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 takes Mueller’s letter and Barr’s testimony as confirmation that Barr is behaving more like Trump’s defense attorney than the U.S. Attorney General.

“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.”

“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.”

Regarding the deployment of an aircraft carrier and bombers, many note that the US “has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats… The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later… The sense of foreboding is tangible.”
Robin Wright, The New Yorker

Trump's “goal, it seems, is to put so much pressure on Tehran that it has no choice but to completely change its behavior — but he could end up leading the countries to the brink of war in the process… Now is typically the time when cooler heads prevail, but it’s unclear if there are cooler heads around… It’s hard to overstate how avoidable this situation was.”
Alex Ward, Vox

“In theory, there’s no reason why a bad businessman can’t go on to become a good president. But a commander-in-chief whose signature legislative achievement expanded tax loopholes that he himself describes as grossly unfair is pretty much a bad president, by definition.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

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

“The broader context here is North Korea's crop crisis. If Kim hasn't got sanctions relief by August's end, a painful winter is coming… Absent Kim's commitment to suspend all ballistic missile tests, the U.S. should not support the provision of food supplies to the North Korean people. A North Korean long-range nuclear strike capability poses an existential threat to American society… Trump must not allow North Korea's coming suffering to dictate his decisions. Supporting North Korea with food will both prolong North Koreans' suffering under Kim and directly undercut U.S. interests.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Some argue, “It stands to reason that if Kim is willing to starve his own people, deprive his economy of any growth, and pour billions of dollars into missile tech, he will, at some point, develop weapons America and its allies mastered decades ago. And short of an invasion or a diplomatic agreement, under the present circumstances, there is very little we can do to stop him… Taking a hardline approach—what many call the ‘big deal’—or only granting sanctions relief after full denuclearization and the end of Kim’s missile programs is completely impractical and something North Korea would never agree to… only a step-by-step process of disarming Pyongyang, where each side gets a benefit for making a concession, will work.”
Harry J. Kazianis, The American Conservative

Others posit that “the reason Kim is developing missiles that can strike Seattle or LA is that 28,000 U.S. troops are in South Korea… If we cannot persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons in return for a lifting of sanctions, perhaps we should pull U.S. forces off the peninsula and let China deal with the possible acquisition of their own nuclear weapons by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan…

“After an exhausting two weeks [between North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others], one is tempted to ask: How many quarrels, clashes and conflicts can even a superpower manage at one time? And is it not the time for the United States, preoccupied with so many crises, to begin asking, ‘Why is this our problem?’”
Pat Buchanan, Townhall

Counterpoint: “after the War of 1812, President Madison… enacted the Tariff of 1816 to price British textiles out of competition, so Americans would build the new factories and capture the booming U.S. market. It worked. Tariffs [also] financed Mr. Lincoln’s War. The Tariff of 1890 bears the name of Ohio Congressman and future President William McKinley, who said that a foreign manufacturer ‘has no right or claim to equality with our own… He pays no taxes. He performs no civil duties’… [A tariff’s] purpose is not just to raise revenue but to make a nation economically independent of others, and to bring its citizens to rely upon each other rather than foreign entities.”
Patrick J. Buchanan, The American Conservative

A libertarian's take

“The scoop reflects poorly on Trump, who willfully misled the public for a decade in hopes of fraudulently representing himself as a man with a Midas touch. But he could not have succeeded without the assistance of many Americans, some mercenary, others over-credulous, who helped to spread the deceit and deception, generating countless newspaper articles, magazine stories, and TV segments that misinformed the public about the publicity hound’s record in business. New evidence of his staggering losses in that decade therefore provides an apt occasion to reflect on the media’s complicity in Trump’s brazen deceit and deception… Let [this] be a lesson for today’s tabloids, gossip columnists, over-credulous or mercenary journalists, and reality-television producers.”
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

On the bright side...

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

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