October 8, 2019

US Withdrawing From Syria

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“U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday defended a decision [announced Sunday evening] to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying it was too costly to keep supporting U.S-allied, Kurdish-led forces in the region fighting Islamic State militants.” Reuters



Both sides are highly critical of the decision, arguing that it risks a resurgence of ISIS and hurts our credibility as a reliable ally.

“For weeks now, Iraq has been rocked by anti-government protests and violent crackdowns. Its prime minister, a U.S. ally, may resign. And now America’s local partners in Syria, the Kurds—who have done more than anyone to roll back ISIS there at the expense of thousands of lives—have been left on their own to face a potential invasion by their powerful, NATO-allied arch-nemesis, Turkey… It’s a recipe for chaos—and ISIS, which has always taken a long-term view of its struggle with America and its allies, couldn’t have written the script for its second act any better itself.”
Mike Giglio, The Atlantic

Trump’s “stunning decision has not only jeopardized a costly victory over the Islamic State, it has betrayed the Kurds, people who were pivotal in defeating the Islamist militants… By now, the Kurds should be accustomed to betrayal. Being double-crossed by Washington has been an enduring feature of U.S. Kurdish relations under Republican and Democratic presidents. But conservatives should be particularly outragedthat the latest treachery has been perpetuated by a president who has never stopped crowing about having defeated the Islamic ‘caliphate’ and having restored U.S. credibility with traditional Mideastern allies.”
Judith Miller, Fox News

“Mr. Trump claimed to be fulfilling a mandate to stop ‘endless wars’ in the Middle East. But unlike the large-scale U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Syria operation was a light-footprint, low-cost operation — and a striking success. With just a few thousand troops and air power, the United States was able to partner with the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] to destroy the would-be Islamic caliphate and gain de facto control over a large swath of eastern Syria. That impeded Iran’s expansion in the country and gave Washington vital leverage over any eventual settlement of the Syrian civil war…

“[But now] betrayed by the United States and forced to fight a potentially bloody conflict with Turkey, the Kurdish-led forces could quickly abandon any further effort to control the Islamic State. They might well set free the tens of thousands of former militants and family members held in SDF-controlled camps… U.S. allies around the world meanwhile will have reason to question whether they should cooperate with a government that so casually abandons military partners.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“While Erdoğan and Turkish diplomats may complain that the U.S. should not partner with Syrian Kurds… it is important to remember that [this] U.S. partnership occurred only after failing for three years to get Turkey to stop supporting radical and extremist groups in Syria… About 90% of foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria to fight with al Qaeda or the Islamic State traversed the Turkish border, often with the facilitation of Turkish security forces. So too did weaponry…

Putting Erdoğan in charge of containing the Islamic State is akin to trusting Iran to protect international shipping lanes. Trump’s decision both to withdraw U.S. forces and greenlight a Turkish incursion not only promises a revival of the Islamic State and renewed conflict in one of the only peaceful parts of Syria, but it likely also foreshadows terrorism and civil war inside Turkey. The Kurds have nowhere to go: northeastern Syria was their safe-haven. Erdoğan also does not understand history: Every country (Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan, in Libya, in Syria, and perhaps even the U.S.) who believed they could use radical Islamism as a tool ended up suffering blowback. Turkey will not be the exception.”
Michael Rubin, Washington Examiner

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has been more an adversary of the U.S. than an ally, strategically aligning with both Russia and, in effect if not in intention, with Iran. The Kurds in Rojava are thus a bulwark not just against ISIS but against perfidious action by all three of those regimes unfriendly to America.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“It may seem paradoxical, but in caving in to one of the strongmen he so admires, Mr. Trump may have set the United States on a collision course with Turkey. He’s also put himself into conflict with the Pentagon and his own Republican allies. He may walk his own decision back once again, in part or in whole. But what ally could look at the United States now and see a stalwart partner — and what foe could look at it and fear a determined adversary?”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left believes Sanders’s chances have improved, but notes that obstacles still remain.

“This situation has long posed complex challenges to Washington. The Syrian Kurds have been invaluable allies in the fight against ISIS. At the same time, Turkey is a member of NATO and hosts a U.S. air base where a few dozen nuclear weapons have long been stored… It is also true (and here Trump’s frustration with ‘endless wars’ is understandable) that Syria is a bloody jumble of overlapping wars—sectarian, civil, regional, big-power proxy—over which the United States has little influence…

“It’s tempting to get out before we get sucked into a larger conflict. Everyone understands that the United States will get out at some point, and we should get out, but in the meantime, the troops are exerting a stabilizing influence—isolating ISIS, checking Iran, containing Russia, and, above all, supporting the Kurds, who are not only the best fighters in the region but also the most Western-leaning and democratic. It would be good to hammer down some diplomatic arrangements, to protect these goals and those people, before heading toward the exit. But Trump has done none of this.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“Mr. Trump’s sudden abandonment of the Kurds was another example of the independent, parallel foreign policy he has run from the White House, which has largely abandoned the elaborate systems created since President Harry Truman’s day to think ahead about the potential costs and benefits of presidential decisions. That system is badly broken today. Mr. Trump is so suspicious of the professional staff — many drawn from the State Department and the C.I.A. — and so dismissive of the ‘deep state’ foreign policy establishment, that he usually announces decisions first, and forces the staff to deal with them later.”
David E. Sanger, New York Times

“Republicans have successfully maneuvered around the evidence that already exists for removing Donald Trump from office. Their ability to do so probably wouldn’t change even if damning new information came out, but it’s nevertheless in their interest to keep anything new from coming out. That’s why 13 hours were spent on Tuesday rejecting Democratic amendments to subpoena new witnesses and documents at the outset of the trial… The strategy was to block Democrats from obtaining new material, and then to mock their presentation for failing to present any new material. In judging it that way, they elide the crucial question: Whether Donald Trump had admirably discharged his duties as president in the Ukraine affair.”
Jim Newell, Slate

At last night’s debate, Warren “called attention to a recent fundraiser Buttigieg held at a California wine cave. ‘The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,’ the Massachusetts senator said…

Buttigieg responded with a slippery claim that he was the only one on stage who wasn’t a millionaire or billionaire. But that’s true only because of his youth. He’s likely to be quite wealthy when he’s the age of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. In fact, as the child of two university professors, Buttigieg grew up wealthier than almost anyone on the stage. Further, pointing to his relative wealth did nothing to address the issue that his fundraising is coming from wealthy donors… If the goal of the other candidates was to sabotage Buttigieg’s campaign, they might have succeeded.”
Jeet Heer, The Nation

“Yes, the Constitution states that public officials may only be impeached for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but that phrase had an expansive meaning when it was written into the Constitution… The impeachment power, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, extends to ‘those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.’... As a member of Congress, James Madison argued that a president could be impeached for ‘wanton removal of meritorious officers.’… Trump’s claim that he was improperly impeached is simply wrong.”
Ian Millhiser, Vox

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

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

“Removing U.S. forces from the area avoids having them caught up in the Turkish military operation. Unless the U.S. was prepared to oppose Turkey and defend the YPG [Kurds], it’s not clear what purpose would be served by keeping those forces where they were. Our absurd Syria policy has put us in the untenable position of trying to keep the peace between mutually hostile ‘allies’ for years, and eventually the U.S. was going to have to choose which ‘ally’ it was going to side with. It is worth remembering that Turkey is a treaty ally and the YPG is at most a proxy that has proven to be useful over the last few years. If the U.S. is going to favor one or the other, it was never likely that our government would take the side of the YPG over Turkey.”
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

“Congress has not declared war in, or with, Syria, and it has not voted to end a declaration of war in, or with, Syria. It has not made it clear whether it considers that the situation in Syria falls neatly under its previous authorizations of force, or whether it believes that the president is in violation of them…

“[Lawmakers] terrified of weighing in on matters of life and death, prefers to gripe on TV, to complain on Twitter, and to beseech the executive from the safety of the stump… Our policy is a mess because we do not have one. Instead, we have an oft-changing emperor who makes it up as he goes along while everyone else gripes. Eight years ago, President Obama involved the United States in removing the government of Libya, without ever going to Congress. He faced no consequences for this in either direction. Why would President Trump expect to rely on the advice or direction of the legislature? Why would anyone?”
Charles W. Cooke, National Review

Some argue that “with war on the horizon, we must demand a clear objective for staying, fighting, spending taxpayer dollars and most certainly sending some of our young men and women to their deaths… Iran’s strength is its use of insurgent and terror tactics. America’s strength is our ability to project power. We are fools if we stay in striking distance of Iran, playing to its strengths. U.S. forces are fully capable of striking from afar and crippling Iraq and Iran economically if that become necessary until Iraq decides it wants to join the rest of the world and detach itself from Iran’s axis of ruin. If we keep our roughly 5,000 troops in Iraq – or add more troops – we are likely to be drawn into a war with Iran that will be impossible to withdraw from.”
Joe Kent, Fox News

“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

On the bright side...

It's Fat Bear Week In Alaska's Katmai National Park — Time To Fill Out Your Bracket.
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