October 17, 2019

Turkey’s Offensive in Syria

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“Turkey vowed to press ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop.” Reuters

Many on both sides are criticizing the US troop withdrawal and Turkey’s military operation:

“Trump may indeed have campaigned on getting out of Syria. He didn’t campaign on potentially freeing thousands of Islamic State fighters, greenlighting ethnic cleansing, or empowering Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Russian president Vladimir Putin. A serious policy of disengagement from the Middle East would require working with our allies in the region and elsewhere. It would involve intense planning by the Pentagon and State Department. And, most importantly, it would necessitate tough negotiations with the Turks to minimize our betrayal of a people who lost some 11,000 troops fighting at our side.”
Jonah Goldberg, National Review

“History is littered with instances of one-time allies abandoned by Washington to their fate… Yet the decision by the Trump administration to quit Syria stands apart because the status quo was entirely sustainable. American forces were not taking high numbers of casualties. The region under control of the Kurds was largely quiet. Islamic State fighters were penned up. There wasn’t major international pressure for the United States to withdraw. If the Trump administration had wanted to acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s pleadings to let Turkey take stronger actions in service of its own national security, it could surely have managed such steps in a far more measured and coordinated manner… The decision makes as little sense strategically as it does morally.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“Mr. Trump was able to project an image of strength in his early days as he prosecuted the war against ISIS and used force to impose a cost on Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons. But that image has faded as he has indulged his inner Rand Paul… This is simple-minded isolationism, and it’s a message to the world’s rogues that a U.S. President has little interest in engaging on behalf of American allies or interests. Friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia are quietly dismayed, while Iran, Russia and Hezbollah can’t believe Mr. Trump has so glibly abandoned U.S. commitments and military partners.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Even operating within the constraints that Trump has foolishly adopted,there are actions the U.S. could—and should—take to mitigate the damage. If he must allow Turkey to create a 20 km ‘safe zone’ in Syrian territory, the U.S. should take responsibility for making it actually safe, because what is currently a military onslaught could quickly become a humanitarian crisis… if we move fast with a proposed buffer, before the long-term consequences of Trump’s support for Turkey’s invasion are manifest, we might still be able to get partners to help us, and mitigate the damage.”
Kori Schake, The Atlantic

Both sides are also skeptical of the sanctions:

“Our troops are scrambling to safely get out of the affected areas and the Kurds have signed on to cooperate with Assad’s Syrian army. But we’re definitely going to start making steel more expensive… or something… This sounds like the President wants to impose sanctions on Turkey for doing precisely what Erdogan told him he was going to do. How do you invade a country and start fighting without precipitating a humanitarian crisis? People who are being invaded by a foreign army are pretty much facing a humanitarian crisis by definition.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“[Sanctions have], in short, become the Trump administration’s one consistent move when confronted with the world’s most complex problems: squeeze countries economically while staying open to dialogue and offering to release the economic vise if they mend their ways. The administration has proved adept at the squeeze, but more inept when it comes to changing behavior. It has so far failed to achieve its desired outcomes in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and now Syria… To extinguish a military conflagration unfolding in real time, the administration is resorting to measures that notoriously take a lot of time to come to fruition. The U.S. financial system is powerful, but not so powerful that it can swiftly stop a military assault in its tracks.”
Uri Friedman, The Atlantic

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of the pro-life movement’s embrace of Trump and opposed to further restrictions on abortion.

There are a couple ways to look at what’s going on. One is that the administration has been putting on a show this past week. Even the sanctions, some critics suggest, are relatively mild, too late to have much impact on the ground, and could have been a way to head off more aggressive action targeting Turkey from Congress. Another perspective is that the scope and brutality of the Turkish operation has gone beyond what the administration expected. (Certainly U.S. forces coming under Turkish artillery fire couldn’t have been anticipated. The whole justification for this order was to take troopsout of harm’s way)… Yet another possibility is that administration officials, military commanders, and congressional Republican hawks are scrambling to contain the damage done by the president.”
Joshua Keating, Slate

“Trump, like his predecessors, has a right to make the wrong strategic decisions. He has a right to make stupid mistakes. God knows previous US presidents have made them before. But presidents must make these decisions, even foolish ones, based on what they think is in the best interest of the United States…

“The President already told us, before becoming president, that he had ‘a little conflict of interest’ with Turkey, where he has substantial business concerns, including not one but two Trump towers. But maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe it was just arrogance, carelessness, hubris. Under normal circumstances, we might shake our heads at Trump's decision; call it a horrible mistake and make the best of it. But these are not normal circumstances, and this is not just any poor tactical move.This foreign policy travesty demands answers.”
Frida Ghitis, CNN

Some ask, “Why Are U.S. Nuclear Bombs Still in Turkey? The best time to get atomic weapons out was several years ago. The second best time is now… There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube—or bringing back the U.S.-allied Kurds who’ve been slaughtered as a result of Turkish cruelty and presidential nihilism—but there are lingering risks that can be managed. Removing the U.S. atomic arsenal from Turkey won’t fix the world, but it could save the world from experiencing its stupidest disaster yet.”
Ankit Panda, New Republic

“I’m quite sure the White House knew that this plan would be immediately dismissed by the Palestinians. So why bother? There are a couple of reasons. First, Trump said he was going to come up with a peace plan and gave the task to his son-in-law; if nothing else, he can say that he followed through. Second, by coming up with something so incredibly skewed toward the interests of Israel, he can demonstrate to domestic constituencies — particularly evangelical Christians, many of whom are devoted to a right-wing vision of Israel’s future in which Palestinian rights are ignored — that he continues to be on their side… And finally, the inevitable rejection of the plan by the Palestinians can be used as an excuse to continue denying them self-determination. ‘See, we offered you a peace plan,’ Trump and Netanyahu will say, ‘and you didn’t want it! It’s clear you aren’t ready for self-determination.’ And nothing will change.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“If we’re really lucky, this might be the occasion for some significant reform. The absolute minimum that should be done is for Iowa to switch from a caucus to a primary… What would be even better is if we finally took the opportunity to end Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status… We have to release ourselves from the tyranny of this state and its stubborn voters. Let me speak for those of us in the other 49: We’re pretty sick and tired of you Iowans telling us how it’s so important that you have this privilege for all eternity because you ‘take it so seriously.’ If you took it seriously, you wouldn’t use this insane voting process. And maybe more than 16 percent of you would actually turn out to vote… No one state deserves the status Iowa took for itself, and it has shown it can’t manage it. The country needs to take control of the election out of Iowa’s hands.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Regarding Pelosi, “[her] talents have always lain in the less glamorous, less public side of politics: she is good at whipping up votes in her caucus and she is good at disciplining dissenters. She is good at offering incentives and punishments to get Democratic members of Congress to do what she wants them to do… To rip up the speech on television was a bit of theatricality, sure – a ploy designed to get attention. It also worked. The day after Trump made a long speech full of misinformation that tried to make a case for his re-election, no one is talking about him. Instead we are talking about the speaker of the House. That, too, is a skill, one that Pelosi seems to be honing.”
Moira Donegan, The Guardian

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

From the Right

“Washington’s ad hoc partnership with Syrian Kurds never included a commitment to help them fight Turkey, only to fight the Islamic State… Turkey is a long-term strategic ally that exercises major influence in the Middle East. The YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK in its Kurdish acronym), a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has waged war against Turkey off and on since 1984 in a bloody separatist insurrection that has claimed more than 40,000 lives…

“Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that Turkey was determined to cross the border. After Erdogan stated that he would unilaterally establish the zone by force, Trump acquiesced and pulled U.S. troops out of harm’s way. If that order had not been given, there was a significant risk that U.S. troops would have been caught up in the fighting or even drawn into a military clash with Turkey. Although there has been much handwringing over the administration’s failure to support the Kurds against Turkey, it’s difficult to see how battling a NATO ally would have preserved American credibility as an ally.”
James Phillips, Daily Signal

Others note, “Syria’s northeast is a patchwork of overlapping religious and ethnic groups. In significant parts of the region, Kurds are not the majority. So the idea of forming a Kurdish state there is not realistic and would be met with popular disapproval. The SDF and YPG know this. In areas under their control, they have made it clear that Kurdish separatism was not their aim and that the Arab, Christian, Turkmen, Circassian, and other non-Kurdish communities there were equal partners in a political project that could reshape the area…

“In the long term, the U.S. withdrawal will undermine a political project that was making progress in addressing deadly cycles of violence in the Middle East. In the long (now set to be longer) Syrian civil war, no actor in the region had done better than the SDF and their civilian counterparts had done at getting buy-in from the communities that eventually came under their charge… Here we were not trying, as we tried in Iraq, to remake a Middle Eastern society into something it wasn’t. We were supporting, effectively, local partners who were addressing the most basic problems of their own society.”
Sam Sweeney, National Review

“Blagojevich was prosecuted for multiple shakedowns and for an attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. His offenses weren’t minor. They were criminal and repetitive. At one point, he was found guilty on 17 counts of corruption… [Roger] Stone, a former Trump associate, was found guilty on seven charges, including making false statements, witness tampering, and obstructing a congressional investigation… Both men engaged in political corruption, the likes of which Trump promised to fight when he ran a campaign against the deep state. And he is undermining this agenda by reducing the sentences of both men and accepting their crimes as common occurrences.”
Kaylee McGhee, Washington Examiner

“Did Bill Taylor deliver the smoking-gun testimony House Democrats need to justify their drive for impeachment? Or did GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe ‘destroy’ the former Ukraine charges d’affaires in two minutes flat, as Nunes claimed last night?… The only way to really know what happened is to see the transcripts, and the serial leaks out of the SCIF make Schiff’s security arguments a bad joke… No one should trust any of these reports until we see the transcripts. In fact, no one should put any confidence in this process until it gets conducted openly, honestly, and fairly. House Republicans might have been conducting a stunt this morning, but the purpose of that stunt is spot-on. The House Democrats’ star-chamber approach is an affront to justice and due process, and their conduct in using selective leaks to goose public opinion from these proceedings is nothing short of despicable.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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