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

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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?

https://noqreport.com/2018/12/19/turkey-just-bully-united-states-withdrawing-syria/The 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

https://noqreport.com/2018/12/21/trump-call-turkish-leader-led-us-pullout-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 war with Iran inevitable?

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Is war with Iran inevitable

Aggressive actions have become commonplace between Iran and the United States over the last two months. The U.S. sent the powerful Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber squadron to the region following the defection and intelligence cache delivery by former Iranian Brigadier General Ali Nasiri. Since then, Iran has been bombing tankers, shooting down American drones, and attempting to seize a British Tanker.

Today, the escalation continued as Iran admitted to capturing at least one foreign oil tanker. Then, the United States sent the USS Boxer, loaded with 2000 Marines, into the Persian Gulf where it shot down an Iranian drone that came within 1000 yards of the ship.

Is war inevitable?

No. There is still a very good chance President Trump will not risk reelection by engaging in another unpopular Middle East war. There are those who think Iran will push it too far, and that may be the case, but their goal would be to provoke attack, not war. It behooves them to get hit by the United States so they can play the victim card in the international arena. This is why they’ll poke, prod, annoy, and continue to be aggressive without going so far as to make war warranted.

An attack by the west is the best thing Iran can hope to happen at this point. Their economy is crumbling. Their terror and military proxies are hurting because of the dried up funds no longer coming in from Tehran. They can’t seem to sneak an oil tanker around Africa to Syria, one of the few places willing to disregard U.S. sanctions against Iran. So they’re left with either giving up their nuclear weapons ambitions altogether or provoking a war without being clearly seen as the aggressors.

Even though I do not believe war is inevitable, I don’t see a way to completely avoid military action. Iran won’t stop until they’ve forced an attack against them.

The Middle East has always been a volatile place. With Iran doing everything they can to appear like the victims to the international community while still seeming strong internally, strikes may be inevitable but war is not.

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Foreign Affairs

Where in the world is Palau?

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Where in the world is Palau

I’ll take GEOGRAPHY for $1,000, Alex.

Answer:

Westernmost part of the former U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Question:

What is Palau?

I have not researched to see if Palau has ever actually been a brain stumper on Jeopardy. But to the average American, it is esoteric knowledge that not many other than Jeopardy geniuses would know.

WHAT ISLANDS WERE PART OF TTPI?

United States administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands from 1947 until 1994. Today there are three independent nations and one United States territory.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI] opted to remain a U.S. Territory and for U.S. citizenship.

Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau chose independence.

All four of these entities are within the Micronesian region in the Northwest Pacific. Hawaii and American Samoa and most of the Eastern Pacific are part of Polynesia. Melanesia consists of the islands in the Southwestern Pacific near Australia.

PALAU IS NOW A SOVEREIGN NATION

Though it is now independent and a member of the United Nations, Palau still depends very heavily upon the United States for its supporting infrastructure.

The United States military provides security.

The U.S. Postal Service still delivers mail as domestic to and from Palau with Zip Code 96940.

United States dollars are still used as the currency of Palau.

The economy of Palau depends upon agriculture, fishing, government, tourism and American assistance.

COMPACT OF FREE ASSOCIATION

Palau, as did Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands, entered into a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Under the provisions of the CFA, Palau citizens are able to travel to the United States and even to reside and work without a visa. If they have a criminal record either back in Palau or here in the USA, then they would not be admissible.

You may also see the term Freely Associated States [FAS] in reference to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands.

SO WHERE IS PALAU?

Palau is 1,043 miles southeast of Manila, Philippines at about 7.5° N. Lat., just slightly farther north of the equator than the city of Davao on the Southern Philippine Island of Mindanao which is 625 miles west. Palau is just 619 miles north of the Indonesian province of West Papua which lies just slightly south of the equator in the southern hemisphere.

Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia lies just 281 miles to the northeast of Palau. FSM includes the states of Yap, Chuuk (Truk), Pohnpei and Kosrae. Though it is part of the Micronesian region, Palau is separate and independent from FSM.

TOURISM AND HISTORY

Palau, along with FSM, provides many opportunities for divers and aquatic enthusiasts from the United States who make the long journey to the tropics.

World War II buffs are attracted by battlefields such as Peleliu Island.

There isn’t much else for subsistence for the 22,000 residents of Palau.

MEETING WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP

In late May 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump met with Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo, and Palau President Tommy Remengesau in Washington DC to discuss the Blue Pacific strategy.

While this is an historic occasion, and a very positive sign, it still was more of a photo op than a substantive negotiation. There is much more the United States needs to do to assist the good people of Palau and the other FAS countries.

The United States Coast Guard and FEMA provide services to Palau. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command based in Honolulu and the component military services are increasingly visiting Palau due to its strategic location.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular and International Affairs also focuses on former and current territories all the way from Palau to the U.S. Virgin Islands somewhat over 10,000 miles away. That’s a big job and a big area to cover.

MORE PACIFIC BASIN INITIATIVES NEEDED

For about 15 years after 1989, there were multinational programs throughout the Pacific Basin and Pacific Rim in which the United States and allied nations cooperated to assist one another ~ along with small island nations and territories ~ in law enforcement and Customs matters.

The primary large countries overseeing this communication were the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. All have a presence and a vested interest in this volatile part of the world.

Palau was an active participant in these programs and benefited greatly.

PROJECT COOK

Named for the British Seafarer and Explorer Captain James Cook of the 18th century, this was a small vessel tracking system which monitored both yachts and commercial fishing vessels that circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean, with more of an emphasis on the private craft. Customs Inspectors in each respective country boarded yachts and filled out the same form which was put into an online database. Thus, information on vessels and bio-data on crew members were shared among the participating countries and territories.

The main thrust of this was drug interdiction. Some small Islands also used it for revenue collection so that they would anticipate boats which were coming their direction.

This program continued till the mid- to late-1990s.

CAPERS

Not a seafood dish, but rather an acronym for Customs Asia-Pacific Enforcement Reporting System.

Computers were provided to small islands at a time beginning in 1999 when they were not already present in all locations.

The United States along with partners Australia and New Zealand provided national support centers to assist in their respective AORs.

CAPERS went beyond what Project Cook had done. Training material was posted for the benefit of Customs Officers from small islands who had no formal Academy. A forum and email were provided to assist coordination efforts. Much open source information was also provided about smuggling threats in the Pacific.

Narcotics smuggling by yachts is still a very serious ongoing situation in the Pacific. That is another topic to which a complete article will be devoted later. There is also the potential for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction to evade detection in border clearances that do not scrutinize yachts the way they do large commercial vessels and aircraft.

PACIFIC BASIN CONFERENCE

For nearly 20 years, the U.S. Customs Service Office of Enforcement sponsored a Pacific Basin Conference in Honolulu every year. Support and participation was also provided by Customs Inspectors. Counterparts from all over the Pacific were hosted and provided very informative speakers as well as opportunities for group discussions. Most activities were held at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii Manoa campus.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

9/11/2001 happened! The late great U.S. Customs Service under U.S. Department of the Treasury, founded the same year the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, ceased to exist on March 1, 2003. Members of President George W. Bush’s Administration who had little knowledge of agency missions set about to merge agencies to create the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Customs inspections were merged with immigration inspections and agriculture inspections into U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The old Immigration and Naturalization Service under Department of Justice also became a thing of the past.

Customs investigations were merged with immigration investigations into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The third component created under DHS is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

RELEVANCE TO PALAU

Small Pacific islands are very vulnerable to penetration and infiltration from outside. Palau doesn’t even have its own military. Its Customs and Immigration personnel could benefit greatly from increased or reestablished direct ties with the United States.

Palau citizens who travel to the United States would most often pass through their first Port of Entry in Guam where they would be admitted by a U.S. CBP Officer. Guam and CNMI are anomalies because they are part of the United States for immigration purposes but outside the Customs Territory of the United States. Therefore U.S. CBP officers in Guam perform immigration duties whereas customs is provided by the Commonwealth of Guam. Air passengers must clear Customs when they go beyond to Hawaii or the U.S. mainland.

So, you can see that CBP officers in Guam and CNMI which are closest to Palau only do immigration duties but not customs. The nearest U.S. Customs inspection locale is Honolulu. Palau is 805 miles from Guam, which in turn is 3,799 miles from Honolulu. So if you thought these Far West Pacific territories are right next door to Hawaii, think again.

DRUGS AND CORRUPTION ON PALAU

Unfortunately, there is no true tropical paradise in this world. Palau certainly qualifies in terms of climate and weather. But life is not idyllic for the people of Palau.

That’s why the United States needs once again to work hand-in-hand with other large nations that can assist small island countries like Palau.

All of this, of course, is being done with a backdrop of precluding Chinese hegemony in Palau, other former and current U.S. territories and throughout the entire Pacific Basin.

Palau is 1,995 miles south of Tokyo. Japan is America’s strongest ally in the Western Pacific. For well over a half century, Japan has focused on its own economic and cultural stability. It has also become a beneficiary nation to smaller neighbors.

Palau is not only significantly closer, but also much better known to many Japanese citizens than it is to the average American. It makes perfect sense then for the United States and Japan to talk to one another about how to provide mutual assistance to Palau.

This also is in America’s interest as it provides a further hedge against Chinese expansionism in the region. China is exploiting small nations with its Belt and Road Initiative and debt trap diplomacy.

A strong American-Japanese cooperative program to assist Palau with infrastructure development is in everybody’s best interests.

Some of the contraband flooding into Palau may be coming via maritime smuggling. It also may be coming on commercial aircraft and via U.S. mail. That is another entire topic for another day about outbound inspections of U.S. mail that could be enhanced from Honolulu to the U.S. territories. It sometimes pits U.S. Postal Inspectors against CBP and ICE. Keep that in the back of your mind for another essay.

PRIVATE CITIZENS IN USA AND JAPAN ~ WHAT CAN WE DO?

Following is a thoughtful discussion between concerned parties in Hawaii and Japan about how to elevate this situation in Palau to our respective national leadership.

RELATED ARTICLES

America’s good friends in the Philippines

Why America is re-engaging with the Pacific

A Japanese F-35 is missing and that’s a very big deal!

Eyes on the Pacific

China is taking over the world

Countering China

Nuclear threat in the Pacific: It’s not what you think

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Remain circumspect. When you see an article about Palau and the Pacific Basin, take time to read it and educate yourself on the issues.

“The most populous island is Koror. The capital Ngerulmud is located on the nearby island of Babeldaob, in Melekeok State. Palau shares maritime boundaries with the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Federated States of Micronesia.”

Hopefully you might actually find yourself in the position someday to share information if world events ever put Palau in the spotlight. I didn’t even go into the Chinese Uyghurs from Guantanamo Bay that Obama released there during his presidency. Who knows when something like that might lead to breaking news again?

If nothing else, this knowledge might actually win you a million dollars on Jeopardy someday. If not, don’t blame me because I tried.

Palau

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Conservatism

Quick note to #NeverTrump conservatives: Check the policy proposals

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Quick note to NeverTrump conservatives Check the policy proposals

I was a #NeverTrump conservative. I’ve come to terms with the reality that President Trump, with all his flaws, is promoting a mostly conservative agenda. I also acknowledge that any damage done by carrying over the divisiveness that began in the Obama administration has already been done. I still believe I was right to oppose the President’s nomination, and I’m still extremely happy Hillary Clinton isn’t President.

News today that Mark Sanford is considering joining Bill Weld to run against President Trump in the GOP primaries has drawn some praise from many that I follow on Twitter. I understand their emotional response; many of them are still condemning the President and even wishing Clinton had beaten him in 2016. But there comes a time when we have to take the best that we can get, and today that’s President Trump.

And guess what, folks… it isn’t even close. The country under President Trump is better than it would have been under Hillary Clinton and the future of the country is exponentially better off with him than any of the Democrats running for office.

Look at Joe Biden’s proposal for healthcare. It takes the worst parts of Obamacare, elements that couldn’t be included in the original legislation because it was just too radical, and inserts them to form the Affordable Care Act 2.0. This is a disastrous proposal, one that would insert a cost-driving public option into the mix. If you want to make health insurance companies happy, have the government “compete” against them. They’ll be able to raise costs based on the government’s inefficiency and won’t have to deal with the higher-risk, lower-paying patients who will be forced on the government solution.

Or, consider the push towards open borders. Elizabeth Warren’s plan is de facto open borders, and all of the Democratic candidates will embrace it, just as they embraced her plans for free education, reparations, and anything else they’re calling “free.”

I often hear NeverTrumpers say the President’s foreign policy actions are embarrassing. They chide him for stepping into North Korea. They laugh when a British ambassador calls him an imbecile. But the alternative is a return to the Iran nuclear deal, failures over China policy, and the infamous “flexibility” President Obama had with Russia.

You’re angry because Trump is President. You’re angry because things haven’t imploded as you predicted. But you’re siding with socialists who truly want to destroy America. It’s time to grow up and pick the right side again.

We are currently forming the American Conservative Movement. If you are interested in learning more, we will be sending out information in a few weeks.

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