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Foreign Affairs

Syria pullout: The right thing… done the wrong way… for (mostly) the wrong reasons



Syria pullout The right thing done the wrong way for mostly the wrong reasons

The United States military’s mission in Syria is effectively done. It should have been done long ago, but President Obama’s strategy of utilizing Syrian rebels to fight both the Islamic State and Bashar al-Assad’s regime was misguided and mostly ineffective. He tried to kill two birds with one stone and effectively missed them both.

America has spent too much time, money, and resources on a plan that miserably failed at one goal – removing Assad – and delayed the elimination of the Islamic State as a regional power. The right move would have been an unambiguous, asymmetrical assault by a multi-national coalition of western and Middle Eastern forces to wipe out the Islamic State in spectacular (and quick) fashion, but President Obama chose instead to be clever.

As for Assad’s regime, he should have left it alone completely. Attempts to arm and train the rebels, which are comprised of a hodgepodge of forces that include Sunni Islamic extremists and was 15%-25% al Qaeda when the decision was made, was a disastrous half-measure. It did more harm than good, which is why Assad is still there, the Islamic State is not obliterated, and U.S. troops remain.

But that’s what President Trump inherited, so it is incumbent on him to decide how to fix the mess. That would require pulling out of Syria, which he has decided to do against the wishes of his cabinet. Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned in protest over the move.

Let’s break down why the President is doing the right thing, how he’s doing it the wrong way, and why his reasoning for doing so is flawed.

Pulling out is the right move

If there’s one way to unify Democrats, neocons, and most mainstream conservatives, it’s for the President to order an abrupt withdrawal of forces from Syria. They all have different reasons for their disagreement with the President, but it seems like most are in agreement that it’s the wrong move.

They’re all wrong. It’s definitely the right thing to do even if he’s doing it for the wrong reasons. More on his reasoning in a moment. First, let’s discuss why it’s the right move.

The forces who are being painted by mainstream media as our “allies” among the Kurdish rebels are not and have never actually done our bidding. They were made allies by President Obama because they faced the threat of the Islamic State pressing on them from one side while Assad’s regime pressed on them from the other side. President Obama saw it as an opportunity to help them fight their battle so we didn’t have to get our hands dirty.

But it failed. The Islamic State was mostly defeated through other means; the Kurdish forces we propped up to be the main fighting force against them were only able to occupy areas left by the Islamic State following American air strikes. They were ineffective at actually fighting them in any meaningful way. The Peshmerga in Iraq, on the other hand, drove the Islamic State out with little U.S. support.

That’s all in the past. The present situation is one where 99% of the lands the Islamic State controlled at its peak have been taken back. Their numbers are dwindling to the point that U.S. involvement is no longer required.

In other words, it’s time to let the Middle East handle the Middle East’s problems.

As my wife said in a video yesterday, our military presence there is no longer needed.

The biggest argument for not pulling out is that Iran, Russia, and Turkey will now move in to fill the void. This is factually wrong. It’s not that they won’t continue to move in (they’re already there). It’s that they can and are moving in whether we’re there or not.

Our presence is not a deterrent to them coming it. It’s a deterrent to them attacking the Kurdish rebels. Some would argue that it’s the same thing; the rebel presence, by critics’ estimates, is the only thing stopping a complete takeover by outside forces. But once again, remaining is a half-measure. It does not stop Iran or Russia from exerting more control over Syria. It only serves to destabilize the nation and give the Kurds cover. Our troops are essentially human shields.

It’s unfortunate that the Kurds will now have to fight without our troops deterring attacks, but they were fighting before we got there and they’ll be fighting after we leave. But if the President pulled out the right way, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem.

But we’re doing it the wrong way

Just because the Kurdish rebels were ineffective and had their own agenda does not remove our obligation to give them assistance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to give them military assistance.

The President has the ability to negotiate with all the players involved. Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Russia all want the United States out of Syria so they can exert more control. This is the President’s leverage. He is failing to use it.

Instead of announcing a pullout on Twitter, he should have called all the groups to the table. They would have come running if he said the United States would pull out if certain criteria were met. Those criteria could have been:

  • A cease-fire in the region currently controlled by the Kurds
  • No incursions into the territory
  • A summit to be held between the Assad regime and the rebels to discuss terms for a permanent peace

If the President is as great at negotiating as he claims, all of these demands could be feasible. There would be repercussions; the Kurds in Turkey would have to be cut off completely from the Kurds in Syria, which would only be made possible by a Turkish-controlled buffer at the border, for example. But the end result would have been acceptable to most parties involved.

The abrupt pullout is the President folding the winning poker hand. Unfortunately, his reasoning for doing so is horrible.

Pulling out for the wrong reason

When the announcement was made, I wondered if the President had been bullied.

Did Turkey just bully the United States into withdrawing from Syria? timing of the announcement is conspicuous following a phone meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Erdogan has opposed the United States’ cooperation with the Kurds, who he considers to be a terrorist group bent on destabilizing the Middle East and usurping his power.

Withdrawing from Syria will leave our Kurdish allies open to attacks from Turkey.

According to the Associated Press, my concerns were justified.

Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. “Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”

With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.

The reasons we need to pull out of Syria in a systematic manner following negotiations with everyone involved are:

  • Our interests are no longer being served there with the Islamic State decimated
  • Any military presence in the region should be temporary
  • The costs to maintain our presence there are too high with limited reward
  • The only power in the region that needs our support is Israel

Conspicuously not on the list is appeasing the despot in Turkey.

I cannot say this with a certainty, but I suspect the state of affairs in the United States also led to the decision. Between bad press from his former associates pertaining to the Robert Mueller investigation and the looming government shutdown over the border wall, the timing of the Syrian move is conspicuous. The President has been known to cover up bad press with different bad press. It’s a tactic that helped him win the election, but it’s a dangerous tactic to use now that he’s President.

We need to bring our troops home now that the Islamic State is small enough for regional powers to handle. But the “how” and “why” regarding the President’s move are terrible. It’s as if he has no understanding of the repercussions of his whims.


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Foreign Affairs

Is Israel on the brink of war?



Is Israel on the brink of war

Israel and Iran continue to trade threats and missile attacks over Syria as the latest round targeted Iranian Quds forces near Damascus. The IDF, which has confirmed attacks recently, went so far as to announce the attacks on Twitter.

This attack was in response to a missile launched from Syria by Iranian Quds Forces into the Golan Heights. The missile was intercepted by the Iron Dome, which was captured on camera by skiers on Mt. Hermon.

The overnight attacks on Syria resulted in many missiles and guided bombs being shot down, but enough made it through to damage Quds training grounds, weapons depots, and kill at least 11 people. There are no reports of how many of Iran’s elite forces were killed, though British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said only two of the dead were Syrians.

Israel, in rare move, announces attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, delivers warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently confirmed that Israel had struck hundreds of targets in Syria linked to Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, including a weapons facility two weeks ago.

Iran and Hezbollah are allied with the Syrian government in the civil war.

Iran has begun its loudest saber-rattling in some time as they send clear threats of war and the destruction of Israel through state television.

“The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth,” IRIAF Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh said following the strike.

Iran says ready for war with Israel that will ‘lead to its destruction’ commander of the Iranian Air Force warned on Monday that Iran was prepared for a decisive war with Israel, “which will bring an end to the IDF’s attacks on Syria.” “Our armed forces are prepared for a war that will bring the crushing destruction of Israel,” he said, according to media reports.

“We are ready for the day when we will see the end of Israel.”

My Take

Americans are often unaware of the importance of Syria to Iran. For years, it’s been assumed the only reason Iran hasn’t attacked Israel, especially when they were at the height of their power during the latter years of President Obama’s administration, is they have no clear path to reach Israel. Iraq, Syria, and Jordan are between Iran and the tiny Jewish state, making it nearly impossible for them to have any real reach into the heart of Israel.

This is why they are so intent on having an embedded military presence in Syria. It’s why Israel is doing everything in its power to prevent them from getting a serious foothold there.

Iran’s military is strong and somewhat sophisticated, but it’s still no match for Israel. However, Iran could take advantage of Israel’s small size if they can get enough missiles and launchers into Syria. Doing so would allow them to use Syrians as cover, a strategy currently in use by anti-Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

As long as Iran continues to pursue entrenchment in Syria, war is on the near horizon. Israeli strikes may be a catalyst for war, but they’re necessary if they have any hopes of preventing Iran from taking over their Syrian neighbors wholesale.

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Foreign Affairs

NY Times invokes Martin Luther King Jr. to attack Israel



NY Times invokes Martin Luther King Jr to attack Israel

When a nation the size of New Jersey is surrounded by enemies and is the subject of incessant condemnation from the United Nations, it’s natural to assume thoughtful people will take a complete look at its circumstances before deciding which side of a contentious debate to support. This is why many Americans still choose to support the nation of Israel despite mainstream media’s efforts to frame it as evil.

Unfortunately, the debate is so complex, most Americans form their perspectives based on very limited data. Passions are so strong on both sides that it often comes down to which side’s message is loudest in the ears of those deciding who to support. The Israel-Palestine debate has been ongoing since the tiny nation was first formed and ramped up greatly following the attacks on Israel in 1967 that resulted in necessary expansion.

Today, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights are all considered “occupied” territories by a majority around the world, at least among those who are paying attention. Despite clear evidence that the very existence of Israel would be threatened if these lands were “returned” to the Palestinians, most of the world calls for the two-state solution as the path to peace.

On top of the disputed lands, the way that Israel maintains peace within its own lands is labeled as oppression against Palestinians living there. The core of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement’s message is that the Palestinian people are being persecuted. To support this premise, an activist at the NY Times is invoking Martin Luther King Jr and his opposition to the Vietnam War as the roadmap by which BDS activists should muster their own courage and build more support to fight the nation of Israel.

Time to Break the Silence on Palestine King’s speech at Riverside more than 50 years later, I am left with little doubt that his teachings and message require us to speak out passionately against the human rights crisis in Israel-Palestine, despite the risks and despite the complexity of the issues. King argued, when speaking of Vietnam, that even “when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict,” we must not be mesmerized by uncertainty. “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

To be clear, King was opposed to a war that resulted in the deaths of 1,350,000 people, which is nearly the same amount of Arabs living in Israel currently. King was opposed to a war in which no Americans were attacked prior to us getting involved. Israel is attacked regularly from multiple groups in and out of the nation who support the Palestinian movement. King was opposed to a war that took focus and resources away from his cause.

As he said, “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

To be fair, the author of the NY Times article, Michelle Alexander, was using his anti-war speech to demonstrate the courage King displayed as inspiration for the courage she feels BDS supporters need today. Had she left it there, then there wouldn’t be much of a need to respond. However, she continued in the article to speculate King may not have been happy with Israel back then. Worse, she implied that he could have been a supporter of the BDS movement today.

This opinion is beyond questionable. King’s motivations for not wanting to outwardly support Israel’s actions following the Six Day War were for the sake of his movement, not based on personal feelings on the matter. It made sense to not take a side in a debate in which many of his supporters of African or Middle Eastern descent may have objected.

It is becoming increasing common in the BDS movement to point solely towards the actions of the Israeli government while ignoring the reasons for these actions. They often talk about homes being bulldozed, but they ignore the fact that punitive demolitions are a result of terrorist attacks. I am not in favor of these demolitions, but I would never hide the facts to support my claims. The BDS movement realizes calling out Israel for bulldozing Palestinian homes is most effective if the reasons are never mentioned.

As pro-BDS articles go, this one was strikingly coherent. This is a bigger problem than the unhinged hate articles we often see from BDS supporters. It’s easy to see how this one-sided portrayal in a publication as strong as the NY Times that invokes an icon like Martin Luther King Jr can garner support for the movement from those who would otherwise never consider it. The article is very careful to cut off cries of antisemitism and is written for rational thinkers rather than emotional feelers.

But therein lies the problem. It invokes King and his famous speech knowing full well few will actually read it. If they take the time to read or hear it, they’ll wonder what any of that has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The NY Times is betting on the easy odds that nobody’s going to take the time.

None of the seven reasons King gives for opposing the Vietnam War could be applied to Israel. Invoking the speech and insinuating he would have been a BDS supporter is a disingenuous attempt to equate his righteous activism to the BDS movement itself.

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Culture and Religion

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s excuses attacking Israel by saying she attacks Saudi Arabia, too



Rep Ilhan Omars excuses attacking Israel by saying she attacks Saudi Arabia too

New Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been outspoken against the Israeli government for years. Some of her public condemnations including calling Israel evil and claiming they’ve “hypnotized the world.” But Israel is an ally to the United States and her role in the House of Representatives will put her position to affect change on our relationship.

Her excuse for attacking Israel is that she also attacks Saudi Arabia.

“I say the same things if not worse when it comes to the Saudi government,” she said. “I’ve called for boycotts of hajj, and boycotts of Saudi Arabia, because to me it is important when you see oppression taking place – when you see regression – when you see our values being attacked as humans, you must stand up, and it doesn’t matter who the inhabiters of that particular region might be.”

My Take

It wasn’t just Omar that is concerning. The narrative being formed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was equally discouraging. How she framed the relationship between AIPAC and the U.S. government was thinly veiled spite towards the Jewish group.

“There’s generally sort of a rite of passage for politicians in the United States, and that is to sort of profess sort of fealty or at least pay homage to AIPAC, the pro-Israel PAC that is very, very prominent,” she said.

I won’t even try to deconstruct that silly statement.

As our EIC pointed out, Omar’s perspectives are a real concern on the foreign relations front:

There is no room for bigotry of any kind in the House of Representatives. We need to watch closely as she toes the line between calling out the nation of Israel for what she perceives as offenses and actual antisemitism, which often follows.

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