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 supports eliminating the electoral college, arguing that all votes should count equally regardless of which state they're from.

“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

“It is barely credible that politicians of a governing party in the 21st century could think it is constitutionally right and proper to suspend parliament in the manner of a Stuart king because MPs are frustrating a political misadventure… Brexit is becoming a religion in the Tory party, the fundamental tenet of which is that no deal will do no harm, so no safety net is required. For its adherents, the prize of remaking Britain in a reactionary mould was worth dispensing with legislative scrutiny altogether… [Tory] Ministers toy with underhand political devices such as recommending the Queen does not enact legislation, or questioning why ministers need to abide by the law… The supreme court’s decision is the culmination of a long and socially useful process of judicial review.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

Former secretary of state John Kerry states, “The need for leadership has never been more urgent; certainly the destruction from Hurricane Dorian and the fires in the Amazon should have refocused everyone’s minds on the fragility of our global carbon sinks. Most wars start with a bomb dropped, a leader killed or a line crossed. But today we stand on the precipice of the greatest battle humanity has ever faced, precisely because no one has done enough… In the temporary absence of U.S. leadership, we need other major emitters to step up… now is the time for China, India and other countries to prove just what we are missing.”
John Kerry, Washington Post

“The summary, released this morning, is a wild look into the president’s mind-set and approach to his job. It shows a commander in chief consumed by conspiracy theories, strong-arming a foreign government to help him politically, and marshaling the federal government in his schemes… The call is bizarre on several levels. First, the United States has legitimate interests in Ukraine, but Trump is using his conversation with that country’s president to pursue his pet, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Second, Trump appears—as has been alleged—to be engaging in a quid pro quo, asking Zelensky to assist him in pursuing those conspiracy theories, in exchange for help to Ukraine. Trump never puts it in plain terms—he’s too smart, and too experienced in shady business, to do that—but it requires willful blindness to miss what Trump is asking… Third, the call shows how Trump enlists the might of the U.S. government in his weird, personal, political schemes.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Some suggest that Congress “remove Trump from office, so that he cannot abuse incumbency to subvert the electoral process, but let the American people make the judgment on whether or not he gets a second term… Removing Trump from office for the remainder of his term would disable him from abusing presidential power again and protect the integrity of the electoral process from inappropriate interference. At the same time, letting him run for a second term would permit the American electorate to decide whether Trump, despite his attempt to subvert the system, should have another chance… Decoupling removal from disqualification lowers the stakes and changes the constitutional calculus. As long as Trump can run again, Republicans cannot hide behind a claim that they are [the] ones protecting voter choice by opposing impeachment.”
Edward B. Foley, Politico

From the Right

The right criticizes Sanders and Warren for adopting far-left policies, and praises Marianne Williamson’s performance.

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

Regarding Warren’s call for Facebook to ban the allegedly misleading ad from the Trump campaign, “Warren is wrong, and Facebook is right. Asking tech companies to police the truth of paid political ads opens a Pandora’s Box of potential bias and censorship. Moreover, it’s completely inconsistent with the general practice of television and radio advertising. As NBC’s Dylan Byers pointed out, the ad has also run on NBC, ABC, CBS, Google, YouTube, and Twitter. Asking corporations — including corporations who attempt to outsource fact-checking to independent fact-checkers — to referee the contents of political ads would result in an increased corporate thumb on the scales of American politics. It’s also inconsistent with American constitutional principles…

"Yes, the ad is misleading… But misleading ads are hardly new in American politics, and the answer for a bad ad is a better ad.”
David French, National Review

“If the situation were reversed, and if a corrupt Republican ex-vice president were running for president, no Democrat would ever hesitate to ask every foreign government in the world for help in investigating that person. Nor do Democrats hesitate to ask for foreign help in investigating sitting Republican presidents. The 2018 letter to Ukraine (!) by Senate Democrats asking for an investigation of Trump is illustrative… This is not about substance. This is about Pelosi losing control of her caucus should she continue to resist impeachment, and Pelosi sensing a looming electoral disaster of monumental proportions should impeachment be launched outside the parameters she defines.”
George S. Bardmesser, The Federalist

Regarding her candidacy as a whole, “Warren seems to have concluded that if a rule-breaking candidate like Donald Trump can be elected president, then the old political rules don’t apply any more. So she has endorsed Medicare for All and backs eliminating private health insurance; she has said she’d ban fracking for oil and natural gas; she supports decriminalizing illegal border crossing, health care for illegal immigrants who get across, and paying reparations to the descendants of slaves…

“Warren obviously hopes that her calls for federal oversight of large corporations and her call for a 2% wealth tax on multimillionaires will resonate with non-affluent Trump voters. But those voters seem more concerned with elites’ political correctness than convinced that Warren’s proposal will send their way any money somehow mulcted from corporations…

"This is not to say that Warren is a sure loser. Any Democratic nominee has a serious chance of beating Donald Trump. But it says something interesting about the Democratic Party that its current top three are in their 70's and all from overwhelmingly Democratic states.”
Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

“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

“Why did Modi pick this moment to do something so radical? Violence in Kashmir had been trending downwards for the last year, after all. The main reason, besides President Donald Trump's alarming offer to mediate a settlement, is that he wanted a distraction from India's mounting economic woes. India's GDP growth dropped from over 8 percent to 5.8 percent over the last year, and it is widely expected to dip further. Just as ominous has been the crash in consumer demand. India's usual problem has been an insufficient supply to meet its voracious appetite for vehicles, cell phones, and other similar goods. But sales figures for all consumer goods have posted a precipitous decline, slamming businesses that are dramatically scaling back investments.”
Shikha Dalmia, 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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