretary of state his longtime adviser Antony Blinken, who has held diplomatic and national security jobs since the Clinton administration, a Biden adviser confirmed to Axios on Sunday.

Our thought bubble: By nominating Blinken, who has worked closely with Biden over the past two decades, Biden may return more authority to and work to rebuild the ranks and morale inside the diplomatic corps after President Trump moved to diminish its reach and centralize decision making inside the White House.

Biden transition names first Cabinet nominees

Tony Blinken at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in 2016. Photo: Pool / The Embassy of the United States of America in Baghdad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday unveiled his nominations for top national security positions in his administration, tapping former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate czar and former deputy national security adviser Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.

Why it matters: Haines, if confirmed, would make history as the first woman to oversee the U.S. intelligence community. Biden also plans to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas to become the first Latino secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.