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Trump allies make much hay about withdrawing troops from Kurdish Syria – but miss the bigger picture

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Trump allies make much hay about withdrawing troops from Kurdish Syria but miss the bigger picture

By Lieutenant Colonel (US Army, Ret.) Robert L. Maginnis

President Trump’s decision to withdraw our few troops from the Syria-Turkey border area earned him considerable criticism from allies. Senator Graham said the decision is “a catastrophe in the making.” Representative Cheney said it’s “a catastrophic mistake.” Former UN Secretary Halley said, “We must always have the backs of our allies.”

President Trump answered these critics. The Kurds were engaged in a contractual relationship fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). They were well paid and equipped for their fighting, much like any mercenary group. Further, they were given three years to consolidate eastern Syria to feed their long-held desire to form an independent Kurdistan with other Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. They failed.

The Kurds’ problem and by association the U.S. is that regional powers like Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran and Syria have long held the Kurds in disdain. In fact, Turkey considers the Syrian Kurds allies to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or (PKK), which are Turkish Kurds and terrorists fighting for independence for the last 35 years.

Basically, the Kurds hijacked our fight with ISIS to feed their regional civil war to earn independence.

President Trump is aware of that agenda and also trying to constrain American hawks who want to use our military willy-nilly across the world. Remember that Mr. Trump frequently said during his 2016 campaign for office that he wants to escape from endless wars and bring our fighters home.

Also, we need to ask ourselves whether the withdrawal of a few American troops really matters in the conflict either against ISIS, and did it really grant the Turkish government the “green light” to attack “terrorist” Kurds? Perhaps. But the Syrian civil war which led to the rise of ISIS is over and the bloody dictator in Damascus won thanks to the Russians and Iranians. We can blame Obama for that outcome, not Trump. And yes, the Turks have permission from Damascus to cross into Syria and they will now consolidate a buffer zone along the Syrian border to control terrorist actions fostered by the independence-minded Kurds and allow for millions of refugees to return home. I bet the U.S. would do the same if we had a similar problem on either of our borders with Mexico or Canada.

The pregnant question Trump’s critics don’t answer is: Will ISIS return to fight another day? Not necessarily. Keep in mind al Qaeda and ISIS are in many more places today than when U.S. forces first pursued them in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the northern plains of Iraq. Also, what remains of ISIS is trapped in a small area in Syria and if they make a ruckus that can be easily handled by Turkish and Russian airstrikes, and they won’t bother with concerns about collateral damage.

Another point about all the fake news about the Kurdish plight is evidence of a basic misunderstanding about the Middle East which is locked in a constant cycle of war in part because of the English fools that redrew the maps after World War I.

Trump’s critics can learn about Middle East culture by watching Lawrence of Arabia. Remember the first time Lawrence goes into the desert his guide stops at some oasis. As the guide drinks from the well, a dark figure on a camel rides fast towards them and then shoots dead Lawrence’s guide. Lawrence is stunned and asks why the Arab killed the guide. The Arab responds, “He is Hazzami. He is nothing. He knew that he could not drink from our well.”

Yes, much of the region is locked in tribal wars and they don’t want democracy. Further, and in part because of those tribal wars, we do not need to stay there another day much less a century. Rather, let the regional players fight these problems and leave the larger security challenges like China and Russia to the United States?

Why must America get involved in every conflict around the world that is, unless you believe as some of the Trump critics do, that we are indeed the world’s policeman and like former American leaders believe in promoting democracy at the pointy end of the bayonet?

Finally, I’m a security cooperation expert helping the Pentagon work with land forces across the world. Our allies and foreign partners like us because we are ready to fight for them and more often than not give them training and equipment to settle their own challenges. I dare say the American taxpayer ought to ask whether there ought to be a limit on how much of this fighting really supports our national interests.

I’m reminded of what English statesman and General Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) said to his troops: “Put your trust in God, but mind to keep your powder dry.” That’s an apropos view in the Syria account. America has too many fights ongoing now and much bigger ones ahead. For our national interests, we too must “mind to keep” our powder dry and not squander our resources on others’ wars. Let’s put Syria in the rearview mirror.

Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and is an instructor at the Army War College. He oversees a team of national security experts in the Pentagon and has more than 800 published articles on national security and geopolitical issues. His most recent books are “Progressive Evil (2019), and Alliance of Evil (2018).

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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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