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May 2017

For the Russians Before They Were Against the Russians by Daniel J. Flynn

Bernie Sanders, among others, has lived long enough to become a genuine McCarthyite.

Twenty-nine years ago, Bernie Sanders spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. Now he sounds like a Martin Dies Democrat.

“President Trump, in a reckless and dangerous manner, has revealed highly classified information to the Russians at a meeting in the Oval Office,” Vermont’s junior senator declared this week, “information that could expose extremely important sources and methods of intelligence gathering in the fight against ISIS.”

If only the Russians still engaged in a cold war against the United States instead of a hot war against ISIS, the Kremlin’s meddling might receive a pass. It certainly did for many decades.

“Who is to say that [Ted] Hall’s decision and those of [Klaus] Fuchs, Morris Cohen, [Julius] Rosenberg, and others who gave atomic secrets to the Soviets did not contribute significantly to what John Lewis Gaddis has called ‘the long peace’ that followed World War II?” wondered UC-San Diego Professor Michael E. Parrish. Many Are the Crimes author Ellen Schrecker infamously rejected the tag of traitor for Americans aiding the Russians; she insisted they merely “did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism.”

To quote a thinker more revered in those circles than Trump, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

Schrecker recently took to the pages of the Nation to discuss the possibility of a sequel of sorts to the McCarthy era during the Trump Administration. She appears wrong even when right. A witch hunt has indeed arrived. Donald Trump recognized as much in tweeting, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” It just didn’t come the way the I-was-for-the-Russians-before-I-was-against-them wing of the Democratic Party imagined it would.

Trump did not provide nuclear secrets to the Russians, as Julius Rosenberg did. He did not give the Russians the formula for printing American greenbacks that allowed them to counterfeit our currency, as Harry Dexter White did. He did not intentionally shape international agreements, as Alger Hiss did at Yalta and in San Francisco at the founding of the United Nations, to benefit the Russians. Trump allegedly discussed the plans of a common enemy. Surely if Franklin Roosevelt could share information about a common enemy with Joseph Stalin, then Donald Trump doing so with Vladimir Putin’s emissary does not violate any norms.

Trump, not the 535 members of Congress or the nine Supreme Court Justices or the 16 members of the New York Times editorial board, serves as commander in chief. One can argue that the president should not share certain pieces of information with certain countries. But questioning the wisdom of an act differs from questioning its legality. Beyond the classification system’s genesis stemming from an executive order, Article II of the Constitution vests the power to conduct foreign policy with the president. In combatting the terrorists’ war on the West, reasons abound for allies, even ones made so by a common enemy, to share information — not the least of which involves an expectation that the foreign government reciprocates.

To call the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Trump administration’s Russian ties “quite a coup” reveals a literal truth beneath the metaphor. The opposition party can perform the heavy lifting of winning back Congress, or, alternatively, it can bring the administration’s agenda to a sclerotic halt by pressuring for the creation of a special prosecutor.

Clausewitz called war “politics by other means.” In our passive-aggressive society, a special prosecutor is politics by other means.

Butler University Offers Credit For Joining Trump ‘Resistance’ How exactly does one grade participation in a protest? Do broken civilian car windows count less than those of police cars? Daniel Lee

It’s hard not to wonder if the Butler University bookstore will have the class supplies needed for a fall course called “Trumpism & U.S. Democracy”—gas masks, Maalox to counteract chemical agents, cobblestones of a nice throwing weight?

It’s a legitimate question, considering that the School of Communication class was originally billed as planning to “discuss, and possibly engage in, strategies for resistance” to Trump’s “sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nativism, and imperialism,” according to the 57-word course description by Professor Ann Savage. A revised description issued after parents got wind of the course and complained moderates the language, but clearly leaves open the possibility of protest attendance and participation.
How exactly does one grade participation in a protest? Do broken civilian car windows count less than those of police cars? Does being arrested on national media count more than on local newscasts? And is there extra credit for being tased?
Some People Love the Idea

When the course came to light during Butler’s graduation week this month, response was quick on social media, today’s venue of choice for the airing of grievances.

“We have a daughter who is getting ready to graduate from Butler on Saturday,” one mother posted on the Butler Facebook page. “We used to be proud to tell people that fact…We don’t pay you THOUSANDS of dollars to teach our children to act out when things don’t go their way. Are you going to teach them to throw a temper tantrum when they don’t get the job they want?”

But as ever, other parents demonstrated their willingness to stand with disorder, another check writer posting: “Proud Bulldog mom. Proud of President (James) Danko. Proud of the community at Butler. Proud of Dr. Savage. Proud that bulldogs don’t back down in the face of criticism. Proud to send you another $57,000 for another year of education for my oldest daughter.”

It was an unusual outburst for this quiet liberal arts school of just over 4,000 undergraduates nestled among ivy-covered brick bungalows near the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The university quickly took down the initial course description, posting a much-altered version. Gone were references to Trump’s campaign boorishness and plans to take part in protests. Now the class is expected to explore “the rise of Donald Trump as a political and social phenomenon,” and “instill disciplinary diversity” by hosting guest lectures from other Butler faculty. Note that “disciplinary diversity” is not necessarily the same as actual diversity.
Same Academic Decrepitude, Different Day

University Provost Kathryn Morris said in a release that the course “falls under the auspices of academic freedom,” as would a course supporting the president. Students would never be forced to demonstrate, she wrote. But neither will they be chained to their desks. Students might visit “ongoing responses to Trump’s presidency and campaign” as “participant observers.”

This seems to leave room for some vigorous class activities, possibly qualifying for Physical Education credit. Butler is saying participation is voluntary, but wasn’t that model rejected in the case of school prayer? Something about kids feeling ostracized and marginalized. Besides, the university seems to be suggesting the real problem was how the course was described, not what the kids will be doing. The school plans to “review its practice of accepting preliminary course descriptions.”

We Are Watching A Slow-Motion Coup D’etat This coup d’etat is not only about President Trump. It represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites. by James Downton

James Downton is the pen name of a Federalist contributor who is contractually prohibited from writing publicly about politics under his real name.

It’s nearly incontrovertible that a slow-motion coup d’etat is now taking place. Since November 9, 2016, forces within the U.S. government, media, and partisan opposition have aligned to overthrow the Electoral College winner, Donald Trump.

To achieve this they have undermined the institutions of the Fourth Estate, the bureaucratic apparatus of the U.S. government, and the very nature of a contentious yet affable two-party political system. Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.
This article outlines the mechanisms, institutions, and nature of this coup d’etat; not in defense of President Donald Trump — who has proven himself bereft of the temperament of a successful president — but in defense of the institutions of our republic that are now not just threatened, but may very well be on the verge of collapse.
‘1984’ Is An Apt Comparison, But Not As the Left Thinks

Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, a sort of “meme” appeared among activists on the political left comparing the status of the United States to that of George Orwell’s “1984.” “Think pieces” from The New Yorker, CNN, The Atlantic, and Salon drew comparisons between President Trump and the brutally authoritarian future Orwell envisioned. In April of this year, screenings of the film version of Orwell’s dystopian novel were hosted around the world. “1984” surged up Amazon’s bestseller list. The tragedy of this exercise was that the comparison was very apt, but for different reasons.

The villain of “1984” isn’t a “man” but an entity — a bureaucracy with an authoritarian impulse. Big Brother isn’t so much a man or a leader but a symbol of the omnipotent reach of the bureaucratic state that dominated the dystopian future. The fear of an elected leader turning into a tyrant — as the political Left and some on the political Right feared in Trump — doesn’t play into the narrative of the novel. Rather, it is the fear of a nearly faceless administrative state; a state that has achieved a near totality in terms of tyranny.

This fear of the administrative state was a key feature among at least two individuals writing at the Claremont Review of Books, Publius Decius Mus and professor Angelo Codevilla. Decius’s “The Flight 93 Election” essay acted as a sort of rallying cry for some conservatives and small-“r” republican intellectuals against the very real fear that a Hillary Clinton victory would cement the totalizing power of the administrative state — that is career bureaucrats and administrators who view the virtues of the republic as something to be washed away and remade in their own “progressive” image. Decius writes:

If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.

Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy We urgently need to stop the ecological posturing and invest in gas and nuclear Matt Ridley


The Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’.

You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong. Its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of irrelevance.

Here’s a quiz; no conferring. To the nearest whole number, what percentage of the world’s energy consumption was supplied by wind power in 2014, the last year for which there are reliable figures? Was it 20 per cent, 10 per cent or 5 per cent? None of the above: it was 0 per cent. That is to say, to the nearest whole number, there is still no wind power on Earth.

Matt Ridley and climate change campaigner Leo Murray debate the future of wind power:

Even put together, wind and photovoltaic solar are supplying less than 1 per cent of global energy demand. From the International Energy Agency’s 2016 Key Renewables Trends, we can see that wind provided 0.46 per cent of global energy consumption in 2014, and solar and tide combined provided 0.35 per cent. Remember this is total energy, not just electricity, which is less than a fifth of all final energy, the rest being the solid, gaseous, and liquid fuels that do the heavy lifting for heat, transport and industry.

Such numbers are not hard to find, but they don’t figure prominently in reports on energy derived from the unreliables lobby (solar and wind). Their trick is to hide behind the statement that close to 14 per cent of the world’s energy is renewable, with the implication that this is wind and solar. In fact the vast majority — three quarters — is biomass (mainly wood), and a very large part of that is ‘traditional biomass’; sticks and logs and dung burned by the poor in their homes to cook with. Those people need that energy, but they pay a big price in health problems caused by smoke inhalation.

Even in rich countries playing with subsidised wind and solar, a huge slug of their renewable energy comes from wood and hydro, the reliable renewables. Meanwhile, world energy demand has been growing at about 2 per cent a year for nearly 40 years. Between 2013 and 2014, again using International Energy Agency data, it grew by just under 2,000 terawatt-hours.

If wind turbines were to supply all of that growth but no more, how many would need to be built each year? The answer is nearly 350,000, since a two-megawatt turbine can produce about 0.005 terawatt-hours per annum. That’s one-and-a-half times as many as have been built in the world since governments started pouring consumer funds into this so-called industry in the early 2000s.

The British broadcaster brave enough to discuss Islamic violence Douglas Murray

Last night Channel 4 broadcast a deep and seriously important programme. ‘Isis: The Origins of Violence’ was written and presented by the historian Tom Holland and can be viewed (by British viewers) here.

Five years ago, to coincide with his book ‘In The Shadow of the Sword’ about the early years of Islam, Holland presented a documentary for Channel 4 titled ‘Islam: The Untold Story’. That was something of a landmark in UK television. For while there had previously been some heated and angry studio discussions about Islam and plenty of fawningly hagiographic programmes about the religion’s founder presented by his apologists, here was a grown-up and scholarly treatment which looked at the issue as though there weren’t blasphemy police around every corner.

Sadly, part of the reception of that programme, and numerous events in the years since have kept such displays of scholarly truthfulness nearly as much of a rarity since as they were before. Which is one reason why Tom Holland deserves even more praise for returning to the subject of his earlier documentary.
And not just returning to it, but – in ‘Isis: The Origins of Violence’ – returning to the hardest part of that subject. In a nutshell he posed the question ‘Why do Isis, and groups like Isis, do what they do?’ And he answers this with the only honest answer anybody interested in truth could possibly come back with – which is that although they may be inspired by many things, their most important inspiration is a version of Islam whose roots can be traced to the origins of the religion, its foundational texts and the behaviour of Mohammed.

Holland did not spare the viewer. Travelling from the scene of the devastating Isis attacks in Paris, to Iraqi towns decimated by the group, via Istanbul and an interview with a Salafi leader in Jordan, Holland showed the depth as well as complexity of the question and answer. The most moving sequence of all came in the Iraqi town of Sinjar which was levelled by Isis and whose mainly Yezidi population either fled, were sold as sex slaves or (as in the case of the town’s old women who could not be sold) massacred. In a profoundly moving sequence, picking his way up a demolished street, on the lookout for explosives amid the rubble, Holland speaks to camera. What he said needs thinking about:

‘There are things in the past that are like unexploded bombs that just lie in wait in the rubble, and then something happens to trigger them. And there are clearly verses in the Koran and stories that are told about Mohammed that are very like mines waiting to go off – Improvised Explosive Devices. And they can lie there maybe for centuries and then something happens to trigger them and you get this.’

The documentary will doubtless have many detractors from the many people – non-Muslim as well as Muslim – who want to cover over those IEDs. Holland’s documentary profoundly and carefully reveals why this is such a terrible mistake, and why from London and Paris to Istanbul and Mosul, the effects of failing to be honest in our assessment of the past has such serious repercussions for our present and future.

Tesco and the great green scam Rupert Darwall

Only two months ago, Tesco agreed to pay a £129 million fine for false accounting, when it overstated profits in its August 2014 trading statement. ‘What happened is a huge source of regret to us all at Tesco,’ chief executive Dave Lewis said, ‘but we are a different business now.’ Not so fast. On Monday, the supermarket giant announced that its UK stores and distribution centres would be switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity this year.

Tesco backs up its claim by saying that its UK electricity consumption will be supported by renewable energy certificates. As part of the EU’s promotion of renewable electricity, all member states are required to run schemes to guarantee the origin of electricity produced from renewable energy sources. In Britain, energy regulator Ofgem runs the Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) scheme that Tesco will use to support its 100 per cent renewable claim.

Last year, renewable sources supplied 24.4 per cent of electricity generated in Britain. Intermittent, weather-dependent renewable in the form of wind and solar accounted for 58 per cent of renewable electricity. The next largest comes from the environmentally destructive Drax power station. It used to be Europe’s largest coal-fired power station but now burns wood pellets sourced from North American forests. Under EU rules, wood imported from outside the EU is accounted for as a renewable, zero-carbon fuel source. Yes, the EU really thinks that burning American forests is renewable.

Renewable electricity generation by typeIn 2016Onshore wind 25.5%Onshore wind 25.5%Offshore wind 19.8%Offshore wind 19.8%Solar photovoltaics 12.4%Solar photovoltaics 12.4%Plant biomass 22.7%Plant biomass 22.7%Hydro 6.5%Hydro 6.5%Other 13.0%Other 13.0%Source: BEIS Energy Trends 6.1 / Author’s calculations

Given the high proportion of renewable electricity from weather-dependent capacity, what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? Would you buy chicken from a store that let its chill cabinets warm up? Is Tesco going to let its store go dark when there isn’t enough wind and solar electricity being generated? Of course, it’s not going to put itself out of business by shutting its stores when the wind speed drops.

Neither is Tesco putting its money where its mouth is. According to calculations by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a lithium-ion battery with enough electricity to run everything in a house for a week would weigh more than a ton and triple your electricity bill. Tesco isn’t going down the route of bankrupting itself by buying up a huge proportion of the world’s output of lithium-ion batteries.

In reality, Tesco’s claim is based on a Big Lie, that electricity can be stored just like groceries, homewares and clothing. As every school child doing GCSE physics knows, electricity is extremely hard to store. Uniquely, electricity is a product line that has to be generated the moment it’s consumed. There is no stock of electricity waiting to be sold. One GCSE text book illustrates the puny scale of renewable electricity. A hydropower project in Chile’s Atacama Desert will have a capacity of 55 million cubic metres to give a potential generating capacity of 91.7 gigawatt-hours. The amount of solar power is only sufficient pump 45 cubic metres of water a day. Question: How long will it take to fill the reservoir? Answer: 3,346 years.

A Victory Over Fake News Alex Jones apologizes to Chobani and its employees for his slurs.

Defamation laws are often abused, but this week came a rare victory for the First Amendment and legal recourse against slander. On Wednesday Alex Jones, a right-wing gadfly who occupies one of the darker corners of the internet, settled a lawsuit filed by Chobani yogurt over odious falsehoods on Mr. Jones’s website Infowars.

“During the week of April 10, 2017,” Mr. Jones said in a video on his website, “certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho the way we did.”

As humiliating apologies go, this is one for the ages. The contrition is warranted: An April Infowars tweet and video carried the title “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.” Chobani’s founder is a Turkish immigrant who has hired hundreds of refugees to work in his plants. Mr. Jones’s outfit suggested that Chobani workers in Idaho were connected to a gruesome sexual assault perpetrated by minors. For added class, Infowars said that maybe refugees had spread tuberculosis.

The allegations are false, though the video spread across the internet thanks to thousands of tweets and shares on social media. Drudge published the headline “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” Chobani sued Mr. Jones for what the suit described as a “classic” case of defamation, which includes acting with malice.

Mr. Jones first insisted he would fight the Chobani suit, but his lawyers must have helped him realize that he was barreling toward an expensive defeat. Chobani has declined to disclose settlement details, but perhaps this encounter will dissuade Mr. Jones and his allies from peddling untruths this outrageous. Congratulations to Chobani for fighting back against a real example of fake news.

Trump Wavers on Jerusalem He reneges on a promise to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

Donald Trump made many campaign promises in his run to the Presidency, but none sounded more sincere than his commitment to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The week of his inauguration he repeated the pledge to an Israeli news outlet, adding, “I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

This promise will go unfulfilled when Mr. Trump visits Israel on his current trip to the Middle East. Administration officials have conveyed in the past week that, once again, the time isn’t appropriate for the move. Mr. Trump hasn’t explained his reversal, so we are left to assume that the reason for reneging is the same one U.S. Presidents of both parties have given back to the Clinton Presidency : The move might imperil the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Israelis no doubt will welcome Mr. Trump enthusiastically when he arrives, because he follows after the explicit hostility that Barack Obama displayed toward this important Middle East ally and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Still, breaking this important public promise is difficult to understand.

Mr. Trump deepened the promise when he named New York lawyer David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. Mr. Friedman said he would work to renew the bond between the two countries, “and I look forward to doing this from the U.S. Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

It is now evident that even a commitment of this much presidential prestige has been overturned by the U.S. State Department’s famous determination to continue the peace process with the Palestinians to the end of days. The history of this greatest of all diplomatic mirages extends back decades, but let us give the short version of why it won’t happen: The Palestinians claim Jerusalem as the capital of any future state, and the Israelis will never concede that claim.

Given this intractable stand-off, we would argue that Mr. Trump is more likely to break the peace-process gridlock if he makes good on his promise. It might make clear to the Palestinians that the wheels of history are not moving in their favor, and the time has arrived to enter into a credible negotiation with Israel.

The Administration officials who pushed Mr. Trump off his campaign promise no doubt argued that it risks alienating America’s Arab allies in the region. But allies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan already have recognized that their priority has shifted away from Israel and Palestine and toward the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear program, its push for Shiite-led regional hegemony, and the rise of Islamic State. They are engaging Israel in ways that seemed impossible not long ago.

It has been 22 years since Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, requiring State to relocate the embassy. Every six months since, a U.S. President has signed a waiver to delay the move. It’s unfortunate see that President Trump, too, has wavered on this commitment. The least he can do for those who believed his campaign promise is to explain why he now believes he can’t keep it.

Bronze Plaques Matter Americans should embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly of U.S. history — rather than shove statues down the memory hole. By Deroy Murdock

New Orleans — Robert E. Lee lost again.

The statue of the Confederate Army’s general in chief vanished Friday from atop a 60-foot-tall column in the middle of Lee Circle. This work is the fourth of four Confederate-oriented statues that the city of New Orleans has removed in recent weeks, amid considerable and well-deserved controversy.

During my annual pilgrimage to the Crescent City early this month, I saw Lee rise above well-tended grounds, including grass and flowers, although the concrete at his monument’s base was badly broken. Interestingly enough, the man who led one side of the Civil War to defeat stood just two blocks north of the spectacular National WWII Museum, which chronicles a unified America’s triumph in that mammoth struggle.

Along the landmark’s side, a graffito demanded: “Take It Down Now.” That ultimately victorious sentiment was popular around here, but not unanimous.

“They should leave it,” said Marquis, a black man in a white T-shirt. A couple of weeks back, he sat at the statute’s base and listened to music on a small speaker wirelessly connected to his cell phone. He breathed a whiff of disgust at those who wanted Lee toppled. “As someone said, ‘Ain’t no blood in him.’”

Marquis took a drag off of his cigarette and continued. “He’s just standing there. So, they’re going to take him down. And who are they going to put up there? Donald Trump?”

Even then, Lee was not long for the circle that bears his name.

In what seems like a major act of virtue signaling, New Orleans’ Democratic mayor Mitch Landrieu led the effort to purify the Big Easy of these four Confederate-era artworks. The first honored a bloody white rebellion against the city’s biracial government during Reconstruction. Workers then swept a depiction of Confederate president Jefferson Davis from a pedestal on Jefferson Davis Highway. Tuesday saw General P. G. T. Beauregard’s retreat. And now, Lee has achieved his rendezvous with obscurity.

This exercise is reminiscent of former Governor George Elmer Pataki (R., N.Y.). In his own massive act of virtue signaling, he secured federal funds from G. W. Bush’s EPA to dredge up and remove PCBs that had sat quietly for decades at the bottom of the Hudson River. This noxious industrial runoff was from General Electric factories in upstate New York. Rather than let sleeping toxins lie, Pataki had the riverbed vacuumed. The result? PCB levels shot up, and the Hudson’s relatively clean waters were befouled anew.

Likewise, this episode has stirred up the relative tranquility in New Orleans, with long-healed wounds being scratched open. Just blocks from the ever-delightful New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which I savored for the 23rd consecutive time a few weeks ago, a group of Confederate sympathizers waved the South’s Battle Flag beside Beauregard’s striking statute at City Park. A year ago, Beauregard sat in splendor beneath the sun, all alone. Confederate flags were nowhere in sight. This year’s display of Rebel sympathies and banners did not signal progress. And now, Beauregard has been scraped from his pedestal and whisked to an undisclosed location.

This episode has stirred up the relative tranquility in New Orleans, with long-healed wounds being scratched open.

Say what you will about these statues, they tend to be excellent works of art. Despite the horrors at their roots, they beautifully capture the human physique and, very often, the equestrian form. If nothing else, they added vivid, dramatic images to this lovely city.

U.S. Fight Against Islamic State Is Accelerating, Mattis Says Defense secretary says recent changes allow faster decisions on battle tactics By Paul Sonne

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said changes in the fight against Islamic State that were approved by President Donald Trump have given the U.S. the ability to move more quickly and forcefully on the battlefield, though the overall strategy remains largely unchanged from the Obama era.

Mr. Mattis said the president had given U.S. military commanders more leeway to make battlefield decisions and approved a tactical shift that directs U.S.-backed troops to focus on annihilating Islamic State rather than waging a war of attrition.

“No longer will we have slowed decision cycles because Washington, D.C., has to authorize tactical movements on the ground,” Mr. Mattis said at a Pentagon news conference, where he appeared alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford and the State Department’s special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk.

Mr. Mattis said U.S.-backed troops previously were surrounding Islamic State positions and allowing enemy fighters to escape through a designated exit route, because the goal was to oust them from occupied cities as quickly as possible and allow residents to return.

But the effect, the defense secretary said, was essentially to move Islamic State fighters around the area.

“We carry out the annihilation campaign so we don’t simply transplant this problem from one location to another,” Mr. Mattis said.

Mr. McGurk cited the recent capture of the Tabqa dam in Syria by a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters as an example of the new battlefield leeway leading to quicker execution.

“Military people on the ground saw an opportunity to surprise ISIS,” he said. “That happened very fast.”

Apart from the modifications described by Mr. Mattis, the strategy to dislodge Islamic State from Iraq and Syria largely appears to be the same as under the Obama administration, despite Mr. Trump’s criticism of the approach during last year’s presidential campaign.

Gen. Dunford and Mr. McGurk, who both held their positions during the Obama administration, helped execute the original strategy.

Defense Secretary Mattis, right, was joined by the State Department’s special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk, at the briefing. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

All three of the top U.S. officials emphasized the progress of the campaign since it began in mid-2014. Mr. McGurk said some 55,00 square kilometers (21,000 square miles) had been liberated and 4.1 million people freed from Islamic State control. CONTINUE AT SITE