December 20, 2018

US Begins Withdrawal From Syria

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“President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they have succeeded in their mission to defeat Islamic State and were no longer needed in the country.” Reuters


Many on both sides argue that ISIS is not yet defeated:

“ISIS is down but not out, our Syrian allies remain vulnerable, and Russia and Iran retain their own ambitions for regional domination. That’s why Trump’s advisers have repeatedly talked him out of making a serious error by abandoning Syria before the mission is complete… The ISIS caliphate, the physical nation-state they tried to build in 2014–15, is largely in ruins. ISIS the terrorist organization still exists, and it still has thousands of fighters.” National Review

“The group still retains a pocket of land on the Syria-Iraq border and has roughly 20,000 to 30,000 fighters… No one wants American troops deployed in a war zone longer than necessary. But there is no indication that Mr. Trump has thought through the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal, including allowing ISIS forces to regroup and create another crisis that would draw the United States back into the region.” New York Times


Both sides also worry that withdrawal will shift the geopolitical balance in the region for the worse:

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria is riskier than it looks. It ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuumthat will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for U.S. interests in the Middle East… What’s truly distressing is that until Trump’s sudden turnabout, the United States had something of a virtuous cycle going in the region… Trump aborted this positive momentum.” Washington Post

“Any withdrawal will have dramatic consequences for regional actors vying to fill the power vacuum following the years-long civil war in Syria… The U.S. withdrawal will surely be viewed in Tehran as providing much-needed breathing room for the Iranians to attempt to regain their influence in Syria. And the Russians will quietly celebrate the U.S. withdrawal since it leaves Moscow as the dominant military force in the country.” Breitbart

“Capitulating now to Turkish demands would send a terrible message. Erdogan would conclude that threatening U.S. interests pays off. Meanwhile, other groups that have joined the American side in the Middle East would conclude the U.S. is an unreliable ally. It’s particularly galling to contemplate a withdrawal just as Kurdish forces are engaged in fierce fighting to liberate one of the last Islamic State holdouts, the town of Hanin.” Bloomberg

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) stated, “The decision to pull U.S. defense presence out of Syria is a big mistake. The Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG will now abandon the fight against ISIS… Iran will step up activity in Southern Syria, which will elicit increased Israeli strikes that could lead to a new and far deadlier Israel-Hezbollah war. And our adversaries will use this as evidence that America is an unreliable partner.” Senator Marco Rubio


Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of Trump’s negotiating tactics, and argues that this deal will not solve the underlying problems with the immigration system.

“On the one hand, [Trump’s] sentiments are completely understandable. Syria has become a bloody jumble of overlapping wars—sectarian, civil, regional, big-power proxy… On the other hand, a withdrawal would probably make things worse. At least for now, the presence of U.S. troops, advisers, pilots, and so forth exerts a somewhat stabilizing force—helping to repel ISIS, check Iran, contain Russia, support the Kurds, and shore up the regime in Iraq.”
Slate

“Perhaps the president felt boxed in by establishment national-security figures early in his presidency, as previous presidents have felt boxed in, and those advisers have either been replaced or fallen from favor. But the lack of a process to evaluate the consequences of the policy change, and sync America’s actions with those of the 78 other countries contributing to the counter-isis campaign, will distress those who are risking their forces and security.”
The Atlantic

Minority View: “The fact that people on pretty much all sides reacted so negatively to the troop withdrawal decision speaks to a much deeper issue: how hard it is for the US to extricate itself from military engagement abroad once it’s been started…

“[This] incentivizes [Trump] and those after him to keep the US in the middle of foreign fights, even if it means keeping American men and women in harm’s way for no clear strategic reason… The big lesson from today, then, is that American leaders need to think extremely hard about sending troops into war — because once they’re in, it becomes nearly impossible to pull them out without blowback.”
Vox

Many argue that “despite relentless Republican attacks, the benefits provided [by the ACA] -- guaranteed insurance and coverage of pre-existing conditions -- are now seen by many as a benefit to which they're entitled. Moving to Medicare for those who want it is a logical next step toward a single-payer option, one that maintains choice for millions of Americans… 56% of Americans say they support full Medicare for All… [but] when voters are presented with the full details of the Sanders and Warren plans, support falls dramatically… I believe it's critical for Democrats to maintain their advantage on health care going into 2020, and the best way to do that is to reject Medicare for All and embrace Medicare for those who want it.”
Joe Lockhart, CNN

The political calendar and Trump's approach could give grounds for optimism. Kim, who has presided over a limited form of economic development inside North Korea, is under pressure to deliver improvements in the lives of his people… So he has an incentive to try to seek economic benefits or aid from the United States and wants punishing economic sanctions lifted — a potential opening for US negotiators… Kim must realize that his chances of basking in this kind of legitimacy with a US President other than Trump are slim. So if he fears Trump could lose in 2020, he may reason the time may be ripe for a deal. And Trump wants nothing more than a big diplomatic breakthrough months before the election.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

From the Right

“Almost exactly seven years ago, another president executed another popular withdrawal of Americans soldiers from a fragile post-conflict country… Less than three years later, American troops were back on the ground in Iraq expending precious blood and treasure to reclaim ground they’d held only months earlier. Conditions in Syria are far less stable than they were in Iraq.”
Commentary Magazine

“Mr. Trump has benefitted in his first two years by projecting an image of strength that Mr. Obama never did. He struck back against Assad’s use of chemical weapons, revoked the Iran nuclear deal, and sold lethal arms to Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. Retreat in Syria is a sign of weakness that friends and foes will notice

“The U.S. presence in northeastern Syria amounted to a de facto no-fly zone that allowed the Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces to clear out as many ISIS cells as possible. Keeping 2,500 forces in northeast Syria to continue this work is hardly an exorbitant commitment. It is not nation-building.”
Wall Street Journal

Minority View: “Too few people seem to remember why the United States is in Syria in the first place. The U.S. mission has nothing to do with checking Iran’s ambitions, protecting the Syrian Kurds in perpetuity, separating Turkish and Kurdish forces from killing each other, or forcing Syrian President Bashar Assad to cooperative on a post-war political settlement…

American military involvement in Syria was strictly about counterterrorism; transforming Syria into some democratic oasis free of Iranian and Russian influence was never in the cards.”
Washington Examiner

Regarding his candidacy overall, “There’s a lot of conventional wisdom in Washington that the early front-runner always loses. And that’s true except when it isn’t… in 1999, George W. Bush dominated the polls and, except for a brief scare from Senator John McCain in the New Hampshire primary, essentially cruised to victory. A key part of Bush’s early success, not just in polls but in fundraising, stemmed from the fact that he was promising a Bush restoration…

“He was offering a referendum on the incumbent president and the scandals and partisanship that defined the end of his administration. He vowed to restore ‘honor and dignity to the Oval Office’ and to be a ‘uniter not a divider.’ The very different context notwithstanding, this is pretty much Biden’s campaign message. The ideological, activist, and Twitter-obsessed base of the Democratic party may not like Biden’s pitch. But it sure looks like rank-and-file Democrats do.”
Jonah Goldberg, National Review

“Not only did [Trump] attack the ‘squad,’ he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else… Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

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

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

Very good dog gets an honorary college degree.
New York Post

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