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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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Foreign Affairs

Mike Pompeo responds to Venezuela, Biden’s world tour, Hezbollah, and Israel

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Mike Pompeo responds to Venezuela Bidens world tour Hezbollah and Israel

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on Fox News last night to talk to Shannon Bream about the tumultuous state of affairs around the world and how the United States is handling them.

First, he discussed Venezuela and recent developments where Nicolas Maduro’s regime has essentially framed members of Juan Guaido’s team in an effort to jail and stop the opposition to his presidency there. The Secretary of State said they would hold Maduro’s regime accountable for their actions, but would not elaborate on how U.S. intervention in the poverty-torn nation would manifest.

He jabbed at potential Democratic 2020 candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is being allegedly courted by world leaders to run for the White House in hopes he could bring back proper relations. As Pompeo noted, our relations with world leaders is in a current state of positive action despite the President’s harsh stance with many of them.

As for Hezbollah, Pompeo said the U.S. would press Lebanon for the sake of its people to facilitate change from the anti-Israel, anti-American Hezbollah rule that has basically made the nation a pawn for Iran.

As for the Israel front. where Pompeo was speaking from, he said calls by people like Beto O’Rourke and others to undermine the conservative base shared by the United States and Israel would not help the situation. Only through the President’s peace plan can the Middle East move forward, according to Pompeo.

My Take

Until the Venezuelan government asks directly for help, there should be no action by the United States other than aid for the people. This is an internal affair. Just because the leadership is challenged doesn’t make it our problem. If there was ever a time when the United Nations should flex its puny muscles, that time is now and the place is Venezuela.

Any foreign leaders calling on Biden to replace Trump are doing so because they do not want the United States to continue to maintain and improve upon its position of strength on the world stage. They prefer the good ol’ days under President Obama when the United States was a pawn for many other nations.

Hezbollah must go. That’s not to say we need to be involved with that, but Lebanon will never be free and prosperous as long as they’re the proxy for Iran.

Lastly, the Secretary of State seemed to be echoing a notion that the President would push for a 2-state solution. If that’s the case, it’s a huge mistake. Otherwise, Pompeo is correct in asserting the backwards notions of the Democrats lashing out against President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We’re in a time when foreign affairs are starting to take center stage. Yes, we have problems of our own, but to ignore the growing threats abroad would be a mistake. It’s good the administration is handling these issues.

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Foreign Affairs

Kudos to the President for calling on the U.S. to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights

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Kudos to the President for calling on the US to recognize Israels sovereignty over the Golan Heights

It’s always hard to tell where the administration may be going following policy Tweets from the President. He’s been known to say one thing, then the administration slowly shifts reality away from the initial intent of the Tweet. On the other hand, many of his Tweets have turned into policy. It’s just a matter of waiting and seeing what the official word from the White House is.

In this case, it’s the President’s bold declaration that the Golan Heights, considered by enemies of Israel to be disputed territory, is actually sovereign Israeli land. As he noted in the Tweet, this is long overdue.

Considering the stances the President has been taking on Twitter this week with sustained attacks on George Conway and John McCain, this is a breath of fresh air. If Israel ever gave up he Golan Heights, they would be losing one of the most important strategic areas through which enemy militaries could easily become entrenched and launch attacks that would be difficult for Israel to counter. While the IDF enjoys technological advances over their enemies, terrain and proximity are still major factors in the defense of their lands. The Golan Heights represents a piece of land that must never be given easy access to their enemies.

There’s one important caveat to the kudos I’m giving the President. If it turns out acknowledgement of the Golan Heights as sovereign territory is used as a precursor to asking Israel to give up the West Bank in a Middle East peace agreement, then it’s a whole other situation entirely. Just as giving up the Golan Heights would make Israel a very easy target, so too would the idea of a two state solution that grants “Palestine” control over the West Bank.

If the motives are pure, this is a great move. If this is an early olive branch, it’s dangerous.

Israel’s control of the Golan Heights is absolutely essential to its security. The lands just south would be completely indefensible if the United Nations ever got its way and the Golan Heights fell under control of Israel’s enemies.

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Conspiracy Theory

Turkish President Erdoğan says Christchurch was not an individual act but rather an organized part of a wider attack on Turkey

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Turkish President Erdoğan says Christchurch was not an individual act but rather an organized part of a wider attack on Turkey

See also previous NOQ Report articles:

Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud, needs to step back and look at Christchurch objectively

Was Christchurch a lone gunman or a conspiracy?

Today Radio New Zealand published an article entitled, “Erdoğan says attackers targeting Turkey will go home ‘in caskets’“.

Following are pertinent excerpts:

“President Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday described a mass shooting which killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques as part of a wider attack on Turkey and threatened to send back ‘in caskets’ anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.”

“‘They are testing us from 16,500km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn’t an individual act, this is organised,’ he said.”

The Turkish tyrant, in reference to the “1915 Gallipoli campaign, when Ottoman soldiers defeated British-led forces including Australian and New Zealand troops trying to seize the peninsula, a gateway to Istanbul,” told today’s citizens of New Zealand and Australia: “Your grandparents came here … and they returned in caskets.”

“He has said the gunman issued threats against Turkey and the president, and wanted to drive Turks from Turkey’s northwestern, European region.”

“‘You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople,’ he added, referring to the city’s name under its Christian Byzantine rulers before it was conquered by Muslim Ottomans in 1453.”

The RNZ article confirms that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in Christchurch and visited Turkish citizens wounded in the attack.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no friend of New Zealand, Australia or the United States of America. As former Prime Minister and current President of Turkey, he has transformed his NATO-member country from a staunch ally into an ideological, political and military adversary of western nations, Israel and Christians throughout the Middle East.

Erdoğan’s delusions of grandeur revolve around restoring the Ottoman Empire as a new Islamic Caliphate and enthroning himself as new Caliph. That is the only reason he ever opposed ISIS as it was a competitor for control of the Sunni Dar ul-Islam.

The Christchurch gunman is obviously a very conflicted man with many competing concepts and objectives. We will not reward his evil bloodshed by recognizing him by name here.

The perpetrator could have been manipulated by those with motives different from his own. That’s why the report about the suspicions of Turkish intelligence is so significant.

See previous RNZ article:

Turkish intelligence investigating Christchurch accused – report

There are factions in Turkey who oppose Erdoğan for reasons of their own, altruism not being among them. Consider a young uneducated Aussie traveling throughout the world seeking to define himself and to find a cause to champion.

In Turkey and the Balkans, he learns about the Ottoman Empire and the assault of Islam on Europe centuries ago. He comes in contact with elements in Turkey that see a conduit through which they can accomplish their own different objectives.

The young fellow from Grafton, New South Wales believes an armed assault on Muslims during Friday prayers in a city named Christchurch across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand will further his own concepts of white supremacy and that it will suppress Muslim immigration. But elements in Turkey see this as a way to instantly change the narrative and remove the focus on Islamic Jihad as a world threat, substituting a mad rush of useful idiots in western governments to come to the aid of Muslim victims of religious bigotry.

Today, a 37-year-old Turkish male killed three and wounded five on a tram in Utrecht, Netherlands. Europe is under siege. Alas, this is far more common in the world than the anomaly in Christchurch! But politicians will continue to beat their breasts and say we ♡ diversity. Diversity and open borders are who we are. Welcoming the unvetted world is our raison d’être.

We’ll conclude today with an urgent reminder:

There is reason for New Zealand authorities to put your political correctness aside and mount serious international investigations of the Christchurch gunman’s potential handlers in Turkey. Censorship and gun grabs in NZ will not keep you safe if this was orchestrated abroad.

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