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Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria

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Trump call with Turkish leader led to US pullout from Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two U.S. officials and a Turkish official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It also set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision.

The White House rejected the description of the call from the officials but was not specific.

“In no uncertain terms, reporting throughout this story is not true,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “It is clear from the context that this false version of events is from sources who lack authority on the subject, possibly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”

The State Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the account of the decision to withdraw the troops, which have been in Syria to fight the Islamic State since 2015.

Despite losing the physical caliphate, thousands of IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and the group continues to carry out insurgent attacks and could easily move back into territory it once held if American forces withdraw.

The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.

Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.

But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.

In the following days, Trump remained unmoved by those scrambling to convince him to reverse or at least delay the decision to give the military and Kurdish forces time to prepare for an orderly withdrawal.

“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.”

Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. “Why are you still there?” the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.

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.

Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.

Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.

Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.

The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the U.S. would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done, the officials said.

Over the weekend, the national security team raced to come up with a plan that would reverse, delay or somehow limit effects of the withdrawal, the officials said.

On Monday, Bolton, Mattis and Pompeo met at the White House to try to plot a middle course. But they were told by outgoing chief of staff John Kelly and his soon-to-be successor Mick Mulvaney that Trump was determined to pull out and was not to be delayed or denied, according to the officials. The trio met again on Tuesday morning to try to salvage things, but were again rebuffed, the officials said.

The White House had wanted to announce the decision on Tuesday — and press secretary Sarah Sanders scheduled a rare briefing specifically to announce it. But the Pentagon convinced Trump to hold off because the withdrawal plans weren’t complete and allies and Congress had not yet been notified, according to the officials. The first country aside from Turkey to be told of the impending pull-out was Israel, the officials said.

Word of the imminent withdrawal began to seep out early Wednesday after U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel started to inform his commanders on the ground and the Kurds of the decision.

Following the official announcement the White House emphasized that the U.S. will continue to support the fight against IS and remains ready to “re-engage” when needed. But in a tweet, the president said U.S. troops would no longer be fighting IS on behalf of others.

“Time to focus on our Country & bring our youth back home where they belong!”

____

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

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The realities of the two-state solution

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The realities of the two-state solution

The belief that a two-state solution is possible and that it is the solution most likely to bring peace is discussed by observers outside of Israel as an almost foregone conclusion. This outsider view too often wholly ignores the unfortunate realities on the ground in Israel. If either side has ever truly considered the possibility of a two-state agreement, it has been in terms of how it will further either side’s overall goals.

And so, as in most discussions related to deeply held beliefs or viewpoints that affect a significant pivot point in history, we must understand perspective before a real solution, or recognition that there may be no immediate solution, can be found.

First, I would like to state that I find it troubling and seriously disconcerting that so often discussions related to propositions for Middle Eastern peace revolve almost exclusively around the actions and policies of Israel, while little to no discussion occurs in regards to the activities and policies of Palestinian organizations and their supporters across the Islamic world. This is especially troubling considering the majority of actions engaged by Israel and its allies, throughout its short but tumultuous history, have been enacted in response to efforts by their enemies and detractors. To understand why Israel has done and continues to do what it’s doing is to understand the motivations of those that Israel sees as enemies to their very existence.

Why do I say very existence? Major Islamic powers, both within Israel and without, have stated unequivocally that their primary reason for organization is to destroy Israel wholly. These are not charters stating a goal of resisting, impeding, or leveraging for a future two-state arrangement. These are specific statements of intention for total annihilation. Iran has called for the destruction of Israel ever since their revolution in 1979, and many experts believe it is for this purpose they have pursued nuclear capabilities. Hamas, the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood currently in political control of the Gaza Strip within Israel, has maintained the Hamas Charter calling for the destruction of Israel for over thirty years. And this is all occurring in a region that has a historical consistency of armed and political opposition to the very existence of Israel, dating back to 1948 when every major Islamic country that bordered Israel declared war upon its creation as a country.

Indeed, Israel’s tactics can easily be seen as harsh. Indeed, their continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza can be seen as colonial supremacy and even a false sense of cultural superiority. It is true that many Israelis honestly hope for the failure of the two-state solution process. But when it is understood that the two-state option is honestly not viewed by either the Israelis or the Palestinians as a final solution, the whole perspective changes. Israelis often see the two-state option as an appeasement to terrorists and the concession of a base of operations for continued militant attacks against them, and they have only entertained its proposal as an option in hopes of gaining concessions that would stymie outside influence amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinians and their allies often view the two-state solution as a victory in splintering the autonomy of an avowed enemy and the creation of leverage for continued disintegration of what they see as an illegitimate state on lands they continue to view as their own.

I do not pretend to know the answer to the question that so many of the world’s foremost leaders have failed to answer: the question of finding peace in the Middle East. But I think it only takes a little common sense to see that current propositions for a two-state solution choose to ignore the factors demonstrating its failings out of a desperate and foolish belief that any agreement is a good agreement.

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General Jack Keans on Trump’s plan to send more troops to Middle East

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General Jack Keans on Trumps plan to send more troops to Middle East

As the Pentagon sends 1000 more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran’s latest round of aggressions, many Democrats and media talking heads are attacking the whole mess. They’re blaming the President for antagonizing the Iranians, first by pulling out of the nuclear deal and then by imposing harsh sanctions on them. But as General Jack Keans told Shannon Bream on Fox News last night, the Iranians have been the ones antagonizing the whole time.

Where did all the money go that the Obama administration sent them? Over $100 billion is apparently gone as the people continue to struggle to survive, yet nothing seems to have come from the generous gift.

If the sanctions were really the problem, why won’t Iran stop engaging in proxy wars, funding terrorism, and continuing their development of nuclear weapons? They were testing ballistic missiles even before the sanctions. They were engaged in Yemen before the sanctions. And yes, they never stopped funding terrorism. If they would stop these things, the sanctions could be lifted, but Iran refuses.

Keans is correct in asserting the President has made the right moves. The only question that remains is whether or not Iran will comply or if they’ll continue down the road to war.

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An open letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

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An open letter to Sen Lindsey Graham on his two-state solution resolution

Dear Senator Graham,

It is being reported in the news that you are planning to introduce a nonbinding resolution in the Senate, together with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calling on President Trump to support a “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. If true, it would be a tragic error.

As a longtime supporter of Israel, I am sure that you’re aware that the GOP removed the two-state solution from its platform in 2016. I’m sure that you also know that the president’s Middle East team has been discussing Israel’s right to retain parts of Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank). By supporting the two-state solution at this time, you are not only going against the growing sentiment in your party that opposes a Palestinian (Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) state and the danger it would be to Israel’s survival, but you are also taking a stand against the obvious democratic wishes of the Israeli people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently made it clear that he no longer supports such a path to resolving the conflict by announcing his intention to annex the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank).

In a recent interview with the McClatchy news service, you were quoted as saying “I don’t want to get in the way of Jared,” referring to Deal of the Century architect Jared Kushner, “but I can’t envision a one-state solution. It won’t work. I mean, you’d have to disenfranchise the Palestinians. That won’t work. If you let them vote as one state, they’ll overwhelm the Israelis. That won’t work. So, if you want to have a democratic, secure Jewish state, I think you have to have two states to make that work.”

Sen. Graham, with all due respect, you are echoing the common wisdom that has prevailed for the past forty years, but the facts on the ground have changed. Recent polling shows that Israelis understand the new reality, but the world is lagging beyond, with the very noticeable exception being the growing number of realists in the GOP. President Trump, as well, has expressed a remarkable willingness to explore “new ideas”, since the “land for peace” formula clearly hasn’t worked. This was proven by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which simply gave Iranian-backed Hamas the land from which they are now firing rockets at Israeli cities. Doing the same in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem (which is the primary Palestinian demand) would be suicidal for Israel.

However, you have mentioned that a Palestinian state must be created, because of the demographic danger; that without creating a separate Palestinian state, Israel would be “overwhelmed” by the Palestinian vote. This presumes that in a one-state solution, all the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria would be given automatic citizenship. Yes, you and I seem to agree, granting such instant citizenship would be the definition of foolishness. No self-preserving country in its right mind would grant citizenship (and the right to vote in national elections) without a lengthy process of vetting such non-citizens, as is done in the United States and most free countries.

In my peace plan, which is pointedly called Peace for Peace (as opposed to the failed land for peace formula), I call for Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, alongside a path to loyal citizenship for the non-citizens, mostly Arabs (or Palestinians, if you prefer), now residing in the areas that Israel recaptured in the defensive Six Day War of 1967. Such a process would include a three-year comprehensive good citizenship course, followed by two-three years of national service, culminating with an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel.

Many non-citizens in Judea and Samaria, many of whom I know personally, would seize at the opportunity to become loyal Israeli citizens. Many others would refuse, thereby minimizing the demographic danger to Israel, but the truth be told, noted demographers such as Yoram Ettinger have shown that the Jewish birth rates in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem have been sky-rocketing for the past two decades, way beyond that of the Arabs. Israel is undergoing a social renaissance, in which the traditional family is having a resurgence and having large Jewish families is fashionable once again. Therefore, when we examine the current reality, we see that the demographic threat is greatly exaggerated by those who cling to the land for peace agenda.

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned Israel’s historical rights to these areas, which I have documented extensively in my most recent book, “Trump and the Jews”, but you haven’t disputed those rights. I also haven’t mentioned that we can’t make peace with a Palestinian Authority that for years has been giving salary payments to each and every terrorist that has killed or wounded an Israeli. This includes the three Fatah terrorists who shot and wounded me and my then three-year-old son in December of 2001 and their salaries continue to this day.

Given the new, pragmatic approach of President Trump, I am strongly urging you to rethink the dual mantras of land for peace and the two-state solution. As Donald would say, it’s time for new ideas.

Bio: David Rubin, former Mayor of Shiloh Israel, is the author of the new book, “Trump and the Jews”. Rubin is the founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, established after he and his then three-year-old son were wounded in a terror attack. He can be found at www.DavidRubinIsrael.com or at www.ShilohIsraelChildren.org.

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