President Trump signed three executive actions on Saturday afternoon, including one directing the Pentagon to draft a plan to destroy the Islamic State and another formalizing new lobbying restrictions on administration officials.
One of Trump’s directives orders his new defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to submit a strategy within 30 days to defeat the Islamic State, signaling that the new president hopes to make good on his campaign promise to more aggressively confront global terrorism than his predecessor.
“I think it’s going to be very successful,” Trump said. “That’s big stuff.”
Both Trump and Mattis have expressed a desire to expedite an end to the battle against the Islamic State. Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. air power and American advisers, have cleared half of the city of Mosul, but they have taken heavy losses and could require additional outside support. In Syria, the United States is struggling to recruit sufficient Arab fighters to recapture the city of Raqqa, an offensive that American officials hope can begin within several months.
Even before Saturday’s order, military officials had been at work developing potential actions for Mattis and Trump’s entire national security team to consider. Those include potentially deploying additional advisers to Iraq and Syria, allowing U.S. military personnel to accompany local forces closer to the front lines, and delegating greater decision-making power to field commanders.
Changes to the existing campaign are expected to be modest adjustments to the existing strategy rather than any radical departure. How far the new measures go “would depend upon the political risk that the president is willing to take when we do certain things that could exacerbate things with Russia or Turkey or the PMF,” one defense official said, referring to Iranian-backed militias that have played an important role in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq.
U.S. ties with Turkey are already strained in Syria over U.S. support to Kurdish fighters there, and any move to expand that support is sure to inflame existing tensions.
The proposals will seek to ensure that commanders in the field “have the wherewithal and the leeway to do what they have to do to successfully prosecute the campaign,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
But employing more combat power may come with serious drawbacks, including risking additional American lives and adding to the already significant cost of military operations overseas.
Trump also signed an executive action restructuring the National Security Council and streamlining procedures in a way that the White House believes would be more adaptive to modern threats.
Trump said that the change would bring “a lot of efficiency and, I think, a lot of additional safety.”
“People have talked about doing this for a long time,” he said. “Like, many years.”
The third executive action institutes new lobbying rules for administration officials. It stipulates that administration officials cannot register as lobbyists for a full five years after leaving the government — and can never lobby on behalf of a foreign government. The lobbying rules are in keeping with Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
“Most of the people standing behind me won’t be able to go to work or do anything adverse to our wonderful country,” Trump said, as the aides standing around his desk in the Oval Office laughed.
As a small group of reporters were leaving the Oval Office, someone shouted out a question about the president’s executive order signed Friday that temporarily blocks the arrival of refugees and immigrants from seven countries that are predominantly Muslim.
“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared,” Trump said. “It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It’s working out very nicely, and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
It wasn’t immediately clear on Saturday what effect the Trump administration’s executive order halting entry of migrants and green-card holders from Iraq and other Muslim-majority nations would have on the U.S. partnership with the Iraqi government in the battle against the Islamic State. Iraqi lawmakers have asked the country’s Foreign Ministry to explain how the measure will affect Iraq.