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On the President's Desk: Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was a movement which began in late 2010 in a number of middle eastern and north African nations. It was a protest in response to oppressive regimes and a low standard of living in the region. Protests first began in Tunisia. Social media is credited with having been one of the driving forces behind the swift spread of revolution throughout the region. New protests seemed to appear in response to news of the successes experienced by those movements taking place in other countries. In many of these nations, the governments recognized the importance of social media for organizing by its opposition and some of these governments tried to shut down certain sites or blocked Internet service entirely, especially in the days preceding major rallies. These governments also scrutinized discussion in those forums in order to locate its enemies and those fomenting revolt. In some cases these leaders were falsely accused of unrelated crimes. In other cases the government attempted to shut down communication on specific sites or groups, such as Facebook.

The revolution in Tunisia was one of the first successful ones. In 2010 a series of violent street demonstrations began following the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid. These protests ultimately led to the ousting of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. The demonstrations protested the high unemployment, high levels of inflation especially for food, government corruption, lack of freedom of speech, other forms of political oppression, and poor living conditions. The protests resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, most of which were the result of action by police and security forces against demonstrators. Ben Ali fled into exile in Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 years in power.

A caretaker coalition government was created following Ben Ali's departure, which included members of Ben Ali's party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), as well as opposition figures from other ministries. The non-RCD ministers resigned almost immediately and the protests continued. On January 27, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi reshuffled the government, removing all former RCD members other than himself, and on February 6 the former ruling party was suspended and later (on 9 March) it was dissolved. Following further public protests, Ghannouchi resigned on February 27, and Beji Caid Essebsi became Prime Minister.

On October 23, 2011, Tunisians voted in the first post-revolution election. The voters elected representatives to a 217-member constituent assembly that would be responsible for the new constitution. The leading Islamist party, Ennahda, won 37% of the vote, and elected 42 women to the Constituent Assembly. On January 26, 2014, a new constitution was approved in a referendum. The constitution increases human rights, gender equality, government accountability and makes Tunisia a more transparent and open government. On October 26, 2014, the country held its first parliamentary elections since the 2011 Arab Spring. Its presidential election was held on November 23, 2014

The effects of the Tunisian Revolution spread strongly to five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where either the regime was toppled or major uprisings and social violence occurred, including riots, civil wars or insurgencies. Sustained street demonstrations took place in Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Iranian Khuzestan, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. Minor protests occurred in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, and the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.

The wave of initial revolutions and protests faded by mid-2012, as many Arab Spring demonstrations were met with violent responses from the government militias and militaries. Large-scale conflicts resulted—the Syrian Civil War, subsequent unrest and insurgency in other countries. In some countries leadership and regime changes led to power vacuums and to a conflict between religious elites and those supporting democracy. Counter-revolutionary movements by foreign state actors arose in Yemen and of the Saudi-UAE-linked military deep state in Egypt. Military interventions in Bahrain and Yemen followed along with destructive civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

In 2011, after three weeks of unrest, President Barack Obama urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Following Mubarak's resignation, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi later took power from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup d'état. In response, President Obama directed US arms shipments to be cut off to Egypt. Obama later resumed the shipments in 2015.

Yemen experienced a revolution and then civil war, leading to a Saudi military campaign that received logistical and intelligence assistance from the United States. President Obama announced his administration's intention to review U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia after Saudi warplanes targeted a funeral in Yemen's capital Sanaa, killing more than 140 people.


For the first two years of his presidency, President Donald Trump has proposed a substantial cut in U.S. assistance to Tunisia, suggesting that aid be cut by more than half, from $185.4 million to about $80 million. This was one of the issue of conflict between the President and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called Tunisia “an important partner”. The extent to which the United States supports the positive results of the Arab Spring will continue to remain an important issue on the president's desk.

On the President's Desk: Russia

Official contact between Russia and the new United States of America began in 1776 following the Declaration of Independence. Russia remained neutral during the American Revolution, though it favored the US over the British. Future President John Quincy Adams served as Minister to Russia from 1809 to 1814 following the establishment of formal diplomatic ties. Adams arrived in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg in October 1809 and established a productive working relationship with the Russian government. He befriended Tsar Alexander I of Russia and his wife Louisa was popular at the Russian court.

During the Civil War Russia supported the Union against the Confederacy, and its support was a factor which deterred the British from intervening. Russia sold its territory in North America, Alaska, to the United States in 1867. In 1905 Russia and Japan turned to US President Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a peace that resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War.

From 1820 until 1917, over 3 million immigrants arrived in the U.S. from Russia Empire. Most were Jews or Poles. The relationship between the two countries changed with the Russian Revolution as the U.S. was one of the nations which participated in the allied military intervention against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. The US refused to formally recognize the Soviet government and did not re-establish diplomatic relations until November of 1933. The United States and the Soviet Union, along with Great Britain, formed the Big Three major Allies against the Axis powers during World War II.

When the war ended, tensions arose between those allied nations with democratic governments and those with communist governments, primarily Russia, leading to what became known as the Cold War. On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by the U.S., Canada, and several Western European nations, in Washington, D.C. The treaty established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which was designed to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.

The development of both nations as nuclear powers increased the Cold War tensions. In 1975, the Helsinki Final Act was signed by a multitude of countries, including the USSR and the US. It was not binding legal agreement or treaty, but it acknowledged recognition of the Soviet Union′s dominance in Eastern Europe and the Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the 1970s and 1980s the USSR and the U.S. signed a series of arms control treaties such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972, two Strategic Arms Limitation treaties (SALT) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987), and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991.

In the late 1980s, a number of Eastern European nations took advantage of the reforms brought about under Mikhail Gorbachev. They began to break away from communist rule. The economic costs of the Cold War had made it difficult for the Russian government to bring these nations back into the fold. On December 3, 1989, Gorbachev and the U.S. President George H. W. Bush declared the Cold War over at the
On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose association of the former USSR's constituent republics was formed. The USSR's Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic became an independent state that took over the USSR's UN Security Council permanent membership.

Relations between Russia and the U.S. remained cordial under Russia's president Boris Yeltsin and the President George H. W. Bush and then with the Clinton administrations in the 1990s. In 1993, the two countries signed the START II arms control treaty that was designed to ban the use of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The treaty was ratified by both countries, but was never implemented and was formally abandoned in 2002, aftr the US′s withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

At the end of the 1990s, relations took a turn for the worse following the first phase of the NATO eastward expansion. Russia opposed the U.S.-led NATO military operation against Serbia and Montenegro over Kosovo that began in late March 1999. In December 1999, while on a visit to China, president Boris Yeltsin criticized President Bill Clinton after Clinton was critical of Russia's tactics in Chechnya at the start of the Second Chechen War. Yeltsin reminded his audience that Russia remained a nuclear superpower.

Vladimir Putin, who assumed the Russian Presidency on December 31, 1999. Under Putin, Russia became more assertive in international affairs. Russian leadership blamed the US for encouraging anti-Russian revolts during the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to move forward with plans for a missile defense system. Putin was critical of the decision. Russia strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but stopped short of exercising its veto in the United Nations Security Council. Putin considered the expansion of NATO into the old Eastern Bloc, and U.S. efforts to gain access to Central Asian oil and natural gas as a potentially hostile encroachment on Russia's sphere of influence.

In March 2007, the U.S. announced plans to build an anti-ballistic missile defense installation in Poland along with a radar station in the Czech Republic. Both nations were once Warsaw Pact members. U.S. officials claimed that the system was designed to protect the United States and Europe from possible nuclear missile attacks by Iran or North Korea. Russia saw the new system as a threat. In response, Russia tested a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-24, which it claimed could defeat any defense system. On June 3, 2007, Putin warned that if the United States built the missile defense system, Russia would consider targeting missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic.

In October 2007, Vladimir Putin visited Iran to discuss Russia's aid to Iran's nuclear power program. President Bush criticized this action, stating, "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. " In response, Putin compared U.S. plans to put up a missile defense system near Russia's border as analogous to when the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba, prompting the Cuban Missile Crisis. In February 2008, Putin threatened to retarget some of Russia's missiles towards the missile defense system. He also said that missiles might be redirected towards Ukraine if they went ahead with plans to build NATO bases within their territory. Putin said "We will be compelled to aim our missiles at facilities that we consider a threat to our national security." In July 2008, Russia announced that if a U.S. anti-missile shield was deployed near the Russian border, it would have to react militarily.

On August 14, 2008, the U.S. and Poland agreed to have 10 two-stage missile interceptors placed in Poland, as part of a missile shield to defend Europe and the U.S. from a possible missile attack by Iran. In return, the U.S. agreed to move a battery of MIM-104 Patriot missiles to Poland, staffed by U.S. Military personnel. The Czech Republic also agreed to allow the placement of a radar-tracking station in their country as part of the missile defense shield. After the agreement was announced, Russian officials said defences on Russia's borders would be increased.

In August 2008, United States-Russia bilateral relations became further strained, when Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Later, in November 2008, after Barack Obama was elected president, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in his first annual address to the Federal Assembly of Russia announced plans to deploy Iskander short-range missiles to Kaliningrad, near the border with Poland, if the United States went ahead with its European Ballistic Missile Defense System. Medvedev and President Obama released a statement at the 2009 G20 summit in London that promised a "fresh start" in Russia–United States relations. The statement also called on Iran to abandon its nuclear program and to permit foreign inspectors into the country. In early July 2009, Obama visited Moscow where he met with Medvedev and prime minister Putin. Speaking at the New Economic School Obama said, "America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia. This belief is rooted in our respect for the Russian people, and a shared history between our nations that goes beyond competition."

In March 2010, the United States and Russia reached an agreement to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The new nuclear arms reduction treaty (called New START) was signed by President Obama and President Medvedev on April 8, 2010. The agreement called for a reduction in the number of long-range nuclear weapons held by each side to about 1,500, down from the current maximum of 2,200 set by the Moscow Treaty of 2002. The New START replaced the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December 2009.

Mass protests took place in Russia after the legislative election in early December 2011 of prime minister Vladimir Putin. Putin accused the United States of interference and inciting unrest. He accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of fomenting unrest in the country. By 2012, an atmosphere of mistrust continued. In 2012 Putin was once again elected President. In mid-September 2013, the United States and Russia reached agreement for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. The Obama administration was criticized for having used the chemical weapons deal as an ineffective alternative to military action that Obama had promised in the event of use of chemical weapons by the Syrians. Obama personally thanked Putin for Russia's role in the agreement.

In July 2012, two Russian Tu-95 Bear aircraft were intercepted by NORAD fighters in the air defense zone off the U.S. coast of Alaska, where they were on maneuvers. On December 14, 2012, U.S. president Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which imposed travel and financial restrictions on designated human rights abusers in Russia. On December 28, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a retaliatory bill that banned any United States citizen from adopting children from Russia. On February 12, 2013, hours before the 2013 State of the Union Address by U.S. President Obama, two Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers, reportedly equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, circled the U.S. territory of Guam. Air Force F-15 jets based on Andersen Air Force Base were scrambled to intercept the aircraft.

In July 2014, the U.S. government accused Russia of having violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited medium-range ground-launched cruise missile. In early June 2015, the State Department reported that Russia had failed to correct the violation of the I.N.F. Treaty.

In July of 2013, Russia granted political asylum to Edward Snowden, a contractor for the United States government, who copied and released hundreds of thousands of pages of secret U.S. government documents. He fled to Hong Kong, and then to Russia. Snowden was wanted on a criminal warrant by U.S. prosecutors for theft of government property and espionage. The granting of asylum aggravated relations between the two countries and led to the cancellation of a meeting between Obama and Putin that was scheduled for early September 2013 in Moscow. Snowden is believed to remain in Russia

Following the collapse of the Viktor Yanukovych government in Ukraine in February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. It justified the action on the basis of a controversial referendum held on March 16, 2014. The U.S. had submitted a UN Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, but the resolution was vetoed by Russia. U.S. secretary of state John Kerry said, "This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext." On March 24, 2014, the U.S. and its allies in the G8 political forum suspended Russia's membership. President Obama ruled out any Western military intervention in Ukraine and said that Russia's annexation of Crimea would be hard to reverse.

As unrest spread into eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, relations between the U.S. and Russia worsened. The U.S. government imposed punitive sanctions for Russia's activity in Ukraine, targeting Russia's major energy, financial and defence companies. From March 2014 to 2016, six rounds of sanctions were imposed by the US, as well as by the EU. The first three rounds targeted individuals close to Putin by freezing their assets and denying leave to enter. Russia responded by banning import of certain food products as well as by banning entry for certain government officials from the countries that imposed sanctions against Russia. The passage of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 prohibited Russian state firms from accessing Western financing and technology and provided $350 million in arms and military equipment to Ukraine.

On September 30, 2015, Russia began an air campaign in Syria on the side of the Syrian government headed by president Bashar al-Assad of Syria. President Obama called the military campaign a "recipe for disaster". U.S. military officials ruled out military cooperation with Russia in Syria. Russia's campaign was seen as propping up Assad, whom Obama had repeatedly called upon to leave power. Three weeks into the Russian campaign in Syria, on October 20, 2015, Putin met with Assad in Moscow to discuss their joint military campaign and a future political settlement in Syria. The meeting provoked a sharp condemnation from the White House.

Syrian peace talks were held in Vienna in October and November 2015, with Iran participating. Bilateral negotiations over Syria were unilaterally suspended by the U.S on October 3, 2016, in response to a renewed offensive on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian troops. On the same day Putin signed a decree suspending the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement with the U.S. Putin complained about the failure by the U.S. to comply with the agreement.

The U.S. presidential election campaign of 2016 led to accusations of the Russian government of being behind massive cyber-hackings and leaks that aimed at influencing the election. The accusations were dismissed by Putin. He said the idea that Russia was favoring Donald Trump was a myth created by the Clinton campaign. The FBI investigated alleged connections between Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort. In mid-November 2016, shortly after the election of Donald Trump, the Kremlin accused president Barack Obama's administration of trying to damage the U.S.' relationship with Russia in order to prevent good relations with the incoming administration of Donald Trump. In an address to the Russian parliament delivered on December 1, 2016, Putin said, "We are prepared to cooperate with the new American administration. It's important to normalize and begin to develop bilateral relations on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. Mutual efforts by Russia and the United States in solving global and regional problems are in the interest of the entire world."

In early December 2016, the White House said that President Obama had ordered the intelligence agencies to review evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. President-elect Donald Trump called the CIA accusation that Russia was behind the hackers' efforts to sway the campaign in his favor "ridiculous". In mid-December 2016, Hillary Clinton suggested that Putin had a personal grudge against her due to her criticism of the 2011 Russian legislative election and his opinion that she was responsible for fomenting the anti-Putin protests in Russia that began in December 2011. She partially attributed her loss in the 2016 election to Russian meddling organized by Putin.

A week after the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, the new President had a 50-minute telephone conversation with Putin in which the presidents agreed to arrange a face-to-face meeting.

The Russians condemned the cruise-missile strikes on the Syrian Shayrat Airbase, conducted by the U.S. on April 7 2017 in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack. The Russian government called this an "act of aggression" based on a "trumped-up pretext", and said that this would substantially impair Russia–United States relations. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the attack had placed the U.S. on the cusp of warfare with Russia. In early June, Vladimir Putin said relations were at an all-time low since the end of the Cold War. In April 2017, Trump's administration denied a request from ExxonMobil to allow it to resume oil drilling in Russia. In July 2017, ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government challenging the finding that the company violated sanctions imposed on Russia.

On July 6, 2017, during a speech in Warsaw, Poland, Trump urged Russia to cease its support for "hostile regimes" in Syria and Iran. The following day, Trump met with Putin at the G20 Hamburg summit in Germany. The two got together again in November 2017 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Danang, although they had no formal meeting.

On March 1, 2018, Putin announced missile technology breakthroughs made by Russia. These were seen by Trump administration officials as false reports. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that the systems Putin had talked about "are still years away" and he did not see them changing the military balance. The remarks fueled US antagonism against Russia. On March 26, 2018, President Trump ordered the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. This was followed by the expulsion of a total of 140 Russian diplomats by 25 countries.

In April 2018, US missile strikes were launched against Syrian government targets following the suspected chemical attack in Douma on April 7. Russia′s top military officials threatening to hit U.S. military targets in the event of a massive U.S.-led strike against Syria. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said that direct military conflict between the Russian forces and the U.S. forces in Syria had been averted in April "by the wisdom of the Russian leadership". He claimed that the US-led missile attack against Syria would have been far more extensive had it not been for Russia′s intervention.

On June 8, 2018, Trump appeared to be retreating from his tough stance against Russia when he called for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7. He met with Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018, and was criticized for appearing to have sided with Putin on the issue of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, criticizing findings of the United States Intelligence Community. Republican Senator John McCain called the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

It is unclear what direction US-Russian relations will take going forward. The perplexing problem on the president's desk is how to meaningfully condemn and end Russian support for the oppressive Assad regime, while managing the military balance between the two nations and preventing further arms build-up. It's a long way away from the issues that John Quincy Adams had to contend with.

On the President's Desk: Afghanistan

For centuries Afghanistan has been a place of strategic importance in world affairs. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan served as a buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire. Its border with British India was created in 1893 but the Afghan government has had strained relations with Pakistan since Pakistani independence in 1947. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan was free of foreign influence for decades. It become a monarchy under King Amanullah. Fifty years later Zahir Shah was overthrown and a republic was established. In 1978, after a second coup Afghanistan became a socialist state and then a Soviet Union protectorate. This evoked the Soviet–Afghan War in the 1980s. By 1996 most of Afghanistan was captured by the Islamic fundamentalist group the Taliban, who ruled most of the country as a totalitarian regime for over five years. The Taliban were forcibly removed by the NATO-led coalition, and a new democratically-elected government political structure was formed.

The first known contact between Afghanistan and the United States occurred in the 1830s when Josiah Harlan, an American adventurer from Philadelphia traveled to the the region with intentions of becoming the King of Afghanistan. The British Indian army invaded Afghanistan, during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–1842) at a time when Afghan kings Shuja Shah Durrani and Dost Mohammad Khan were fighting for the throne of the Durrani Empire. Harlan became involved in Afghani factional military actions. He was named Prince of Ghor in exchange for military aid. In the war, the British-Indian forces were defeated. They made a complete withdrawal from the region a few years later. Harlan is believed to have left Afghanistan around the same period, eventually returning to the United States.

In 1911, A.C. Jewett arrived in Afghanistan to build a hydroelectric plant near Kabul. He became the Chief Engineer for King Habibullah Khan. He is believed to be the second American known to live and work in Afghanistan. A decade later, in January 1921, the Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed between Afghanistan and colonial British India, and the Afghan mission contacted the United States to establish diplomatic relations. Upon their return to Kabul, the envoys brought greetings from President Warren G. Harding. After the establishment of diplomatic relations, American aid helped Afghanistan to raise its standard of living. Residing in Tehran, William Harrison Hornibrook served as a non-resident US Envoy (Minister Plenipotentiary) to Afghanistan from 1935 to 1936. Louis Goethe Dreyfus served in that role from 1940 to 1942, and in June of 1942 the Kabul Legation was opened. Major Gordon Enders was appointed the first military attaché to Kabul and Cornelius Van Hemert Engert represented the U.S. Legation from 1942 to 1945 followed by Ely Eliot Palmer from 1945 to 1948. Afghanistan remained neutral during the Second World War and also maintained diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany during the war.

Afghan-American relations were important during the Cold War. Prince Mohammed Naim, King Zahir Shah's cousin, became the Chargé d'affaires in Washington, D.C. and President Harry S. Truman determined that a strong friendship between the two countries had to be maintained. Truman directed the exchange of senior diplomats in each capital. The first official Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States was Habibullah Khan Tarzi, who served until 1953. The U.S. Kabul Legation became the U.S. Embassy Kabul on May 6, 1948. Louis Goethe Dreyfus, who previously served as Minister Plenipotentiary, became the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 1949 to 1951. In 1953, Vice-President Richard Nixon made an official diplomatic visit to Kabul. He also took a short tour around the city and met with local Afghans.

In 1958, Prime Minister Daoud Khan became the first Afghan to speak before the United States Congress in Washington, DC. He spoke about the importance of US-Afghan relations. Daoud met with President Dwight Eisenhower, signed an important cultural exchange agreement, and traveled around the United States visiting the New York Stock Exchange, the Empire State Building, hydroelectric facilities at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and other sites. Eisenhower declined Afghanistan's request for defense cooperation, but he approved an economic assistance program for the development of Afghanistan's physical infrastructure, roads, dams, and power plants. Contacts between the United States and Afghanistan increased, especially during the Cuban Revolution when the Soviet Union was supporting Cuba's Fidel Castro. The United States focused on Afghanistan for its strategic purposes with the goal of countering the spread of communism and the strength of the Soviet Union into South Asia.

Eisenhower made a state visit to Afghanistan in December 1959. He met with King Zahir Shah, Prime Minister Daoud and a number of high-ranking government officials. He also took toured Kabul. From the 1950s to 1979, U.S. foreign assistance provided Afghanistan with more than $500 million in loans, grants, and surplus agricultural commodities to develop transportation facilities, increase agricultural production, expand the educational system, stimulate industry, and improve government administration. In 1963, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan made a special state visit to the United States where he met with President John F. Kennedy. The King toured parts of the United States, visiting Disneyland in California, New York City and other places. Habibullah Karzai, uncle of Hamid Karzai served as representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations.

In 1970 Vice President Spiro Agnew made a visit to Kabul, accompanied by Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan as part of an eleven-nation tour of Asia. At a formal dinner hosted by the Royal Family, the American delegation presented the King with a piece of lunar rock, a small Afghan flag carried on the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, and photographs of Afghanistan taken from space. The Peace Corps was active in Afghanistan between 1962 and 1979. During this time many other American programs were operating in Afghanistan such as CARE, American Scouting overseas, and USAID.

A 1973 coup had brought a pro-Western government into power in Afghanistan but five years later, Communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power. The new regime signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in December 1978. Taraki's oppresionist regime made efforts to redistribute land. He ordered mass executions and took other politically oppression actions. This led to a revolt by mujahideen rebels. Following a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September. After the April 1978 Saur Revolution, relations between the United States and Afghanistan deteriorated even more. In February 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph "Spike" Dubs was kidnapped in Kabul. He was murdered after Afghan security forces burst in on his kidnappers. The U.S. then reduced its assistance and terminated its military training program.

Soviet leaders feared that an Islamist government in Afghanistan would destabilize the region. They deployed 30,000 soldiers to the Soviet–Afghan border. President Jimmy Carter began sending aid to the mujahideen rebels in early 1979. By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as president. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caught Carter by surprise. Carter believed that the Soviet conquest of Afghanistan would present a grave threat to the Persian Gulf region. In a televised speech, Carter announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promised renewed aid to Pakistan. In cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Carter increased aid to the mujahideen through the CIA's Operation Cyclone. Carter also later announced a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to an increase in the defense budget, leading to a new arms race with the Soviet Union. U.S. support for the mujahideen would accelerate under Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, at a final cost to U.S. taxpayers of some $3 billion. The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, a prequel to the breakup of the Soviet Union itself.

Terrorism became an increasingly important national security issue during Clinton's administration. In the closing years of the Soviet–Afghan War, Osama bin Laden had organized al-Qaeda, a militant Sunni organization. Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders were resentful of the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda grew during the 1990s and engaged in terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. The group claimed responsibility for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and the bombing of a U.S. ship at port in Yemen. In retaliation, Clinton ordered the bombing of al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan. The Central Intelligence Agency and the military tracked bin Laden's movements in an attempt to capture or kill him, but Bin Laden evaded capture or death within the mountainous and hostile country of Afghanistan.

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew two them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying both 110-story skyscrapers. Another plane crashed into Pentagon. The fourth plane was brought down in Pennsylvania following a struggle between the terrorists and the aircraft's passengers. Appearing on national television on the night of the attacks, Bush promised to punish those who had aided the attacks, stating, "we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." He declared a "War on Terror", instituting new domestic and foreign policies in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks.

After 9/11, the Bush administration planned military action to punish the government of Afghanistan, which harbored the leaders of al-Qaeda. Bush decided to lead an invasion of Afghanistan, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the conservative Taliban government. On September 14, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of military force against those responsible for the attacks. On October 7, 2001 Bush authorized the invasion of Afghanistan.

General Tommy Franks, the commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), drew up a four-phase invasion plan. The first phase involved the U.S. build up of forces in the surrounding area and coordination with the Northern Alliance, an Afghan resistance group opposed to the Taliban. The second phase consisted of a major air campaign against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. The third phase involved the defeat of the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. The fourth and final phase consisted of the stabilization of Afghanistan, which Franks projected would take three to five years.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7 with several air and missile strikes. On October 19, the Northern Alliance began its offensive, and the capital of Kabul was captured on November 13. Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as the new president of Afghanistan. The senior leadership of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including bin Laden, avoided capture. Karzai remained in power for the duration of Bush's presidency, but his effective control was limited to the area around Kabul. Various warlords took control of much of the rest of the country. The Taliban regrouped in neighboring Pakistan.

The United States took the leading role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, providing billions of dollars to the Afghan National Security Forces, building national roads, government and educational institutions. In 2005, the United States and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long-term relationship. On March 1, 2006, President George W. Bush along with his wife Laura made a visit to Afghanistan where they greeted US soldiers, met with Afghan officials and later appeared at a special inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Embassy.

President Barack Obama increased the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan during his first term. In his second term he withdred most military personnel. On taking office, Obama announced that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be bolstered by 17,000 new troops by the summer of 2009, in addition to the roughly 30,000 soldiers already in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Michael Mullen all argued for further troops, and Obama dispatched additional soldiers after a lengthy review process. The number of American soldiers in Afghanistan reached its peak at 100,000 in 2010. In 2012, the U.S. and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in which the U.S. agreed to hand over major combat operation to Afghan forces. That same year, the Obama administration designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally.

Afghan President Karzai came under fire in 2009 from the Obama administration for his unwillingness to crack down on government corruption. After winning the 2009 presidential election Karzai vowed to tackle the problem. He stated that "individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government.

In 2014, Obama announced that most troops would leave Afghanistan by late 2016, with a small force remaining at the US embassy. In September 2014, Ashraf Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai as the President of Afghanistan. On January 1, 2015, the U.S. military ended Operation Enduring Freedom and began Resolute Support Mission, in which the U.S. shifted to more of a training role. In October 2015, Obama announced that U.S. soldiers would remain in Afghanistan indefinitely in order to support the Afghan government in the civil war against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIL. President Obama left office with roughly 8,400 U.S. soldiers remaining in Afghanistan.

On August 21, 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he would expand the American presence in Afghanistan, without giving details on any timelines, troop numbers or specific goals. He said that a US withdrawal was not an option as it would play into the hands of terrorists. He said that publicising deadlines and exact plans would only help those groups prepare. He added that 20 US designated terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan. Afghani government officials support the new strategy. They consider Pakistan as a main sponsor of the insurgency. Trump has said, "we can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond". The Afghan president has said that "the strategy is made in accordance with realities on the ground. This is the first time the US government is coming with a very clear-cut message to Pakistan to either stop what you're doing or face the negative consequences."

On September 19. 2017, the Trump Administration deployed another 3,000 US troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to approximately 14,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. Fighting against ISIL and Taliban forces has continued through 2018. The problem of bringing about peace in Afghanistan is one that will remain on the President's desk for years to come.

On the President's Desk: Mexico

The United States of has a long and interesting relationship with its neighbor to the south that has included a war and the annexation of territory. Originally part of Spain, the two nations have a shared history dating back to the Texas Revolution. Treaties have been concluded between the two nations, most notably the Gadsden Purchase, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico and the United States are members of various international organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations. Boundary disputes and allocation of boundary waters have been administered since 1889 by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which also maintains international dams and wastewater sanitation facilities.

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Early U.S.–Mexico relations grew out of the earlier relations between the fledgling nation of the United States and the Spanish Empire began with the birth of the new American nation. Modern-day Mexico formed the core area of the Viceroyalty of New Spain when the United States gained independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Spain had served as an ally to the American colonists in that war. But while relations initially began cordially enough, they would become strained over developments in Texas. In the early 19th century the United States claimed that Texas was part of the territory of Louisiana, and therefore had been rightfully acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The Spanish disputed this and the western boundaries of Louisiana were never clearly defined. In 1819 the dispute was resolved with the signing of the Adams–Onís Treaty, in which the United States relinquished its claims to Texas and instead purchased Spanish Florida.

In 1821 New Spain gained its independence from Spain and established the First Mexican Empire under the rule of Agustín de Iturbide. Independent Mexico was soon recognized by the United States and the two countries quickly established diplomatic relations, with Joel Poinsett serving as the first envoy. In 1828 Mexico and the United States confirmed the boundaries established by the Adams–Onís Treaty by concluding the Treaty of Limits, but not all Americans were happy with the treaty, especially because it relinquished America's claim to Texas. Poinsett was sent by President James Monroe to negotiate the acquisition of new territories for the United States, including Texas, New Mexico, and as parts of California. Poinsett's offer to purchase these areas was rejected by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Poinsett was successful in obtaining preferential treatment of U.S. goods over those of Britain.

Texas remained a focal point of U.S-Mexico relations for decades. Slavery had expanded into Texas, even though it had been abolished in Mexico. Beginning in the 1820s, Americans led by Stephan F. Austin and other non-Mexicans began to settle in eastern Texas in large numbers. These Anglo-American settlers, known as Texians, wanted autonomy from the central Mexican government and the expansion of slavery into Mexico. Slavery had been abolished in 1829 under Mexican president Vicente Guerrero. This conflict led to the Texas Revolution, which came on the heels of 1835 amendments to the Constitution of Mexico, which called for more direct intervention in Texas by the Mexican government. Public opinion in the southern United States was sympathetic to the Texians. Following the war a Republic of Texas was declared, though independence was not recognized by Mexico. The boundaries between the two nations were never agreed upon. In 1845 the United States annexed Texas, leading to a major border dispute and eventually to the Mexican–American War.

The Mexican–American War was fought from 1846 to 1848. Mexico refused to acknowledge that Texas had achieved independence and warned that annexation to the United States would mean war. The United States annexed Texas in late 1845. The war began the next spring. President James K. Polk encouraged Congress to declare war following a number of skirmishes on the disputed Mexican–American border. The war did not work out well for Mexico. The Americans seized New Mexico and California and invaded Mexico's northern provinces. In September 1847, U.S. troops under General Winfield Scott captured Mexico City. The war ended in a decisive U.S. victory. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and Mexico was forced to sell California and New Mexico, to the United States in the Mexican Cession. Additionally, Mexico relinquished its claims to Texas, and the United States forgave Mexico's debts to U.S. citizens. Mexicans in the annexed areas became full U.S. citizens.

In 1854 the United States purchased an additional 30,000 square miles of desert land from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase for $10 million. The goal was to build a rail line through southern Arizona to California. The sale by Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna was followed by the Revolution of Ayutla in Mexico in which Santa Ana was overthrown as President. Eventually the liberal government of Benito Juárez negotiated with the U.S. A treaty was concluded in 1859 between Melchor Ocampo and the U.S. representative Robert Milligan McLane, giving their names to the McLane-Ocampo Treaty. The U.S. Senate failed to ratify the treaty. Had it passed, Mexico would have made significant concessions to the U.S. in exchange for cash desperately needed by the liberal Mexican government.

In 1861, Mexican conservatives looked to French leader Napoleon III to abolish the Republic led by liberal President Benito Juárez. France favored the Confederate States of America in the Civil War, but did not go so far as diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy. The French expected that a Confederate victory would lead to French economic dominance in Mexico. France invaded Mexico and installed an Austrian prince Maximilian I of Mexico as its ruler in 1864. Juárez was able to obtain support in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. protested France's violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Once the American Civil War came to a close in April 1865, the U.S. allowed supporters of Juárez to openly purchase weapons and ammunition. Napoleon III ultimately withdrew his army and Emperor Maximilian was executed by the Mexican government in 1867. The US support given to Juarez helped improve the U.S.–Mexican relationship.

General Porfirio Díaz's seized the presidency of Mexico in 1876. His givernment was more welcoming to foreign investment in order to reap economic gain. Díaz was a military hero who had fought ably against the French. Díaz had ousted president Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada in the Revolution of Tuxtepec. The U.S. did not recognize the Díaz government until 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. One issue causing tension between Mexico and the U.S. were indigenous groups whose traditional territories straddled what was now an international boundary, most notably the Apache. The Apache leader Geronimo conducted raids on both sides of the border. Bandits operating in both countries also frequently crossed the border to raid Mexican and American settlements, taking advantage of mutual distrust between the two nations. These common enemies helped bring about US recognition of the Díaz regime. U.S. investors and their supporters in Congress also had a common interest with Mexico, the building of a railway line between Mexico City and El Paso, Texas. With the construction of the railway line linking Mexico and the United States, the border region developed into a vibrant economic zone. The construction of the railway and collaboration of the United States and Mexican armies ended the Apache Wars in the late 1880s.

In 1909, William Howard Taft and Porfirio Díaz planned a summit in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, the first meeting between a U.S. and a Mexican president, and the first time a sitting American president would cross the border into Mexico. Taft agreed to support Diaz in order to protect the several billion dollars of American capital then invested in Mexico. The Texas Rangers, 4,000 U.S. and Mexican troops, U.S. Secret Service agents, Bureau of Investigation agents (later FBI) and U.S. marshals were all called in to provide security. An additional 250 private security detail led by Frederick Russell Burnham was hired by John Hays Hammond, a close friend of Taft from Yale. Burnham, along with his business partners, held considerable mining interests in Mexico. On October 16, 1909, the day of the summit, Burnham and Private C.R. Moore, a Texas Ranger, discovered a man holding a concealed palm pistol standing at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce building along the procession route. Burnham and Moore captured and disarmed would-be the assassin within only a few feet of Taft and Díaz.

In 1913. shortly after the assassination of President Francisco I. Madero, Woodrow Wilson rejected the legitimacy of Madero's successor, President Huerta, whose administration Wilson called a "government of butchers". He demanded in Mexico hold democratic elections. After U.S. navy personnel were arrested in the port of Tampico by Huerta's soldiers, the U.S. seized Veracruz, resulting in the death of 170 Mexican soldiers and an unknown number of Mexican civilians. In 1916 Wilson sent an unsuccessful punitive expedition, led by General John J. Pershing, to capture Villa after he murdered Americans in his raid on Columbus, New Mexico.

At the same time, Germany was trying to divert American attention from Europe by sparking a war. It sent Mexico the Zimmermann Telegram in January 1917, offering a military alliance to fight the U.S. The British intercepted the message and Wilson released it to the press, escalating demands for American entry into the European War. The Mexican government rejected the proposal and stayed neutral in the conflict, other than selling oil to Great Britain.

In 1924 General Plutarco Elías Calles became the new President of Mexico. He implemented articles of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 that gave the state the power to suppress the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico. A major civil uprising broke out, known as the Cristero War. U.S. Ambassador Dwight W. Morrow played a key role in brokering an agreement between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Mexican government which ended the conflict in 1929.

The presidency of revolutionary general Lázaro Cárdenas del Río caused concern about the risk to Standard Oil's major investments in Mexico. On March 18, 1938, President Cárdenas used constitutional powers to expropriate foreign oil interests in Mexico and created the government-owned Petroleos Mexicanos or PEMEX. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was implementing the Good Neighbor Policy, and did not intervene on Standard Oil's behalf. He wanted friendly relations with Mexico, anticipating the coming conflict in Europe. However, in light of the Great Depression, the United States implemented a program of expelling Mexicans from the U.S. in what was known as Mexican Repatriation in order to create more jobs for Americans. When the U.S. did enter World War II, it negotiated an agreement with Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho to be allies in the conflict against the Axis powers. The U.S. bought Mexican metals, especially copper and silver, and implemented a labor agreement with Mexico, known as the Bracero Program. Mexican agricultural workers were brought under contract to the U.S. to do mainly agricultural labor as well as harvesting timber in the northwest. The program continued in effect until 1964 when organized labor in the U.S. pushed for ending it. An arrangement was also made for 250,000 Mexican citizens living in the United States served in the American forces. Over 1000 were killed in combat.

The alliance between the two nations during World War II made for better relations between them. Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho met with both Franklin D. Roosevelt and later with Harry S. Truman. Camacho was pro-business and pro-religious Camacho visited Truman near the centenary of the Mexican–American War and Truman returned some of the Mexican banners captured by the United States in that war. When World War ended, the need decreased for Mexican labor via the guest-worker Bracero Program or for Mexican raw materials to fight a war. Mexico supported U.S. policies in the Cold War and did not challenge U.S. intervention in Guatemala that removed leftist president Jacobo Arbenz.

Mexico, United States and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 with the goal of eliminating barriers to trade and investment. Since then, the United States and Mexico have strengthened their economic ties. The US is Mexico's largest trading partner, accounting for close to half of all exports in 2008 and more than half of all imports in 2009. For the US, Mexico is the third largest trading partner after Canada and China as of June 2010. In 2017, two-way trade between both nations amounted to $521.5 billion USD. Foreign direct investment (FDI) into Mexico has risen dramatically since NAFTA went into effect and in 2008. 41% of all FDI came from U.S. sources. Roughly half of this investment goes to manufacturing. Wal-Mart, is the largest private sector employer in Mexico.

One of the most contentious issues between the two nations is illegal immigration. As of 2009, 62% of illegal immigrants in the United States come from Mexico. This number was reduced to 52% by 2014. Those who enter the United States illegally are smuggled in by individuals known as "coyotes". According to the World Bank, Mexico received US$18.1 billion from individuals in the United States in 2005. The number of illegal immigrants was at its highest in 2007, at 12.2 million, and has since dropped to 11.1 million in 2014. The prevalence of illegal aliens and drug smugglers has resulted in increased border security. Mexico is a major source of drugs entering the United States. By the 1990s, it was reported that 80%–90% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States arrived through Mexico.
Since 2000, the Mexican government has increased its efforts to combat the drug cartels. The United States sent aid to Mexico for this purpose through the Merida Initiative. As of November 2009, the U.S. has delivered about $214 million of the pledged $1.6 billion.

On August 24, 2012, a United States embassy vehicle was fired upon by Mexican Federal Police agents, causing two occupants of the vehicle to be wounded. The incident occurred south of Mexico City, while the vehicle had two Americans and a Mexican Navy captain who were traveling to a Mexican naval installation. Twelve Mexican Federal Police agents were arrested for the shooting. The two Americans were later reported to be CIA agents, who were investigating a kidnapping. The two CIA agents were victims of a targeted assassination attempt, and the Mexican Federal Police agents were working for the Beltran Leyva Cartel.

Conversely, the US is the largest source of illicit traffic of weapons to Mexico. Many of the traceable weapons come from American weapons markets and festivals that do not have regulations for the buyers. Firearms that make their way to Mexico come from the American civilian market. Grenades are also smuggled from the US to Mexico. In 2008, it was reported that 90% of arms captured in Mexico come from the United States. In 2015, Official reports of the U.S. government and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives (ATF) revealed that in recent years, Mexican cartels improved their firearm power, and that 70% of their weapons come from the U.S. The ATF's Project Gunrunner has the goal of stopping the selling and exportation of guns from the United States into Mexico. However, in February 2011, it was revealed that the ATF was permitting so-called "straw purchase" firearm sales to traffickers, and allowing the guns to be transported to Mexico. Several of the guns sold under the Project Gunrunner were recovered from crime scenes in Arizona, and at crime scenes throughout Mexico. In "Operation Black Swan" Joaquín Guzmán Loera was captured, and it was confirmed that one of the weapons seized from Guzman's gunmen was one of the many weapons that were "lost" during the Project Gunrunner. A cache of weapons from Project Gunrunner were also found in a secret compartment from the "safe house" of José Antonio Marrufo "El Jaguar, a criminal accused of many killings in Ciudad Juarez.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, candidate Donald Trump made a central campaign promise of building a border wall with Mexico and renegotiating the NAFTA trade agreement. Trump characterized illegal immigrants as criminals. On July 6, 2015, he famously said:

"The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc. This was evident just this week when, as an example, a young woman in San Francisco was viciously killed by a 5-time deported Mexican with a long criminal record, who was forced back into the United States because they didn't want him in Mexico. This is merely one of thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States. In other words, the worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government. The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs. The Border Patrol knows this. Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, many fabulous people come in from Mexico and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally, and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans—many of them are working for and with me and, just like our country, my organization is better for it."

Prior to taking office, Trump promised to deport the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and to build a wall along the Mexico–United States border. In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order directing the DHS Secretary to begin work on a wall. Following the announcement, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a scheduled visit to the United States. Trump said that Mexico would pay for the construction of the wall, but did not explain how the U.S. government would compel Mexico to do so. Mexico has refused to provide any funding for the movie. Peña Nieto listed ten goals he would seek in NAFTA negotiations, notably safeguarding the free flow of remittances, which amount to about $25 billion per year.

In February 2017 the Mexican government stated they would not accept foreign nationals from third countries that the United States wants to deport. In recent years, the majority of illegal aliens crossing from Mexico into the United States have been from Central America.

As of August 2017, prototypes for the wall had been completed, but U.S. Congress had only approved $341 million to maintain the existing structures along the border, without approving the requested budget for a new wall. In August 2018 Mexico and the United States reached a bilateral agreement on a revamped NAFTA trade deal, including provisions to boost automobile production in the U.S.

By February 2018, arrests of undocumented immigrants increased by 40% during the Trump presidency. Arrests of noncriminal undocumented immigrants were twice as high as they were during President Obama's final year in office. In March 2018, the Commerce Department announced that it would add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The inclusion of such a question will likely result in severe reduction in the population of states such as California, where undocumented immigrants will be less likely to respond to the census. California's attorney general announced his attention to sue the administration over the decision. Similar suits have been filed in New York, Washington D.C., and several cities.

President Trump drew criticism for new guidelines implemented in April 2018 through an executive order in which federal authorities separated children from their parents, relatives, or other adults who accompanied them in their illegal border crossing. The policy involved prosecuting all adults who were detained at the U.S.–Mexico border, sending the parents to federal jails, and placing children and infants under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The policy led to the separation of almost 3,000 children from their parents.

During the 2018 mid-term election campaign, President Trump sent nearly 4,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to protect the United States against an anticipated caravan of Central American migrants.

Many have criticized President Trump for the ferocity of his efforts to prevent illegal immigration, while others see illegal immigration from Mexico as a viable threat both to the economy and to national security.

On the President's Desk: Syria

The Arab nation of Syria became an independent republic in 1946 following years of French rule after World War II. The French evacuated the country on April 17, 1946. Originally under although democratic rule, that ended with a coup in March 1949 led by Hussni al-Zaimy. The coup was supported by the CIA, with the help of agents Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade. A series of coups followed over the next few years, with a popular uprising against military rule taking place in 1954. From 1958 to 1961, Syria was part of a brief union with Egypt meant an end to Syria's parliamentary system with a centralized presidential government. Once again Syria experienced another coup d'état in 1963. For the next several years Syria went through additional coups and changes in leadership.

In March 1971, Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite, declared himself President, a position that he held until his death in 2000. On January 31, 1973, Hafez al-Assad implemented a new constitution, which led to demonstrations in organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. They called Assad the "enemy of Allah" and called for a jihad against his rule. His government survived a series of armed revolts by Islamists, mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, between 1976 until 1982. Upon Hafez al-Assad's death in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad was elected as President of Syria. Bashar al-Assad is a Sunni Muslim born and educated in Britain. At first, many believed that he would bring about democratic elections, but after he failed to deliver on promised reforms, his rule has become the subject of significant opposition.

In late 2010, an event known as the Arab Spring began in a number of Middle Eastern countries. People took to the streets to protest oppressive regimes. Social media was one of the driving forces behind the spread of the revolutionary spirit throughout the world, as new protests were fueled by those taking place in other countries. In many of these countries, the governments recognized the significance of social media for organizing and responded by shutting down certain sites or blocking Internet service entirely. A successful revolution in Tunisia spread strong dissent to five other countries: Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Sustained street demonstrations took place in these countries, as well as in Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. Minor protests occurred in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, and the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.

Syria was one of the states most heavily affected by the Arab Spring, and by the second half of March 2011, major anti-government protests were being held in various locations in Syria. Although Syria had been a longtime adversary of the United States, President Barack Obama said that he believed that unilateral military action to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime would be a mistake. As protests continued, Syria fell into a protracted civil war. The United States government supported the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime. US criticism of Assad became even more severe after the Ghouta chemical attack. In the early hours of August 21, 2013, two opposition-controlled areas in the Ghouta suburbs around Damascus were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. Estimates of the death toll range from at least 281 to 1,729 people. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons since the Iran–Iraq War, and it led to widespread contempt for Assad for using the deadly gas, and especially for using it on his own people.

Fearing reprisal from the world community, Assad agreed to a Russian-backed deal that saw the Syrian government relinquish its chemical weapons. An Islamist group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took control of large portions of Syria and Iraq. ISIL, which had originated as part of al-Qaeda in Iraq under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, eventually became the most prominent global terrorist group during President Obama's second term.

In 2014, President Obama approved the launching of air strikes against ISIL and trained anti-ISIL soldiers, while continuing to oppose Assad's regime. The Obama administration also cooperated with Syrian Kurds in opposing the ISIL. This strained relations with Turkey, as the Turkish government accused the Syrian Kurds of working with the Kurdish terrorist groups inside Turkey. Russia launched its own military intervention to aid Assad's regime, causing fears about another global conflict, although the United States and Russia sometimes cooperated in the fight against ISIL.

In November 2015, President Obama announced a plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. Obama's moderate approach to the Syrian conflict was criticized by many as the Syrian Civil War became a major humanitarian trouble spot. Supporters of President Obama argued that he deserved credit for keeping the United States out of another costly ground war in the Middle East.

President Donald Trump took office while the United States remained involved in a military intervention against ISIL, which still maintained control of parts of Iraq and Syria. There were roughly 4,500 American soldiers in Iraq as of February 2016 just after Trump took office. Under Obama, the United States also backed the Free Syrian Army against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

In the first unilateral military action by the United States targeting Ba'athist Syrian government forces during the Syrian Civil War, Trump authorizes a missile strike against Shayrat Airbase. On April 6, 2017, on the orders from President Trump, the USS Ross and USS Porter (both based in the Mediterranean) fired 60 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat airfield, with 59 reaching the base. The United States had notified Russia, Syria's biggest ally, prior to the strike. The attack was retaliation for another chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Province. The attack on Khan Sheikhoun had been launched from Shayrat. Two days earlier, on April 4, 2017, the town was the target of an airstrike by government forces followed by massive civilian chemical poisoning. The release of a toxic gas in the town killed at least 74 people and injured more than 557. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war since the Ghouta attack. In August 2017, a senior State Department official claimed that the Trump administration had "dramatically accelerated" the U.S.–led campaign against ISIL.He estimated that almost one-third of the territory taken from ISIL has been recovered in the past six months.

Syria presents a particular challenge that rests on the President's desk. On the one hand ISIL represents one of the largest threats to the United States. Ignoring the problem increases the potential danger it presents. It is difficult to justify support for Assad, who has openly participated in genocide on his own people. Aiding regime change risks escalating the conflict by inviting Russian intervention, and it also fuels anti-American sentiment in the middle east. Doing nothing allows a genocidal leader to continue to gas his own people and shows a lack of humanitarian concern. While many Americans wish that their country could just get out of the Middle East altogether, doing so likely results in larger problems down the road.

On the President's Desk: North Korea

Tension between the United States and North Korea is mostly a product of the Cold War, although the two nations have had confrontations much earlier. In 1866, a gunboat named the General Sherman was sent to Korea to negotiate a trade treaty. Things did not go well and the Koreans killed the ship's crew. The US retaliated in 1871 when the US once again sent a naval force to support an American diplomatic delegation sent to establish trade and political relations and to ascertain the fate of the General Sherman. When Korean shore batteries once again attacked two American warships on June 1, an expedition was launched 10 days later after the commanding American admiral failed to receive an official apology from the Koreans. Armed conflict resulted and on June 10, about 650 Americans landed and captured several forts, killing over 200 Korean troops with a loss of only three American servicemen. Korea continued to refuse to negotiate with the United States until 1882.

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Korea and the U.S. ultimately established trade relations in 1882 and relations remained calm for the next quarter century. But in 1905, after President Theodore Roosevlet negotiated peace at the end of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had persuaded Roosevelt to accept Korea as part of Japan's sphere of influence, something the Koreans were unhappy with. Japan annexed Korea five years later. Korean nationalists unsuccessfully petitioned the United States to support their independence as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

After Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945, the United Nations divided Korea along the 38th parallel, intending this as a temporary measure. The breakdown of relations between the U.S. and USSR prevented a reunification. During the U.S. army's occupation of South Korea, relations between the U.S. and North Korea were conducted through the Soviet military government in the North. This led to further anti-American hostility from the North Koreans. On September 9, 1948, Kim Il-sung declared the creation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He immediately established diplomatic recognition with the Soviet Union, but not with the United States. The U.S. has never extended, diplomatic recognition of North Korea. Kim Il-Sung called the U.S. a capitalist imperialist, and compared it with Japan regarding its intentions for North Korea. In December 1950, the United States initiated economic sanctions against North Korea under the Trading with the Enemy Act. These lasted until 2008.

During the Korean War, US/UN forces occupied portions of North Korea for the two months after the Inchon landing, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. The plan was to set up a civil administration for North Korea, much as was occurring in Japan at the time. MacArthur planned to arrest North Korean generals, including Kim Il-Sung, and try them as war criminals. But soon, with Chinese intervention, the war ended in a stalemate, and the current border remained in place. The war ended after President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower made a visit to the war zone and determined that the war was unwinnable.

On January 23, 1968, a U.S. spy ship called the U.S.S. Pueblo, was captured and the crew was held prisoner before being released after negotiations in December of that year. The following year, on April 15, 1969, EC-121 was shot down over the Sea of Japan by North Korea; 31 American service men died.

On August 18, 1976, Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett were killed by the North Korean Army at Panmunjom in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, when the Americans were engaged in routine tree-clearing. The attack coincided with a meeting of the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at which Kim Jong-il, the son of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, presented the incident as an example of American aggression. He presented a motion calling for a U.S. withdrawal from South Korea. The Ford administration responded with a major show of force and the North Korean government backed down and allowed the tree-cutting to go ahead. They later issued an official apology.

In 1994, North Korea prevented international inspectors from verifying the regime's adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Clinton administration had accused the North Koreans of processing plutonium from a reactor to build two atomic bombs. Declassified Clinton-era documents indicate that the administration had planned for a possible war at the time. In December 1994 a US OH-58 Kiowa helicopter was shot down over North Korea. One of the occupant, the pilot, died and another was captured by North Korea and held for 13 days.

In December 2002, Spanish troops boarded and detained a shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea destined for Yemen, at the United States' request. After two days, the United States released the ship to continue its shipment to Yemen. North Korea called this an "act of piracy". In September 2005, relations between the countries were further strained by US allegations of North Korean counterfeiting of American dollars. The US accused North Korea of producing $15 million worth of false bills every year, in complicity with banks in Macau and other places.

In spite of the tensions which continued to exist, on February 13, 2007, "the Six-Party Talks" were held between the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China, and Russia to consider possible normalization of political relations with Pyongyang, a replacement of the Korean Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty, and the building of a regional peace structure for Northeast Asia. North Korea agreed to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for assistance in the importing of fuel. The United States also agreed to begin discussions on normalization of relations with North Korea, and to begin the process of removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. According to US Chief Negotiator Christopher R. Hill, North Korea has adhered to its commitments. The sixth round of talks began on March 19, 2007, with the topic being the future of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. In early June 2008, the United States agreed to start lifting restrictions after North Korea began the disarming process. President George W. Bush announced he would remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after North Korea released a 60-page declaration of its nuclear activities. Soon after this, North Korean officials released video of the demolition of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. The Bush administration praised the progress, but was also suspicious that the Koreans did not produce any information about alleged uranium enrichment programs.

On November 4, 2007, Dai Hong Dan, a North Korean merchant vessel, was attacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Mogadishu. As U.S. Navy ships patrolling the waters moved to respond, the 22 North Korean seamen fought the eight Somali pirates in hand-to-hand combat. With aid from the crew of the USS James E. Williams and a helicopter, the ship was freed, and the U.S. crew gave aid to the wounded crew. This resulted in uncharacteristically pro-U.S. statements in the North Korean press. This occurred just as the North Koreans moved to implement the February 13 agreement with the acquiescence of the Bush Administration, and the 2007 South Korean presidential election was taking place.

Unfortunately this positive development was soon interrupted by more problems when two American journalists were arrested on March 17, 2009. The two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested on the North Korean border in China while filming a documentary on the trafficking of women. They allegedly crossed into North Korea in the process. North Korea subsequently tried the two journalists and found them guilty of the charges, and sentenced them to twelve years of hard labor. The U.S. criticized the act as a "sham trial". On August 4, 2009, former President Bill Clinton arrived in Pyongyang on what he called as a "solely private mission" to secure the release of the two journalists. He also was reported to have delivered a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from President Barack Obama, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied this. On August 5, Kim issued a formal pardon to the two American journalists, who subsequently returned to Los Angeles with Clinton.

On May 24, 2010, the United States set plans to participate in new military exercises with South Korea as a direct military response to the sinking of a South Korean warship by what officials called a North Korean torpedo. On May 28, 2010, the North Korean Central News Agency accused the United States of staging the incident as an excuse for conflict with North Korea. In July 2010, the North Korean government indefinitely postponed a scheduled talk at Panmunjom relating to the sinking.

On March 16, 2012, North Korea announced it would launch its Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 satellite to mark the 100th anniversary of the late Kim Il-sung's birthday. This raised American suspicion and anxiety since satellite launches can be accompanied by missile launches. The United States also suspended food aid to North Korea in retaliation for the missile plans. Daniel Russel, Special Assistant to the President, flew to Pyongyang from Guam in August 2012 to monitor the situation. On December 11, 2012, North Korea successfully launched a missile. The United States strongly condemned the action as it is believed that North Korea was developing long range ballistic missiles that would reach the west coast of the US.

On March 29, 2013, Kim Jong-un threatened the United States by "declaring that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific." The declaration was in response to two B2 stealth bombers that flew over the Korean peninsula on the day before. The Pentagon called for an advanced missile defense system to the western Pacific on April 3. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said that North Korea posed "a real and clear danger" to not only the United States, but Japan and South Korea as well. While visiting Seoul, South Korea on April 12, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry said "North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power". He said that a missile launch by North Korea would be a "huge mistake".

On April 26, 2013, North Korea said it had arrested a U.S. citizen. Kenneth Bae, for committing an unspecified crime against the country. On May 2, 2013, Bae was convicted of "hostile acts" and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. The U.S. has called for his release but North Korea has rejected any possibility of allowing prominent Americans to visit the country to request his release. Former Chicago Bulls basketball player Dennis Rodman, who had previously visited North Korea and was friendly with Kim Jong-un, sent a message on Twitter pleading for Bae's release. Rodman pledged to visit North Korea and attempt to free Bae. On May 2, 2014, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released an article

Two more American citizens were detained in North Korea in June 2014, once again accused of "hostile acts". On July 28, 2014, the House of Representatives voted to pass the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, but the bill it was never passed by the Senate. In January 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama indicated that he believed that over time the North Korean government will collapse

In early April of 2017, President Donald Trump considered military options against North Korea's ballistic missile program. Some media sources erroneously reported that the USS Carl Vinsonhad been deployed to the Sea of Japan heading towards North Korea. On April 17 North Korea’s deputy United Nations ambassador said that North Korea had a "readiness to declare war on the United States if North Korean forces were to be attacked." On Twitter, President Trump called the North Korean leader “Little Rocket Man” and a “sick puppy”, and promised that continued North Korean threats to America “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. He called diplomacy with the Kim regime “a waste of time”. In reality on April 18, the Carl Vinson and its escorts were 3,500 miles from Korea engaged in scheduled joint Royal Australian Navy exercises in the Indian Ocean. Later that month, Trump stated that there was "a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea". In July 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized a "Geographical Travel Restriction" which banned Americans from entering North Korea. On August 30, 2018, the ban was extended until August 31, 2019.

In January 2016, an American student, Otto Warmbier, was detained at Pyongyang International Airport after allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner from his hotel. He was traveling with a group of Americans, the remainder of whom safely returned home. Security footage showed Warmbier going into a banned area in the hotel and ripping out the poster from the wall and putting it in his bag. In March 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but in June 2017 was released from North Korea, after suspiciously fallen into a coma-like state. He died a few days after being returned to the U.S.


In August 2017, the Washington Post reported that North Korea had successfully developed nuclear warheads for missiles within reach of the US mainland.In response, President Trump stated that future threats would be "met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before." North Korea announced that it was examining an operational plan to strike areas around the U.S. territory of Guam in the Pacific, including the Andersen Air Force Base. Two missiles were flown over Japanese territory and a nuclear test was conducted. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if the United States were "forced to defend itself or its allies". In response Kim Jong-un called the speech "unprecedented rude nonsense" and "mentally deranged behaviour".

On September 30, 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. and North Korea were exploring the possibility of talks. The next month, on October 9, 2017, US Air Force B-1 bombers carried out mock missile launches off both coasts of South Korea. Two bombers operating out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam carried out the drills along with fighter jets from South Korea and Japan. On November 28, 2017 North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, the first such launch in over two months. The missile flew roughly 620 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan.

On March 8, 2018, it was reported that a meeting had been scheduled to be held on June 12th in Singapore between President Trump and Kim John-Un. After military exercises between the United States and South Korea, Kim Jong-un threatened to cancel the meeting and on May 24 President Trump cancelled it. On June 1, 2018, Trump announced that the summit was "back on" for June 12 in Singapore after meeting with North Korean officials at the White House. President Trump met with Kim on June 12 and at the meeting an agreement was signed between the two countries calling for North Korea to reaffirm its commitment to the 2017 Panmunjom Declaration signed between North and South Korean to work towards completely denuclearizing the entire Korean Peninsula. The agreement declared a new start to US-North Korean relations between the two countries to achieve "peace and prosperity" through cooperation on a variety of issues and Trump subsequently announced that war game exercises between the US and South Korea would end.

As a consequence of this agreement, the bodies of about 7,700 U.S. military personnel who went missing during the Korean war were returned as of 2018. BThe June 12, 2018 summit between the US and North Korea included an agreement for begin repatriating American POW/MIA remains. On July 15, 55 boxes were returned. North Korea's state media declared a new era of peace following the summit. North Korea began removing anti-US propaganda.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visited North Korea in July 2018 to discuss denuclearization. North Korea is continuing with their nuclear program according to UN reports. President Trump announced cancelled Pompeo's scheduled visit in August 2018 due to insufficient progress in the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

In a September 2018 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump commended Kim Jong-Un for ceasing nuclear testing, dismantling several military facilities, releasing American hostages, and returning POW/MIA remains. Trump reaffirmed that sanctions will continue to be held on North Korea until denuclearization occurs.

In spite of some of the belligerent rhetoric that has passed between the two leaders, some progress has been made in ramping down the tensions between the two nations. Based on past history between the two countries however, any optimism must be tempered with caution and North Korea will continue to be one of the many problems on the President's desk.

On the President's Desk: Climate Change

If you ask most people to explain the science behind climate change, they are unable to do so. This doesn't prevent many people from having strong opinions on the subject, and it is an issue which has become politicized in recent times, especially after former Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore championed the issue in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006. Those who forecast dire consequences if the issue is not properly addressed rely on global records of surface temperature (kept since the mid-late 19th century), data from ice cores, records of sea level change, arctic sea ice decline, cloud cover, measurement of solar radiation received by the Earth, and other geological data. Supporters for action on climate change identify a number of human activities as contributing to climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists had interpreted past and current date and rely on theoretical models to predict the future effects of climate change. This includes geological evidence from borehole temperature profiles (cores removed from deep accumulations of ice) and records of past sea levels.


The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty on climate change that commits its signature nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a timetable set out in the agreement. It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan on December 11, 1997 and entered came into force on February 16, 2005. The United States was a signatory to the agreement, but the treaty has never been ratified in the United States.

As a Republican presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush pledged to work towards reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In a speech on September 29, 2000, Bush pledged to commit two billion dollars to the funding of clean coal technology research and in that same speech, he also promised to work with Congress, environmental groups, and the energy industry to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide into the environment. He later reversed his position on that pledge in March 2001, stating that carbon dioxide was not considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. He was concerned that restricting carbon dioxide emissions would cause energy prices to increase significantly.

In March 2001, the G.W. Bush administration announced that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. Bush took the position that that ratifying the treaty would restrict U.S. growth while unsuccessfully limiting emissions from developing nations. In February 2002, President Bush announced his alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, by bringing forth a plan to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gases by 18% over 10 years. Under this plan, emissions would continued to grow, but at a slower pace. Bush stated that this plan would prevent the release of 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, which is about the equivalent of removing 70 million cars on the road. He proposed to achieve this target by providing tax credits to businesses that use renewable energy sources.

President Bush stated that he believed global warming to be a genuine concern and a serious problem, but he conceded that there existed a "debate over whether it's man-made or naturally caused".

In contrast, President Barack Obama called global warming the greatest long-term threat facing the world. In spite of this, he was unable to bring about passage of a major bill addressing the issue, in part because many Republicans and even some Democrats questioned the science behind global warming and whether human activity was a significant contributing factor to its occurrence. Following his inauguration, President Obama asked Congress to pass a bill to put a cap on domestic carbon emissions. After the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, Obama tried to convince the Senate to pass the bill as well. The legislation would have required the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by the middle of the 21st century. The bill was strongly opposed by Republicans. It failed to be brought for a vote in the Senate and neither did a separate proposed bipartisan compromise bill.

In 2013, President Obama announced that he would bypass Congress by ordering the EPA to implement new carbon emissions limits. His "Clean Power Plan" was announced in 2015. It sought to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. He also imposed regulations on soot, sulfur, and mercury that encouraged a transition from coal as an energy source. This, along with the falling price of wind, solar, and natural gas energy sources led to a decline in the use of coal energy. President Obama encouraged this successful transition away from coal in large part due to the fact that coal emits more carbon than other sources of power, including natural gas.

Obama's campaign to fight global warming was more popular at the international level than in Congress. Obama attended the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which drafted the non-binding Copenhagen Accord as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. That accord provided for the monitoring of carbon emissions among developing countries, but did not include Obama's proposal for nations to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

In 2014, President Obama reached an agreement with China in which China pledged to reach peak carbon emission levels by 2030, while the US pledged to cut its emissions by 26-28 percent compared to its 2005 levels. Many believed that the deal might lead to a potential multilateral global warming agreement among the world's largest carbon emitting nations. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly every country in the world agreed to a landmark climate deal in which each nation committed lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement created a universal accounting system for emissions. It required each signatory country to monitor its emissions, and required each country to create a plan to reduce its emissions.

President Obama also took several measures to raise vehicle fuel efficiency in the United States. In 2009, he announced plans to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy to 35 miles per gallon. In 2012, he set even higher standards, mandating an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 mpg. Obama also signed the "cash-for-clunkers" bill, which provided incentives to consumers to trade in older, less fuel-efficient cars for more efficient cars. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $54 billion in funds to encourage domestic renewable energy production, make federal buildings more energy-efficient, improve the electricity grid, and repair public housing. He promoted the use of plug-in electric vehicles, and 400,000 electric cars had been sold by the end of 2015. The measures appeared to have some success. A recent report by The American Lung Association concludes there was a “major improvement” in air quality by the end of President Obama's administration.


In contrast, President Donald Trump does not share President Obama's beliefs on the significance of the problem of climate chance. He has repeatedly called scientific consensus on climate a "hoax". By July 2018, his administration overturned or was in process of overturning 76 environmental regulations. His appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environment Protection Agency was a controversial one, opposed by many environmental groups. Pruitt resigned in July of 2018 following a number of allegations of ethical violations. Pruitt was criticized for his pro-business attitude. The Washington Post said of Pruitt's leadership of the EPA, "In legal maneuvers and executive actions, in public speeches and closed-door meetings with industry groups, he has moved to shrink the agency's reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules. The effect has been to steer the EPA in the direction sought by those being regulated. Along the way, Pruitt has begun to dismantle former president Barack Obama's environmental legacy, halting the agency's efforts to combat climate change and to shift the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels."

In December 2017, the New York Times accused the Trump administration of adopting a far more lenient approach to enforcing federal pollution laws than the Obama and Bush administrations. The Trump administration has brought fewer prosecutions of polluters, and made fewer requests of companies to retrofit facilities to curb pollution. The Times attributes this to directions from Pruitt based on lobbying from oil and gas industry executives.

Moments after President Trump's inauguration, the White House website removed all references to climate change, other than to mentioning President Trump's intention to eliminate the Obama administration's climate change policies. By April, the EPA had removed climate change material on its website, including climate data and scientific information. The administration instituted a temporary media blackout for the EPA, but by late February 2017, the media blackout was partially lifted. The EPA hired a research firm to investigate EPA employees who had expressed criticism of the management of the EPA under Pruitt's tenure. A leaked March 2018 memo directs EPA employees to use climate change denial talking points in official communications about climate change. Last month, in October 2018, the EPA disbanded a 20-expert panel on pollution which advised the EPA on the appropriate threshold levels to set for air quality standards.

President Trump has issued an executive order reversing a number of Obama administration policies on climate change. President Trump has said that he is "putting an end to the war on coal", justifying this and other moves in order to create jobs in the industry. He ended the moratorium on federal coal leasing, and revoked several of President Obama's executive orders including the Presidential Climate Action Plan. He also ordered reviews of a number of Obama initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, the estimate for the "social cost of carbon" emissions, carbon dioxide emission standards for new coal plants, methane emissions standards from oil and natural gas extraction, as well as any regulations inhibiting domestic energy production.

In June 2017, Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that President Obama had joined in on in 2015. The administration also suspended a number of large research programs on climate change issues. It has also been critical of NASA's climate science program. It has modified regulations requiring the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

The administration has enacted 30% tariffs on solar panels. The American solar energy industry is highly reliant on foreign parts and as a result, the tariffs will raise the costs of solar energy. In 2017 the solar energy industry had employed nearly four times as many American workers as the coal industry.


The debate on climate change is not so much one of whether or not the climate has changing. This has been the case throughout the history of the world, which was once subject to an Ice Age. The debate is really whether or not the changes will be as rapid as many predict and whether or not they justify the significant economic consequences that many are calling for. The previous administration considered the issue to be a priority, accepting that addressing the property would bring with it an economic consequence. For the current administration, the more immediate priority is the job creation and recovering from the adverse affects on the average American's income as a consequence of globalization, free trade, and the climate change strategies adopted by past administrations. It is an issue on which reasonable people can disagree, and that appears to be what is now occurring as this problem sits on the President's desk.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) to coordinate "homeland security" efforts. The office was headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who assumed the title of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. It later became a full-fledged department of government, and the head of the Department became a member of the cabinet. The organization was created because it appeared that up to that time, various government departments and agencies that looked after matters of security with the nation had not been adequately sharing information, and in some cases had become territorial and protective of the matters within its control rather than being willing to share information that might be of benefit to another agency.

The term "homeland security" is generally used to describe the national effort to ensure that the nation or "homeland" is safe from act of terrorism and other hazards. It encompasses not only reaction and response where such an attack has occurred, but more importantly a proactive effort to prevent such attacks and to detect any which are in the works. When the Office of Homeland Security was created, its Mission Statement described its intent as follows:

The mission of the Office will be to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks. The Office will coordinate the executive branch's efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.

The creation of the Office constituted the most significant government reorganization since the Cold War, and the most substantial reorganization of federal agencies since the National Security Act of 1947. It incorporated 22 government agencies into a single organization. Tom Ridge began his duties as OHS director on October 8, 2001. Just over a year later, on November 25, 2002, the Department of Homeland Security was established, pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. It was intended to consolidate U.S. executive branch organizations related to "homeland security" into a single Cabinet agency. The following 22 agencies became part of the new department:

1. U.S. Customs Service
2. Immigration and Naturalization Service
3. Federal Protective Service
4. Transportation Security Administration
5. Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
6. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
7. Federal Emergency Management Agency
8. Strategic National Stockpile National Disaster Medical System
9. Nuclear Incident Response Team
10. Domestic Emergency Support Team
11. Center for Domestic Preparedness
12. CBRN Countermeasures Programs
13. Environmental Measurements Laboratory
14. National Biological Warfare Defense Analysis Center
15. Plum Island Animal Disease Center
16. Federal Computer Incident Response Center
17. National Programs and Preparedness Directorate
18. National Communications System
19. National Programs and Preparedness Directorate
20. National Infrastructure Protection Center
21. U.S. Coast Guard
21. U.S. Secret Service

At the time of the creation of the office, some consideration was given to including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency as part of the Office of Homeland Security, but neither was included. The bill also met with some criticism from labor unions because employees of these agencies could be expeditiously reassigned or dismissed on grounds of security, incompetence or insubordination, and DHS would not be required to notify their union representatives. The plan stripped 180,000 government employees of their union rights, something that government officials argued as necessary in light of the September 11 attacks and the exigencies that follow such an attack. Congress ultimately passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 without union-friendly measures. President Bush signed the bill into law on November 25, 2002. It was the largest U.S. government reorganization since the United States Department of Defense was created. Ridge was named as the first Secretary on January 24, 2003. The Department officially began operations on January 24, 2003, but most of the department's component agencies were not transferred into the new Department until March 1.

Ridge announced his resignation on November 30, 2004, following the re-election of President Bush. Bush initially nominated former New York City Police Department commissioner Bernard Kerik as his successor, but on December 10, Kerik withdrew his nomination, citing personal reasons and saying it "would not be in the best interests" of the country for him to pursue the post. On January 11, 2005, President Bush nominated federal judge Michael Chertoff to succeed Ridge. Chertoff was confirmed on February 15, 2005, by a vote of 98–0 in the U.S. Senate. He was sworn in the same day.

The current Secretary of Homeland Security is Kirstjen Nielsen. On January 16, 2018, Nielsen she testified before the United States Senate in favor of merit based immigration. She has expressed disappointment over the preoccupation in the Senate over collateral matters such as language used by President Trump in White House meetings as opposed to legitimate homeland security matters. Her tenure has not been an easy one. The New York Times reported in May 2018 that Nielsen considered resigning after President Trump berated her in front of the Cabinet for the purported failure to secure U.S. borders. She has clashed with the President over his direction to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children while in custody. Nielsen has denied that she threatened to resign.

At a congressional hearing on May 15, 2018, Nielson testified that she would enforce the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children who crossed over the U.S.–Mexico border. She noted that this is similar to what happens in criminal courts across the country on a daily basis. On June 18, 2018, speaking at a sheriffs' conference, she said, "We cannot detain children with their parents so we must either release both the parents and the children — this is the historic 'get out of jail free' practice of the previous administration — or the adult and the minor will be separated as the result of prosecuting the adult. Those are the only two options. Surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, rather than changing them, asks the body who enforces the laws not to enforce the laws. That cannot be the answer."

Border security is just one of the homeland security issues confronting every administration. Aviation security is said to require reforms that are more integrated with counterterrorism operations so that the nation’s security measures and capacity to act against threats are synchronized in the most effective way. The TSA has made some efforts to implement better screening, in order to enhance and prioritize passenger screening and provide low-cost, high-utility aviation security measures. The Obama Administration was criticized for its selective enforcement of immigration laws. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other immigration organizations saw a decreasing in funding, which they claim has hamstrung their enforcement capability.

Cyber security has become a vital national security issue. Governments, businesses, and individuals are under attack from other governments, cyber criminals, and “hacktivists” who steal hundreds of billions of dollars in personal and business data and compromise sensitive government and private sector operations. Ransomware, spyware and malware attacks have potentially devastating consequences. As the organization responsible for defending civilian government networks as well as the nation’s critical infrastructure, the DHS is entering the new frontier of cyberspace. Recruiting, training, and maintaining a qualified, motivated, dependable, and empowered workforce has become of even greater importance in this area.

The Coast Guard provides crucial security in American waters and in recent years, the number of Coast Guard missions has grown steadily due to the varied nature of maritime security threats and the need to protect U.S. interests in hostile environments, such as in the Arctic and in the case of hurricanes. Many of the vessels that support Coast Guard missions are old and prone to breaking down. While the DHS budget has grown in recent years, the Coast Guard’s funding has decreased.

Homeland security grants have been criticized as suffering from a severe lack of accountability and oversight. In the past, homeland security grant dollars have been spent on ridiculous and worthless projects, such as underwater robots in Columbus, Ohio or a zombie apocalypse simulation at a California island resort. Entrenched interests have hindered common-sense reforms.

Countering violent extremism is an important consideration in any counterterrorism strategy. In August 2011, the U.S. government released a strategic plan called “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” The plan focuses on outlining how federal agencies can assist local officials, groups, and private organizations in preventing violent extremism. But the plan has been criticized for its lack of assignment of responsibilities and overall accountability. Criticism has also been leveled over the direction of DHS’s homeland security research. There is concern that these too have been influenced by power lobbies rather than for genuine security needs. In fiscal year 2014, President Obama requested over $700 million for an agro-defense facility in Kansas, even though the Government Accountability Office criticized the selection of such a facility. Wasteful and uncoordinated research programs impair the reputation of the DHS as one that looks out for the interests of those it seeks to protect.

Morale within the DHS is a huge problem and has even been the subject of a House Homeland Security Committee hearing titled, “Building One DHS: Why Is Employee Morale Low?”

Maintaining homeland security is a daunting issue for any president. The magnitude of the problems that fall under the umbrella of homeland security, the gravity of the responsibility and the consequences of failure make this one of the most important and challenging issues confronting any president.

On the President's Desk: Saudi Arabia

Modern US–Saudi diplomatic relations began in 1945, and have continued with their share of controversy. In the past, the United States has been willing to overlook many of that kingdom's more controversial aspects as long as it remained an ally in the middle east and as long as it kept the oil flowing and supported U.S. national security policies. It has not always been easy to be an ally to the Arabs.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Saudis enjoyed excellent relations with the British, who defended Saudi Arabia from the Turks. King Abdulaziz Al Saud Ibn Saud brought about the unification of his country and on September 28, 1928, he sought international recognition for Saudi Arabia. Britain was the first country to recognize Saudi Arabia as an independent state. Saud also hoped to be recognized by the US. Initially, he was unsuccessful, but after Saud had obtained recognition from many nations, Washington followed suit. In May 1931 the U.S. officially recognized Saudi Arabia by extending full diplomatic recognition. At the same time Ibn Saud granted a concession to the U.S. company, Standard Oil of California, allowing them to explore for oil in the country's Eastern Province, al-Hasa. The company gave the Saudi government £35,000 and also paid assorted rental fees and royalty payments. In November 1931, a treaty was signed by both nations which included favored nation status, but the US did not yet have a diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia. Saudi affairs were handled by the U.S. delegation in Cairo, Egypt

Al Saud permitted American exploration for oil because he hoped that his land could have valuable materials that would support the country's economy. In May 1933 the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), later called the Arab American Company (ARAMCO), had started exploration in the country. Imported oil was not very important for the U.S. at the time, buy Washington still had a keen interest in Saudi oil and this strengthened relations between the two nations. CASOC Struck oil near Dhahran, but production over the next several years remained low. In 1950, Saudi Arabia and CASOC, now called ARAMCO, agreed to a 50–50 profit-sharing arrangement, and a series of agreements between 1973 and 1980 resulted in the Saudis' regaining full control of the company. In 1988, Fahd of Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree establishing the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, known as Saudi Aramco, to replace Aramco.

As World War II began, US-Saudi relations became of lesser importance, leaving Saudi Arabia vulnerable to attack. Italy bombed a CASOC oil installation in Dhahran crippling Saudi Arabia's oil production. However, as World War II progressed, the United States began to realize that Saudi oil was of strategic importance. On February 16, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that "the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States". He extended the Lend-Lease program to the kingdom. Later that year, the president approved the creation of the state-owned Petroleum Reserves Corporation, with the intent that it purchase all the stock of CASOC and thus gain control of Saudi oil reserves in the region. However, the plan was met with opposition and ultimately failed. On February 14, 1945, Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy, discussing topics such as the countries' security and the creation of a Jewish country in the Mandate of Palestine. The king approved the US's request to allow the U.S. air force to fly over and construct airfields in Saudi Arabia. The oil installations were rebuilt and protected by the U.S. and the U.S. gained a direct route for military aircraft heading to Iran and the Soviet Union. The first American consulate was opened in Dhahran in 1944.

In 1945, after World War II, Saudi citizens began to feel uncomfortable about U.S. forces still operating in Dhahran, while the Saudi government saw the U.S. forces as a major component of the Saudi military defense. U.S. forces in Dhahran were increased when the region was threatened and reduced when the danger declined. At the start of the Cold War, the U.S. was concerned about Soviet communism influencing the region, and devised a strategy of 'containing' the spread of communism within Arabian Peninsula, putting Saudi security at the top of Washington's list of priorities. President Harry S. Truman's administration promised Bin Saud that he would protect Saudi Arabia from Soviet influence. In 1951, the U.S. established a permanent U.S. Military Training Mission in the kingdom and agreed to provide training support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi armed forces. The US Army Corps of Engineers assisted in the construction of military installations in the kingdom. This agreement led to a longstanding security relationship.

In 1953, the King died and was succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Saud, known for his reputation as a spendthrift. Under King Saud, the kingdom's treasury diminished rapidly and he was forced to turn over direct control of government affairs to his half-brother Faisal from 1958 to 1961. In 1964, the royal family and religious leadership forced Saud to abdicate in favor of Faisal. In October 1955, Saud had joined in a pro-Soviet strategy with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. He dismissed the U.S. forces and replaced them by Egyptian forces. But in 1956, during the Suez crisis, Saud began to cooperate with the U.S. again after President Eisenhower prevented the Israeli, British, and French plan to seize the Suez canal. A grateful King Saud resumed cooperation with the U.S. and Egyptian power declined. In 1957, Saud decided to renew the U.S. base in Dhahran.

In 1958, Saud changed course once again and had once again joined the Egyptian-Syrian alliance, which was pro-Soviet. This took the US-Saudi relationship to a low point and in 1961 the King changed his mind about renewing the U.S. base. But when in 1962, Egypt attacked Saudi Arabia from bases in Yemen, Saud once again sought U.S. support. President John F. Kennedy immediately responded to Saud's request by sending U.S. warplanes in July 1963 to the war zone to stop the attack which was putting U.S. interests at risk. At the end of the war, shortly before Prince Faisal became king, the relationship was rebuilt.

The United Kingdom withdrew from the Gulf region in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Nixon administration sought to rely on local allies to "police" American interests under the "Nixon Doctrine". Saudi Arabia and Iran became the "twin pillars" of regional security. Whereas in 1970 the U.S. provided less than $16 million to Saudi Arabia in military aid, that number jumped to $312 million by 1972. As part of the "twin pillars" strategy, the U.S. also attempted to improve relations between the Saudis and the Iranians.

In November 1964, Faisal replaced Saud as king. He continued the cooperation with the US until October 20, 1973, when Faisal decided to contribute in an oil embargo against the US and Europe in favor of the Arab position during the Yom Kippur War. This led to an energy crisis in the US. Faisal said, at a press conference, "America's complete Israel support against the Arabs makes it extremely difficult for us to continue to supply the United States with oil, or even remain friends with the United States." The US struggled to rebuild the relationship, not only for oil, but in order for the Saudis to continue to purchase American military technology. The embargo was lifted in March 1974 after the U.S. pressured Israel into negotiating with Syria over the Golan Heights. Three months later, Washington and Riyadh signed a wide-ranging agreement on expanded economic and military cooperation. In the 1975 fiscal year, the two countries signed $2 billion worth of military contracts, including an agreement to send Saudi Arabia 60 fighter jets. The Saudis also agreed to keep OPEC price increases lower than Iraq and Iran initially wanted.

The Saudis' increase of oil production to stabilize the oil price and the support of anti-communism led to closer relations with the U.S. The U.S. built and administrated numerous military academies, navy ports, and Air Force military airbases in the country. The Saudis purchased a great deal of weapons that varied from F-15 war planes to M1 Abrams main battle tanks that later proved useful during the Gulf War. The U.S. pursued a policy of building up and training the Saudi military as a counterweight to Shiite extremism and revolution following the revolution in Iran.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 led to the Gulf War, during which the security relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia was greatly strengthened. Concurrently with the US invasion, King Fahd declared war against Iraq. With King Fahd's approval, the first President Bush deployed 543,000 ground troops to protect Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion. This operation was called Desert Shield. Furthermore, the U.S. sent additional troops in operation Desert Storm with nearly 100,000 Saudi troops sent by Fahad to form a US-Saudi army alliance, along with troops from other allied countries, to attack Iraqi troops in Kuwait and to stop further invasion. Iraqi troops were defeated within four days, causing the Iraqis to retreat. Since the Gulf War, the U.S. had a continued presence of 5,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia – a figure that rose to 10,000 during the 2003 conflict in Iraq. Operation Southern Watch enforced the no-fly zones over southern Iraq set up after 1991, and the country's oil exports through the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf are protected by the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.

On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania by four hijacked airplanes killed 2,977 victims and cost an estimated $150 billion in property and infrastructure damage and economic impact. 15 of the 19 hijackers in the attacks came from Saudi Arabia, as did the leader of the hijackers' organization, Osama bin Laden. This led to a reassessment of the "oil-for-security" alliance with Saudi Arabia. A 2002 Council on Foreign Relations Terrorist Financing Task Force report found that: “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” The Saudi government issued a statement on the day of the attacks calling them "regrettable and inhuman." Saudi recognition to the Taliban ended. The Bush administration continued to publicly praise Saudi support for the war on terrorism, while privately expressing frustration with Saudi inaction. Although 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, the Saudis were not cooperating with Americans wanting to look at background files of the hijackers or interview the hijackers' families. There was strong support for Bin Laden's cause, though by 2006 the Saudi population become considerably more pro-American after Al-Qaeda linked groups staged attacks inside Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis decided to cooperate with the U.S. on the war on terror. King Abdullah gave the opening address of the Counter-terrorism International Conference (CTIC) held in Riyadh in 2005, and told his audience, "Terrorism does not belong to any culture, or religion, or political system", Al-Qaeda began launching multiple attacks targeting Saudi government buildings and U.S. compounds in Saudi Arabia. These attacks lessened support for Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government arrested a large number of Saudi terrorists and terrorists from other countries (some of them American) that had connections with al-Qaeda.

In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide". She claimed that many charities serve as fronts for money laundering and terrorist financing operations. While many Saudis contribute to those charities in good faith believing their money goes toward good causes, it is alleged that others know full well the terrorist purposes to which their money will be applied. In September 2016, the Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that would allow relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for its government's alleged role in the attacks.

A bill approving a 2017 arms sale to Saudi Arabia was opposed by various lawmakers, including GOP Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Todd Young and Dean Heller along with most Democrat Senator. They opposed the sale on the grounds of human rights violations by Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War. Last month (October 2018), allegations were raised about the Saudi government's complicity in the murder of a Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Saudi Arabia to "support a thorough investigation" regarding the disappearance and "to be transparent about the results." President Trump said, "We cannot let this happen to reporters, to anybody. We're demanding everything. We want to see what's going on there." Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said "there would be hell to pay" if Saudi is involved in the murder of Khashoggi. He added, "If they're this brazen it shows contempt. Contempt for everything we stand for, contempt for the relationship."

In August 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with an envoy representing Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman, and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The envoy offered help to the Trump presidential campaign. The meeting included Lebanese-American lobbyist George Nader, Joel Zamel, an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince. This information was uncovered in the course of Robert Muller's investigation as Independent Counsel.

The nature of ongoing Saudi-US relations remains a complex issue. In January 2017, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis "reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Saudi Arabia strategic relationship". Mattis has voiced support for a Saudi Arabian-led military campaign against Yemen's Shiite rebels and he asked the President Trump to remove restrictions on U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia.

Presidents have visited Saudi Arabia in the past, showing deference to the importance of this relationship. President George W. Bush made two visits to Saudi Arabia in 2008, the first time a U.S. president visited a foreign country twice in less than four months. King Abdullah made three visits to the US during the second Bush Presidency, in 2002, 2005 and 2008. Bush discussed the world economic crisis and how the financial position of both nations could be improved by the U.S.–Saudi relationship.

President Donald Trump authorized an arms deal with the Saudis that is worth nearly $110 billion. The agreement was signed on the May 20, 2017, and it includes training and close co-operation with the Saudi Arabian military. The deal was followed by an all-time high for US defense stocks. The Saudis also signed billions of dollars worth of business agreements with U.S. arms producers and energy companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Honeywell, McDermott International, Jacobs Engineering Group, Rowan Companies, National Oilwell Varco, Nabors Industries, Weatherford International, Schlumberger and Dow Chemical. The US-Saudi relationship has a significant financial impact on the US economy.


While there is much to be critical of the Saudis in terms of their record on human rights and other aspects, Presidents from both political parties have understood the importance of maintaining the relationship for economic and national security reasons. On the former front, a break in the relationship would have devastating consequences for the US economy. On the latter, it is important to maintain the relationship in order to have a presence in the region where the biggest security threat to the United States in this century has come from, and where more future security threats are likely to arise.

On the President's Desk: China

US relations with China date back to 1784, when the United States attempted to send a consul, a Philadelphia financier, to China. The Consul was not received by the Chinese government and formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Chinese Empire began June 16, 1844 as the countries engaged in the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Wangxia, ratified by President John Tyler on January 17, 1845. The treaty placed the United States on the same level as Great Britain as a trading partner with China. During the Second Opium War, American and Qing forces briefly clashed at the Battle of the Barrier Forts, the first instance of military engagement between the United States and China. After China's defeat in the Second Opium War, the emperor of China, Xianfeng, fled Beijing. His brother Yixin, ratified the Treaty of Tientsin in the Convention of Peking on October 18, 1860. This treaty stipulated, among other terms, that the United States, along with Britain, France, and Russia, would have the right to station administrative offices in Beijing, which had closed prior to the war.

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In 1867, Taiwanese natives attacked shipwrecked American sailors from the U.S.S. Rover, killing the entire crew. They later fought and defeated a retaliatory expedition by the American military and killed another American during the battle.

In 1868, the Qing government appointed Anson Burlingame as their emissary to the United States. Burlingame toured the country and lobbied for support for equitable treatment for China and for Chinese emigrants. The 1868 Burlingame Treaty was signed to allow for Chinese immigration to the United States. In 1871, the Chinese Educational Mission brought the first of two groups of 120 Chinese boys to study in the United States. They were led by Yung Wing, the first Chinese man to graduate from an American university.

During the California Gold Rush and the construction of the transcontinental railroad, large numbers of Chinese migrated to the U.S., causing animosity from American citizens. Most of these immigrants settled in "Chinatowns" in cities such as San Francisco. Unable to work in mines, they took up low-end wage jobs, such as restaurant and cleaning work. With the post-Civil War economy in decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney and his party, as well as by the California governor John Bigler. Both blamed these Chinese immigrants for depressed wages overall.

Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act on May 6, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty. Those revisions allowed the United States to suspend immigration, and Congress quickly implemented the suspension of Chinese immigration and excluded Chinese skilled and unskilled laborers from entering the country for ten years, under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. The ban was renewed a number of times, lasting for over 60 years.

The American China Development Company, founded in 1895 by J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, started building the Hankow-Canton Railroad, to link central and southern China. It only managed to finish 30 miles of line. The venture did not appear profitable, and the company sold out to a rival Belgian syndicate. On the whole, the American get rich schemes by investing in China or selling to hundreds of millions of Chinese generally failed. Standard Oil did succeed in selling kerosene to the China market, but few others made a profit.

In 1899, a movement of Chinese nationalists calling themselves the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists started a violent revolt in China, referred to by Westerners as the Boxer Rebellion. They rebelled against foreign influence in trade, politics, religion, and technology. The campaigns took place from November 1899 to September 7, 1901, during the final years of Manchu rule in China under the Qing dynasty. They protested foreign westerners seizing land from locals, and the granting of immunity to criminals who converted to Catholicism. The insurgents attacked foreigners, who were building railroads and Christians, who were held responsible for the foreign domination of China. In June 1900, the Boxers entered Peking, and ransacked the area around the Foreign Legations. On June 21, Empress Dowager Cixi declared war against all Western powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers, and Chinese Christians were besieged during the Siege of the International Legations for 55 days. A coalition called the Eight-Nation Alliance, made up of Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and the United States, sent 20,000 troops to their rescue. The multinational forces were initially defeated by a Chinese Muslim army at the Battle of Langfang, but the second attempt in the Gaselee Expedition was successful. The Chinese government was forced to indemnify the victims and make many additional concessions. This led to the end of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the modern Chinese Republic.

The United States played a secondary but significant role in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion, largely due to the presence of US ships and troops deployed in the Philippines after the Spanish–American War. Within the United States Armed Forces, the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion was known as the China Relief Expedition. After the rebellion, American Protestants sent a large number of missions to China. They sent 500 missionaries in 1890, over 2000 in 1914, and 8300 in 1920. By 1927 they opened 16 American universities, six medical schools, and four theology schools, together with 265 middle schools and a large number of elementary schools.

Japan and Russia fought the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, in which the U.S. mediated a peace. Japan presented its Twenty-One Demands in 1915 made on the then-Republic of China. Japan also made secret treaties with the Allied Powers promising Japan the German territories in China. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria. The United States along with other countries condemned the action, leading to U.S. support for China in its war with Japan after 1937.

After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the United States government recognized the Republic of China (ROC) government as the sole and legitimate government of China despite a number of governments ruling various parts of China. China was reunified by a single government, led by the Kuomintang (KMT) in 1928.

The outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 saw aid flow into China from the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A series of Neutrality Acts had been passed in the US with the support of isolationists who forbade American aid to countries at war. Because the Second Sino-Japanese War was an undeclared war, Roosevelt sent the aid to China. American public sympathy for the Chinese grew as the result of reports from missionaries, novelists such as Pearl S. Buck, and Time Magazine of Japanese brutality in China, including reports surrounding the Nanking Massacre, also known as the 'Rape of Nanking'. Though war had not yet been declared, American public opinion overwhelmingly favored China and denounced Japan.

The United States formally declared war on Japan in December 1941 following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Roosevelt administration gave massive amounts of aid to the Chinese government, now headquartered in Chungking. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who had been educated in the United States, addressed the US Congress and toured the country to rally support for China. Congress amended the Chinese Exclusion Act and Roosevelt moved to end the unequal treaties by establishing the Treaty for Relinquishment of Extraterritorial Rights in China.

After World War II ended in 1945, the hostility between the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China exploded into open civil war. Communists took control of mainland China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. American general George Marshall had spent most of the year 1946 in China trying to broker a truce between the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China, but he was unable to bring about a treaty. In February 1948, Marshall, now the Secretary of State, testified to Congress in secret session that he had realized from the start that the Nationalists could never defeat the Communists in the field, so some sort of negotiated settlement was necessary or else the United States would have to fight the war. He said in his testimony:

"Any large-scale United States effort to assist the Chinese Government to oppose the Communists would most probably degenerate into a direct U.S. undertaking and responsibility, involving the commitment of sizable forces and resources over an indefinite period. Such a dissipation of U.S. resources would inevitably play into the hands of the Russians, or would provoke a reaction which would possibly, even probably, we to another Spanish type of revolution or general hostilities....the cost of an all-out effort to see Communist forces resisted and destroyed in China would clearly be out of all proportion to the results to be obtained."

In 1949, when the Communists emerged victorious, they drove the Nationalists from the Chinese mainland onto Taiwan and other islands. Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China in mainland China. Taiwan and other islands are still regarded by China as being under the Republic of China rule to this day, although Taiwan considers itself to be independent.

After the Korean War broke out, the Truman administration resumed economic and military aid to the nationalists. President Harry Truman sent the United States Seventh Fleet to stop a Communist invasion of Taiwan. Until the US formally recognized China in 1979, Washington provided Taiwan with financial grants based on the Foreign Assistance Act.

The United States did not formally recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) for 30 years after its founding. Instead, the US maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China government on Taiwan, recognizing it as the sole legitimate government of China. When the People's Liberation Army moved south to complete the conquest of mainland China in 1949, the American embassy followed Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China government to Taipei, while US consular officials remained in mainland China. The People's Republic of China was hostile to the American presence, and all US personnel were expelled from the mainland in early 1950. In December 1950, the People's Republic seized all American assets and properties, totaling $196.8 million, after the US had frozen Chinese assets in America.

The Truman administration announced on January 5, 1950, that the United States would not become involved in any dispute about the Taiwan Strait, and that he would not intervene in the event of an attack by the PRC. But when the Korean War began on 25 June with the invasion of the US-backed Republic of Korea by the communist Democratic People's Republic of Korea. A US-led international coalition of troops drove the North Korean forces from the South. In response to the Soviet-backed North Korean invasion of South Korea, the United Nations Security Council was convened and passed UNSC Resolution 82, declaring war on North Korea unanimously. The resolution was adopted mainly because the Soviet Union, a veto-wielding power, had been boycotting UN proceedings since January, in protest that the Republic of China and not the People's Republic of China held a permanent seat on the council.

In the war, the Chinese came to the aid of the North Koreans. The Chinese warned the UN forces not to venture too close to their border, but the warning was ignored and in November 1950, a massive Chinese counterattack was launched. The Chinese army struck in the west along the Chongchon River and completely overran several South Korean divisions. The defeat of the US Eighth Army resulted in the longest retreat of any American military unit in history. Both sides sustained heavy casualties before the allied forces were able to push Chinese forces back, near the original border. On April 5, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff released orders for immediate retaliatory attacks using nuclear weapons against Manchurian bases to prevent new Chinese troops from entering the battles or bombing attacks originating from those bases. Presdient Truman gave his approval for transfer of nine Mark IV nuclear capsules to the Air Force's Ninth Bomb Group. Two years of continued fighting ended in a stalemate, until the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. Since then, a divided Korea has become a significant factor in US-China relations.

The People's Republic of China provided resources and training to North Vietnam, and in the summer of 1962, Chairman Mao Zedong agreed to supply Hanoi with 90,000 rifles and guns free of charge. After the launch of the America's Operation "Rolling Thunder", China sent anti-aircraft units and engineering battalions to North Vietnam to repair the damage caused by American bombing, rebuild roads and railroads, and perform other engineering work, freeing additional hundreds of thousands North Vietnamese army units for combat in American supported South Vietnam. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ruled out the possibility of a ground invasion of North Vietnam early on, for fear of repeating the Korean War.

The United States continued to work to prevent the communist government from taking China's seat in the United Nations and encouraged its allies not to deal with the PRC. The United States placed an embargo on trading with the PRC, and encouraged allies to follow it. The PRC developed nuclear weapons in 1964.

Relations with China remained hostile until the Nixon administration. Richard M. Nixon mentioned in his inaugural address that the two countries were entering an era of negotiation after an era of confrontation. Nixon said that there was "no reason to leave China angry and isolated". Nixon believed it was in the American national interest to forge a relationship with China. In 1971, an unexpectedly friendly encounter between the American and Chinese ping-pong athletes called Glenn Cowan and Zhuang Zedong in Japan opened the way for a visit to China, which Chairman Mao personally approved. In April 1971, the athletes became the first Americans to officially visit China since the communist takeover. The smooth acceptance of this so-called "ping-pong diplomacy" led to further negotiations. In July 1971, Henry Kissinger feigned illness while on a trip to Pakistan and did not appear in public for a day. He was actually on a top-secret mission to Beijing to negotiate with Zhou Enlai.

Kissinger and his aides did not receive a warm welcome in Beijing at first, but the meeting with Zhou Enlai was productive. On July 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon revealed the mission to the world and that he had accepted an invitation to visit the PRC. This announcement was supported for the most part and Nixon saw the jump in the polls. Internationally, reactions varied. In the communist world, the Soviets were very concerned that two major enemies seemed to have resolved their differences, and the a world alignment would follow. From February 21 to February 28, 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the US and the PRC issued the Shanghai Communiqué, a statement of their respective foreign policy views. In the Communiqué, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations.

In May 1973, the US and the PRC established the United States Liaison Office (USLO) in Beijing and a counterpart PRC office in Washington. President Gerald Ford visited the PRC in 1975 and reaffirmed American interest in normalizing relations with Beijing. Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter again reaffirmed the goals of the Shanghai Communiqué. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and senior staff member of the National Security Council Michel Oksenberg encouraged Carter to seek full diplomatic and trade relations with China. The United States and the People's Republic of China announced on December 15, 1978 that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979.

Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's January 1979 visit to Washington initiated a series of important, high-level exchanges which continued until the spring of 1989. This resulted in many bilateral agreements, especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange, as well as trade relations. On March 1, 1979, the two countries formally established embassies in each other's capitals.

In 1979 American arms sales to China were initiated, and in 1981 it was revealed that a joint Sino-US listening post had been opened in Xinjiang, near the Soviet border. In 1983, the US State Department changed its classification of China to "a friendly, developing nation". President Ronald Reagan and Premier Zhao Ziyang made reciprocal visits in 1984. Reagan's visit to Beijing went well.

On December 15, 1978, Taiwan condemned the United States, leading to rampant protests in both Taiwan and in the US. In April of 1979, the US Congress signed into law the Taiwan Relations Act, permitting unofficial relations with Taiwan.

Following China's violent suppression of political protests in June 1989, the US and other governments enacted a number of measures against China's violation of human rights. The US imposed a number of economic sanctions. In the summer of 1990, at the G7 Houston summit, the West called for renewed political and economic reforms in mainland China, particularly in the field of human rights. The Tiananmen square incident disrupted the US-China trade relationship, and US investment in mainland China dropped dramatically. Tourist traffic also declined sharply. The Bush administration denounced the repression and suspended certain trade and investment programs on June 5 and 20, 1989. Military ties and arms sales were abruptly terminated in 1989 and have never been restored.

China's paramount leader Jiang Zemin visited the United States in the fall of 1997, the first state visit to the US by a PRC president since 1985. In connection with that visit, the two sides came to a consensus on implementation of their 1985 agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, as well as a number of other issues. President Clinton visited the PRC in June 1998. He traveled extensively in mainland China, and had direct interaction with the Chinese people, including live speeches and a radio show which allowed the President to convey a sense of American ideals and values.


Relations between the two countries suffered following the United States bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999. This was stated by the White House to be miscoordination between intelligence and the military, although which some Chinese believed to be deliberate. By the end of 1999, relations began to gradually improve. In October 1999, the two countries reached an agreement on compensation for families of those who were victims, as well as payments for damages to respective diplomatic properties in Belgrade and China.

Sino–American relations improved following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Two Chinese citizens died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Chinese companies and individuals sent expressions of condolences to their American counterparts. The PRC voted in favor of UNSCR 1373, publicly supported the coalition campaign in Afghanistan and contributed $150 million of bilateral assistance to Afghan reconstruction following the defeat of the Taliban.

The People's Republic of China has stressed its opposition to North Korea's decision to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, its concerns over North Korea's nuclear capabilities, and its desire for a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.

The 2008 US presidential election centered on issues of war and economic recession, but candidates Barack Obama and John McCain also spoke extensively regarding US policy toward China. Both favored cooperation with China on major issues, but they differed with regard to trade policy. Obama expressed concern that the value of China's currency was being deliberately set low to benefit China's exporters, while McCain argued that free trade was crucial and was having a transformative effect in China.

On November 8, 2008, Hu Jintao and Barack Obama had a phone conversation in which the Chinese President congratulated Obama on his election victory. Obama visited China from November 15 to 18, 2009 to discuss economic worries, concerns over nuclear weapon proliferation, and the need for action against climate change. In January 2010, the US proposed a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. In response, the PRC threatened to impose sanctions on US companies supplying arms to Taiwan and suspend cooperation on certain regional and international issues. In March 2012, China reduced its purchases of oil from Iran, a decision believed to have been influenced by the Obama administration. In March 2013, the US and China agreed to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea for conducting nuclear tests.

President Obama met President Xi Jinping for two days of meetings, between 6 June and 8 June 2013, at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, California. The leaders agreed to combat climate change and also found strong mutual interest in curtailing North Korea's nuclear program. But they could not reach agreement on cyber espionage and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan, on December 2, 2016, the first such contact with Taiwan by a U.S. president-elect or president since 1979.This provoked the People's Republic of China to lodge a diplomatic protest. Trump later told Fox News, "I fully understand the 'one China' policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a 'one China' policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

On 9 February, Trump spoke with China's leader Xi Jinping over the phone discussing a wide range of issues; Trump was said to have re-iterated the United States' commitment to the 'one-China' policy. They spoke again on July 3, 2017 and President Xi Jinping said that "China-US relations have made great progress in recent days, but they have also been affected by some negative factors." One of the things he was referring to was the presence of American military vessels in the Chinese territorial waters of Xisha (Paracel) Islands.

On November 8, 2017, President Trump visited Beijing as part of the Asian tour. At a meeting, the two leaders discussed the de-nucleariziation on the Korean peninsula and the stabilization of China–United States relations. President Trump reiterated the importance of trade development between the two countries and reaffirmed the American support for the One-China policy. On March 13, 2018, the out-going US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said: "Much work remains to establish a clear view of the nature of our future relationship with China, how shall we deal with one-another over the next fifty years, and ensure a period of prosperity for all of our peoples, free of conflict between two very powerful nations."

For the Trump Presidency, one of the most sensitive issues in US-Chinese relations is that of tariffs. As part of President Trump's "America First" policy, the tariffs he has imposed have been met with tariffs in China on 128 categories of American goods. These took effect on April 1, 2018 in retaliation for the Trump Administration’s levies on steel and aluminum imports the previous month. In September 2018, the Trump Administration had placed tariffs on $250 billion dollars worth of Chinese goods, in an attempt to offset the trade imbalance between the two countries.

The two countries had resumed trade relations in 1972. Since then, direct investment by the US in mainland China covers a wide range of manufacturing sectors, several large hotel projects, restaurant chains, and petrochemicals. US companies have entered agreements establishing more than 20,000 equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises in mainland China. Over 100 US-based multinationals have projects in mainland China, some with multiple investments. Cumulative US investment in mainland China is valued at $48 billion. The US trade deficit with mainland China has exceeded $350 billion in the past, and is the United States' largest bilateral trade deficit.

China has restrictive trade practices which include a wide array of barriers to foreign goods and services, aimed at protecting state-owned enterprises. The Chinese government has imposed high tariffs, the requiring of foreign businesses to obtain special permission to import goods, inconsistent application of laws and regulations, and leveraging technology from foreign firms in return for market access.

Another contentious issues is China being a major currency manipulator. China has bought more than $300 billion annually to keep its currency low, improving its competitive position to attract outside trade and investment. Currency manipulation is the reason for China's large trade surpluses. Business leaders within the United States pressured the Obama administration to take a hard-line stance against China and compel them to raise the value of their currency, and legislation was introduced to the United States Congress calling on the President to impose tariffs on Chinese imports until China properly values its currency. The tariffs imposed by President Trump seek in part to address this problem. In 2014, China stopped artificially deflating its currency because growth in the Chinese economy slowed and Chinese investors made more investments outside the country, leading to a drop in the yuan's value in relation to the dollar.

Another issue on the President's desk is China's status as a major creditor and the second largest foreign holder of US public debt. China has been critical of US deficits and fiscal policy. China has advised the United States not to continue with the accumulation of debt, stating that America cannot continue to borrow to solve financial problems.

Yet another concern is Chinese military spending. According to the PRC government, China spent $45 billion on defense in 2007. In contrast, the United States had a $623-billion budget for the military in 2008, $123 billion more than the combined military budgets of all other countries in the world. Some very broad US estimates maintain that the PRC military spends between $85 billion and $125 billion. Concerns have been raised that China is developing a large naval base near the South China Sea and has diverted resources to air force and missile development. The Chinese continue to invest in modernization of their nuclear forces, purportedly to keep up with further improvement in American missile defenses.

The US State Department publishes an annual report on human rights around the world, which includes an evaluation of China's human rights record. The State Department has list China as one of the world's worst human rights violators. Since 1998, China has annually published a White Paper detailing the human rights abuses by the United States. The United States report on China's human rights practices for 2013 described the PRC as an authoritarian state and a place in which repression and coercion were routine. On February 28, 2014, China published a report on human rights in the United States citing surveillance on its own citizens, mistreatment of inmates, gun violence, and homelessness despite having a vibrant economy as important issues.

Finally, there is the issue of Cyberwarfare. In 2014, Chinese hackers hacked the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management, resulting in the theft of approximately 22 million personnel records handled by the office. Former FBI Director James Comey described it as "a very big deal from a national security perspective and from a counterintelligence perspective. It’s a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for, or works for the United States government." Last month, in October 2018, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the threat to the U.S. posed by China. Before the hearing, Bloomberg released an article saying that China is embedding technology in microchips sent to America that collect data on American consumers. However, both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would not confirm that. Nielsen said that China has become a major threat to the U.S. Nielsen also confirmed, in an answer to a question from a senator, that China is trying to influence U.S. elections.

When dealing with powerful nations, Presidents have had to strike a balance between provocation and resignation. Like other problems discussed in this series, the issue of relations with China are complex and not solved by sound-byte answers. The modern president must look to the future and weight the consequences of every decision from an economic and national security perspective, as well as a moral one.


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