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Reminder: Syrian Kurds did not fight ISIS for us

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Reminder Syrian Kurds did not fight ISIS for us

For the record, I am against the President pulling troops back from the Syrian-Turkey border simply because their presence there was preventing the bloodshed we’re seeing today. That’s a different discussion for a different time. But one thing I don’t appreciate is hearing talking heads and Twitter pundits saying we turned our backs on allies who fought on our behalf. This isn’t true at all.

The Kurds were not fighting for us. They were fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian Army long before we got there. Our presence was to train and supply them, nothing more. Initially, President Obama envisioned a two-for-one scenario. He thought if we could support the Syrian Democratic Forces with arms and train their militia to use them, they would be better equipped to stop the Islamic State and to topple Bashir al-Assad’s government. One of those goals was realized seven years after it began. The other goal was never realistic in the first place.

Pulling back for the sake of appeasing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely going to be considered a mistake unless Turkey stops short of crossing the red line that has not been clearly defined, at least for the public. But let’s not conflate our alliance with the SDF to battle the Islamic State as de facto permanent residency for our troops. It wouldn’t matter whether we pulled out today, last year, or next year. Turkey would have invaded the moment we left, so the search for the “right time” is futile.

Those who say we shouldn’t have pulled out now are essentially saying we should never have pulled out. They’re insinuating that our presence must be indefinite for the sake of standing with our allies. I understand the sentiment, but let’s not forget that we were there to help them. They weren’t doing us a favor by fighting the Islamic State for us. They were fighting the Islamic State whether we were there or not. We were simply helping them win that battle.

If we needed to pull out now, it should have been within a time frame that allowed the people to either vacate the area along the border or choose to stay and fight. This would have allowed our Kurdish allies to decide whether they wanted to reinforce the border or pull back beyond 20 kilometers from the border, the unofficial line that both President Trump and President Erdogan believe to be the end of the “safe zone.”

We should appreciate the efforts put forth by the Kurds to rid their lands of the Islamic State. But let’s not rewrite history and say they were fighting the Islamic State on our behalf. They were fighting them with our help, but not for our sake.

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Foreign Affairs

Trump orders Turkey sanctions; US scrambles for Syria exit

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Trump orders Turkey sanctions US scrambles for Syria exit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Targeting Turkey’s economy, President Donald Trump announced sanctions Monday aimed at restraining the Turks’ assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria — an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving U.S. troops out of the way.

The United States also called on Turkey to stop the invasion, and Trump is sending Vice President Mike Pence to the region in an attempt to begin negotiations. Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“President Trump communicated to him very clearly that the United States of American wants Turkey to stop the invasion, implement an immediate ceasefire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence,” Pence said.

The Americans were scrambling for Syria’s exits, a move criticized at home and abroad as opening the door to a resurgence of the Islamic State group whose violent takeover of Syrian and Iraq lands five years ago was the reason American forces came in the first place.

Trump said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops who had been partnering with local Kurdish fighters to battle IS in northern Syria are leaving the country. They will remain in the Middle East, he said, to “monitor the situation” and to prevent a revival of IS — a goal that even Trump’s allies say has become much harder as a result of the U.S. pullout.

The Turks began attacks in Syria last week against the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom the Turks see as terrorists. On Monday, Syrian government troops moved north toward the border region, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces.

Trump said Turkey’s invasion is “precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes,” a reference to reports of Turkish-backed fighters executing Kurdish fighters on the battlefield.

The Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion, a move that brings Russian forces deeper into the conflict.

In his sanctions announcement, Trump said he was halting trade negotiations with Turkey and raising steel tariffs. He said he would soon sign an order permitting sanctions to be imposed on current and former Turkish officials.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump said.

American troops consolidated their positions in northern Syria on Monday and prepared to evacuate equipment in advance of a full withdrawal, a U.S. defense official said.

The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said U.S. officials were weighing options for a potential future counter-IS campaign, including the possibility of waging it with a combination of air power and special operations forces based outside of Syria, perhaps in Iraq.

The hurried preparations for a U.S. exit were triggered by Trump’s decision Saturday to expand a limited troop pullout into a complete withdrawal.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he would travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week to urge European allies to impose “diplomatic and economic measures” against Turkey — a fellow NATO ally — for what Esper called Ankara’s “egregious” actions.

Esper said Turkey’s incursion had created unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria and “we also are at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict.”

The only exception to the U.S. withdrawal from Syria is a group of perhaps 200 troops who will remain at a base called Tanf in southern Syria near the Jordanian border along the strategically important Baghdad-to-Damascus highway. Those troops work with Syrian opposition forces unrelated to the Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

Esper said the U.S. withdrawal would be done carefully to protect the troops and to ensure that no U.S. equipment was left behind. He declined to say how long that might take.

In a series of tweets Monday, Trump defended his gamble that pulling U.S. forces out of Syria would not weaken U.S. security and credibility. He took sarcastic swipes at critics who say his Syria withdrawal amounts to a betrayal of the Kurds and plays into the hands of Russia.

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte,” he wrote. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

Trump has dug in on his decision to pull out the troops, believing it fulfills a key campaign promise and will be a winning issue in the 2020 election, according to White House officials.

This has effectively ended a five-year effort to partner with Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to ensure a lasting defeat of the Islamic State group. Hundreds of IS supporters escaped a holding camp amid clashes between invading Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, and analysts said an IS resurgence seemed more likely, just months after Trump declared the extremists defeated.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, normally a staunch Trump supporter, said he was “gravely concerned” by events in Syria and Trump’s response so far.

Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria “would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” he said in a statement. “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”

However, Trump got quick support from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had lambasted his withdrawal decision last week as “shortsighted,” ″irresponsible” and “unnerving to its core.” On Monday, echoing Trump, Graham said on Fox News Channel that the current situation was Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fault and Turkey would face “crippling sanctions” from the U.S. on its economy.

Pence said the sanctions announced Monday were only the beginning “unless Turkey is willing to embrace a ceasefire, come to the negotiating table and end the violence.”

The Kurds have turned to the Syrian government and Russia for military assistance, further complicating the battlefield.

The prospect of enhancing the Syrian government’s position on the battlefield and inviting Russia to get more directly involved is seen by Trump’s critics as a major mistake. But he tweeted that it shouldn’t matter.

“Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other,” he wrote. “Let them!”

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump is weakening America. ’To be clear, this administration’s chaotic and haphazard approach to policy by tweet is endangering the lives of U.S. troops and civilians,” Menendez said in a statement.

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AP writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this story.

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Foreign Affairs

‘Lady Liberty’ erected above Hong Kong

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Lady Liberty erected above Hong Kong

Several dozen Hong Kong protesters scaled a peak overlooking the city to erect a 3-meter statue they’re saying is their version of “Lady Liberty.” According to Singapore-based news outlet The Straits Times, it overlooks the city to inspire protesters against the increasingly authoritarian government in the city, which is backed by Beijing.

Clashes between protesters and police grew more aggressive over the weekend as the semi-autonomous island off the China coast continues to experience strife between the people and the government. Nearly 2500 protesters have been arrested so far with around 1000 of them being under the age of 18.

This is the latest symbolic call in a long string that is intended to mimic and draw attention from Americans who have the types of freedoms they crave. But so far there has been no significant movement by the government as Beijing grows impatient.

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Foreign Affairs

Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces, Syria to partner against Turkey

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Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces Syria to partner against Turkey

Syria as a whole will be Bashar Al-Assad’s once again. That is, at least, what the Syrian President and the Russians are hoping for after Moscow brokered a deal between Assad’s regime and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria.

In the wake of a U.S. withdrawal from the border with Turkey and the subsequent invasion by Turkey 20 miles into Syrian territory, Assad and his long-time rivals are willing to work together against their mutual enemy. It isn’t just Turkey but also their proxies in the Free Syrian Army. The group, which was once supported by the Obama administration to fight Assad’s government, has been the tip of Turkey’s spear so far during the brief conflict with the SDF.

Russia, who has had an ongoing relationship with Assad and once supported the SDF, has renewed those ties and brought the two foes together to fight for a common cause. If it works, the Kurds will likely maintain some autonomy while adhering to a united Syria under Assad. If it fails, Turkey will take control of a stretch of land 20 miles deep and 300 miles wide along the border where they intend to relocate two million refugees.

This isn’t just about relocation, though. The Turkish government believes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which comprises the most powerful militia group within the SDF, is supplying their allies in the Kurdisran Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and America regard as a terrorist organization.

With Russia inserting itself into the mix, their relationship with Turkey will likely strain even more. But their greater goal of a united Syria under the control of Bashar Al-Assad is worth making Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upset.

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