Trump To Mattis: You Can’t Quit. You’re Fired.

 

In 2016, Donald Trump called James Mattis a “true general’s general.” Now it seems that the two can’t part company fast enough. Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Mattis submitted his resignation with an effective date of Feb. 28, 2019. Apparently, that wasn’t soon enough for the president who announced that Mattis would be leaving at the end of the year.

In a tweet this morning, President Trump said, “I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, &amp; previously Boeing. He will be great!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1076881816462737408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>December 23, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Patrick Shanahan is a native of Washington State who has been in the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense since his confirmation on June 20, 2017. Prior to joining the government, he was an executive at the Boeing company where he had worked since 1986. Shanahan has never served in the military but worked on several defense-related programs as vice president of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems.

Last Thursday, Secretary Mattis submitted his resignation letter in response to President Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw American soldiers from Syria where they had been deployed to fight ISIS. Trump’s move leaves the Kurds, American allies in the fight against ISIS, to the tender mercies of their ancestral enemies, the Turks and the Arabs.

Mr. Mattis’ resignation letter singled out the abandonment of America’s allies in the region as a reason for his departure. “We cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote to the president. “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis added.

President Trump places a high priority on loyalty from his subordinates – if not to his allies – and this open criticism from his “general’s general” seems to have been too close to the mark for the president to keep working with the Gen. Mattis for another two months. In addition to being already confirmed by Congress and therefore eligible to move into the Defense Secretary slot under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Shanahan also has not publicly criticized the president.

In contrast, Mattis, along with Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was rumored to have banded together to rein in the president and protect the country from Trump’s most destructive tendencies. As 2019 begins, all three of those experienced, senior advisors will be absent.

General: Trump’s Cut-And-Run From Syria Is A ‘Serious Strategic Mistake’

President Trump’s surprising decision to cut and run from Syria is being panned by military analysts as “a serious strategic mistake” that ranks with such errors as President Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq and the abandonment of South Vietnam. Trump’s decision to retreat from Syria reportedly went against the advice of Defense Secretary James Mattis and other top generals.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria,” Trump said in a tweet justifying his unilateral decision to withdraw American troops from the embattled Middle Eastern country.

But other analysts, such as Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and army vice chief of staff, disagree. Keane, now a military analyst for Fox News, lashed out at the president, calling the move “a serious strategic mistake” with “dire consequences.”

Keane, who has generally supported Trump’s foreign policy, told Trish Regan on Fox Business that, “It’s a decision that the president will come to regret.”

“The obvious analogy is a simple one,” Keane said. “How you end a conflict is more important than how you start one and history will tell you that. When we stayed in post-World War II Germany, Italy and Japan, we helped to stabilize those countries. We did the same thing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

However, he added, “When we prematurely withdraw forces because we’re tired or it or we’re frustrated by the time it took – Vietnam, Iraq, and now Syria – the consequences are usually unfavorable and quite dire.”

“It is not speculation that ISIS will indeed reemerge,” Keane said. “Our intelligence services have already forecasted that. The reality is they will come back. They are conducting terrorist operations around Raqqa right now on a low level.”

Keane said that ISIS leaders around Raqqa had been telling people there that the Americans had not followed through with their promises to rebuild schools, power plants, and other infrastructure destroyed in the war against the terror group. ISIS will use the unkept promises and withdrawal of American troops to recruit and gain influence.

“The Iranians, which are a much greater threat than ISIS, will now own all of Syria,” Keane said. “That is a fact. They will encroach on the sovereignty and security of Israel.”

Keane also warned that the withdrawal would have implications beyond the Middle East. “Russia and our adversaries will look at this, not as a victory for the United States,” he said. “They will look at this as weakness. It will impact North Korea in terms of the stalemate we have with them right now. It impacts Russia in terms of our ability and willingness to confront them and have some impact on them. And certainly, it’s going to impact also with China…. It’s going to encourage them and embolden them. All these things are related to one another.”

Keane acknowledged Trump’s concern for casualties and the fact that ISIS was temporarily on the run in Syria, but said, “The one thing I think history has also told us is the Middle East is a breeding ground for radical Islam and it’s also the place Iran wants to dominate and control.”

Keane said that Trump’s withdrawal is already encouraging ISIS to reemerge. Noting that the president said he was willing to redeploy forces to Syria if ISIS returns, Keane asked, “Why? If you’re willing to do that let’s finish it. Let’s stay the course and finish this thing once and for all.”

The Trump withdrawal closely mirrors Barack Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Against the advice of military leaders, Obama removed the US military and the resulting power vacuum allowed ISIS to flourish and gain control over large swaths of both Iraq and Syria. The expansion of ISIS required the US to recommit troops to the region and gave Russia a pretext for sending a large military force to Syria in 2015. Additionally, the Syrian unrest created a refugee crisis that led to a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Trump policy threatens to undo progress made on those fronts. American forces in Syria have subdued but not destroyed the ISIS threat and provided a counterbalance to Russian and Iranian influence in the region. An American withdrawal that allows ISIS to reform would also likely create new waves of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Another big winner from Trump’s isolationist policy is Iran. USA Today points out that the US-controlled eastern portion of Syria had posed an obstacle that prevented the Iranians from being able to move by land from Iran all the way to Lebanon, home base of their ally Hezbollah. Without American forces in the way, Iran can ship heavy weapons all the way to the Israeli borders with Syria and Lebanon. Where Barack Obama gave Iran billions of dollars, President Trump just gave the mullahs something much more strategically valuable.

Will World War III Begin in Syria?

For most of my life, I’ve assumed that I would die before the world ceased to exist. I’ve even gone to the trouble of planning my own funeral, even though I hope it won’t be necessary to use those plans for another forty years or so. I’ve worked from this assumption for two reasons: first, it seemed like hubris to believe the world might end with my death. Second, the obvious consequences of a nuclear war seemed to be a powerful enough deterrent to prevent a mass extinction caused by humans. After all, the world has seen the horrors and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hasn’t it? Mutually assured destruction would inevitably be the result of any nuclear war. Therefore, sanity ought to prevail, right?

Unfortunately, the dictator of North Korea has earned the nickname “Rocketman” for a reason — he continues to test ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons while threatening to use them on Guam, Japan, or California, depending on the hour and day.

And now, it seems that the United States could be on the brink of war with Russia, which would almost certainly have devastating consequences. Please forgive me for the negative thoughts, but I’m not quite as sure as I used to be that sanity will ultimately prevail.

Radio Free Europe recently reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has blamed the United States for the death of Lieutenant General Valery Asapov, saying:

The death of the Russian commander is the price, the bloody price for the two-faced American policy in Syria. The American side declares that it is interested in the elimination of [ISIS]…but some of its actions show it is doing the opposite, and that some political and geopolitical goals are more important for Washington.

The U.S. provides military aid and advice to Kurdish militia, while Russia supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Both the Kurds and the Syrian government are fighting against ISIS, but the two sides often fight against each other as well. The whole situation over there is a giant mess. Two of the world’s strongest armies don’t need to be opposing each other while both North Korea and ISIS remain a serious threat to civilization. Save it for later.

This situation calls for international diplomacy, but insinuations and accusations by Democrat Party leaders, implying that Russian interference in the most recent presidential election allowed Donald Trump to win, mean that Rex Tillerson will have to earn every penny of his salary to prevent World War III from starting in the Middle East — more or less where the Bible suggests the battle of Armageddon will be fought. A full-blown nuclear war will make all of our current disagreements seem petty by comparison.

Even so, the American media has been distracted by the protests of millionaire football players, kneeling in support of the false claims perpetuated by the Black Lives Matter movement — specifically the lie that unarmed young black men are at greater risk of being shot and killed by a white police officer than they have of being murdered by a criminal.

Or killed a crazy dictator with nuclear bomb. Statistics don’t lie, but people often do.

America Should Stand Up for Kurdish Independence

While America spent the weekend hotly debating the NFL & the National Anthem — and as the world inched closer to possible war in North Korea and as millions of Puerto Ricans suffered the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria — a small speck of land in the Middle East was about to send shockwaves through the international system. Today — September 25, 2017 — the Kurds of Iraq will likely overwhelmingly vote for their independence in the referendum being held in Iraqi Kurdistan. This independence is well deserved. The Kurdish homeland in the Middle East dates back centuries — but the Kurds themselves find themselves split asunder & without a nation. As the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation to call its own, the Kurds have faced decades of severe persecution in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, & Syria. Aided by a No-Fly Zone instituted by the United States following the First Gulf War, the Kurds in Iraq were able to establish a semi-autonomous territory in Northern Iraq and to create the current Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The Kurds were strong allies in the Second Gulf War as they helped topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, leading to even greater autonomy for themselves. And Iraqi Kurdistan was the only area of relative peace during the terror-fueled raging Iraqi insurgency & sectarian civil war that followed. Following the invasion of Iraq by ISIS in 2014, the Kurds demonstrated themselves to be the most dependable fighting force in-country, halting the sweeping gains of ISIS and giving the Iraqi government – and indeed the world – the breathing room to regroup and fight back. Independence has long been the desired goal of Kurds in the region, and the Kurds positioned themselves well as they battled ISIS, took back large swaths of territory from the terrorist organization, and consolidated these gains. But the Iraqi government – based in Baghdad and dominated by Shiite parties – is still the ultimate arbiter of power in Iraq, stifling Kurdistan’s economy, fighting with it over oil, limiting its armaments, and generally squeezing Kurdish autonomy. After decades of being ruled by Baghdad, the Kurds of Iraq have had enough.

The Kurds represent the largest ethnic group in the world without its own state. There are roughly 35 million Kurds worldwide, with nearly 30 million of them living within the bounds of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, & Iran. Within the Middle East, the Kurds are the fourth-largest ethnic group, following the well-known ethnic groups of Arabs, Persians, & Turks – all of whom have their own states. The Kurdish people have a cohesive identity spanning centuries — and their overarching goal is the establishment of an official homeland. This begins with today’s historic vote in Iraqi Kurdistan calling for independence – a vote that America should support.

The history of the Kurdish people in the 20th & 21st centuries is a story of oppression. Promises of a homeland in the wake of the World Wars proved to be false, and the Kurds found themselves separated by borders. The Kurds of Iraq were brutally oppressed by the Saddam Hussein regime, most notoriously through the Al-Anflal Campaign (the commission of genocide by Hussein against the tens of thousands of Kurds in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War). When the Kurds tried to rise up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 in the wake of the First Gulf War (at the tacit encouragement of the United States, mind you) this rebellion was put down in brutal fashion as the United States & the world stood by and let it happen. Following this, the U.S. instituted a No-Fly Zone in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from further oppression in the wake of that war. This allowed the Kurds to establish a semi-autonomous self-governed region, representing the first real semblance of independence the Kurds have had. It took the Second Gulf War in 2003 to liberate the Kurds from Hussein’s regime entirely.

It must be emphasized that the Kurds have been absolutely critical in the fight against ISIS. When ISIS invaded Iraq in 2014, US-trained & US-equipped Iraqi forces fled by the thousands, abandoning bases, humvees, supplies, heavy artillery, & weaponry – all of which went on to be used by ISIS to devastating effect. But where the Iraqi military fled, a vastly under-supplied & in many instances out-gunned Kurdish Peshmerga force stood firm, stopping the spread of ISIS into Kurdish territory, in many cases turning back the terrorist group’s march, and in time liberating large swaths of territory within the Kurdish sphere of influence. The only reason that strategic cities like Kirkuk and strategic oil fields like of Baji didn’t fall to ISIS — and the only reason why attempted genocides against the Christians & Yazidis of Iraq were not fully successful — was thanks to the Kurds. The battlefield successes against ISIS in 2016 & 2017 would not have been remotely possible without the massive sacrifices of the Kurds in 2014 & 2015 & all the way through today. And an independent Kurdistan would be an even more effective ally in the fight against ISIS & related terror groups.

The Kurds have accepted over 1.4 million refugees during the war with ISIS – including Muslims of all sects, Christians, Yazidis, & Jews. Religious tolerance (especially by Middle Eastern standards) is widespread inside Kurdish-controlled areas: Kurdistan’s small Jewish community has been allowed to practice their faith and Christians & Yazidis that saw their cities invaded by ISIS were able to flee to Kurdish regions that have protected them and that have taken back lots of their territory from the terrorist organization. Beyond embracing different religions in ways almost unheard of in the region, the Kurds also embrace impressive levels of gender equality as well – Kurdish women enjoy incomparably greater freedom, autonomy, & equality in Iraqi Kurdistan than in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurds would be a bulwark in the heart of the Middle East against all kinds of radicalism. The Kurds generally place their unique ethnic identity (along with their unique language & society) above any religious extremism – secularism is the heart of the Middle East is a lofty goal, but it is one that the Kurds have made great strides toward. Militant Islam – of either the Sunni or Shiite persuasion – has limited support among the Kurds. Where much of the current struggle on the battlefield against ISIS seemed like a battle between varying strains of religiously-motivated groups (radical Sunni Muslims like Jahbat al-Nusrah & the Islamic State on one side versus Iranian-backed Shia Muslim militias on the other), the Kurds are motivated by a unique heritage and a desire for democratic rule & independence. A stable & democratic Kurdish nation would be a great improvement over the civil wars & religious extremism that currently dominate Kurdistan’s surrounding neighborhood.

The Kurds would be able to use their independence to become more effective militarily and stronger economically. Currently, much of Kurdistan’s economic & military capabilities rely on decisions made by a Shiite-led (and Iranian-influenced) central government in Baghdad. Its shares of Iraqi oil revenue must come through Baghdad first. Its opportunities to sell oil to the E.U. and elsewhere are made vastly more difficult. Its ability to buy necessary weaponry is complicated & delayed. And so Kurdish independence would liberate their economy and allow for their self-defense – which is why the surrounding hostile nations oppose this independence.

It must be emphasized that Kurdish aspirations for independence are opposed by the United States, by the United Nations, and by nearly every other nation. It is very nearly Kurdistan Against The World. In fact, only the state of Israel supports the Kurdish bid – something that Saladin would approve — perhaps because Israel understands better than any other nation what it means to be a historically oppressed group surrounded by enemies. And surrounded by enemies the Kurds indeed are – the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan is most strongly opposed by the governments in Baghdad, Ankara, Tehran, & Damascus (Iraq, Turkey, Iran, & Syria) due to the potential regional fallout stemming from the large Kurdish populations residing in those countries. Indeed, recriminations against the Kurds have already begun – the government of Iraq has made it clear that it will punish Kurdistan’s economy if (when!) it goes through with the referendum. And the governments of Turkey & Iran are threatening the Kurds with severe retaliation – including possible military intervention. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — the wannabe dictator of Turkey — sees the Kurds as a threat to his hold on power, and has been openly threatening them with economic devastation & invasion. That’s right – our friends in Kurdistan might see their independence referendum celebrations almost immediately consumed by war with neighbors looking to bring a swift end to this bid for freedom. The Kurds are obviously feeling the pressure from the verbal onslaughts & the military exercises being conducted on their periphery, but the vote is happening anyway. Will the United States really cede our foreign policy to the mullahs in Iran and the strongman in Turkey and the corrupt government of Iraq? Will the United States really stand by and let this happen to the Kurds – to a nation that has fought alongside us against jihadists for years & years?

The Gospel of Matthew states that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” Over the decades, the world has gotten to know the Kurdish people – and their fruits. They indeed have their flaws – political dysfunction, an imperfect record on the administration of territory that has come into their possession, big questions about the future status of religious & ethnic minorities within the state, incomplete political equality amongst the population, corruption that needs to be dealt with, and so on. But there is an incredible amount to be admired in the Kurds. They’ve been stalwart in defense of their homeland. Brave in the face of threats & violence from Great Powers. Sacrificial in their struggle against Saddam, against al-Qaeda, and against ISIS. Charitable in their taking in of hundreds of thousands of refugees of every creed — charity all the more impressive given Kurdistan’s relative poverty. And trustworthy, as their Peshmerga have served honorably side-by-side next to American & coalition forces against the Islamic State.

For all these reasons, the Kurdish independence movement is absolutely worthy of our support: it would grant a persecuted ethnic minority its own nation-state and would would result in a reliable pro-Western ally in the heart of the Middle East. Kurdistan is a bit of a miracle – landlocked, isolated, resource-scarce, & persecuted – but it has been able to establish a semi-autonomous region in Iraq where fleeing refugees & religious minorities have been kept safe and where warriors have proven their mettle. The vote for Kurdish independence will be good for the Kurds – and indeed good for the world, too.

For the closing argument, I will leave you with an excerpt from a Washington Post op-ed by Qubad Talabani, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (please read the entire piece):

“Yes, we have a choice. We can either go ahead with our symbolic vote, which has the potential to generate serious backlash from the countries that oppose it, or we can accept a proposed set of commitments from our allies, the most powerful nations in the world, in return for postponing the referendum. As it happens, though, we Kurds have a long and vivid memory of the many betrayals our people have suffered throughout history. For this reason, it is not at all clear to us that postponement is in our nation’s best interest… And we have seriously weighed the risks of holding a referendum. Who, indeed, could be more aware of them than us?… Rather than trying to convince us not to leave Iraq, the world should have tried harder to ask Iraq to convince us to stay… Yes, Kurdistan’s democracy is imperfect; our governance, institutions and political leadership have their flaws. But we are committed to economic prosperity, to transparency and accountability, and, above all, to the safety and protection of our citizens. We have far more of the building blocks for new institutions in place than many other new nations… While our people have a range of views about the referendum and the best path forward, in the heart of every Kurd we are already independent. We are already a nation. We did not hesitate to join the international coalition and the Iraqi forces that set out to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State. Nor did we hesitate before that to fight al-Qaeda, or before that, Saddam Hussein. But we are not mercenaries, paid to fight wars. Our lives are on the line, and we, too, have our strategic and national interests. We didn’t think twice about opening our doors to those displaced by conflict, despite our own economic problems… Despite all this, rather than recognizing or rewarding us, other nations have joined forces to oppose our right to self-determination. Where were you when we were being slaughtered, attacked with chemical weapons and buried in mass graves in 1988? How long did it take you to respond to our pleas when we fled to the mountains after Hussein crushed our uprising in 1991? Every Kurd around the world shook with fear and indignation at the predicament of our brothers and sisters on the top of Mount Sinjar in 2014. The wounds of past persecution and genocide are fresh in our hearts and minds… It is time for our international partners to seriously chart out a path that resolves the Kurdish question in Iraq and gives our people what you already enjoy, and what we deserve: a country of our own.”

They say that timing is everything – but there will never be a “good time” for the emergence of a new country in the heart of the Middle East. The Kurds could’ve broken away during the civil war that raged in Iraq from 2004—2007, but they didn’t. The Kurds could’ve broken away in the chaos that ensued when ISIS swept across Iraq in 2014 & 2015, but they didn’t. They waited until order had been largely restored and until ISIS had been mostly beaten back. They waited until they’d already taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees. And frankly — as the tens of millions of Kurds around the world would surely agree — they’ve waited long enough. If not now, then when?

What will follow this independence referendum will not be easy – the Kurds will face untold challenges in the coming weeks, months, & years — and they will need our help. So it is time for the United States to stop using the Kurds when we need them and then ignoring them when they need us. In foreign affairs, a country should defend its interests but should also reward its allies, not abandon them in their time of need. We left the Kurds to flee into the mountains after the First Gulf War and to suffer under Saddam Hussein’s cruelty for a decade more. They find themselves now surrounded by enemies that would like nothing more than to quickly snuff out even the faintest flicker of freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan. We should not – cannot – must not let that happen.

As they say in Kurdish, “Bale” Kurdistan! “Yes!” to a free & independent Kurdish nation.

Vlad the Downsizer – Russia Responds to U.S. Sanctions




In a statement on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to anticipated new U.S. sanctions against his country.  He has ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy staff by 755 people and has seized two American properties in Moscow (a house and a storage building).

Putin’s statement came after the U.S. Congress last week passed a sanctions bill by a vote of 98-2 in the Senate and 491-3 in the House.  U.S. President Donald Trump has not yet signed the bill, but has said that he will.  Indeed, Congress could easily override a veto anyway.



The U.S. sanctions are in response to suspected Russian interference in the 2016 elections, it’s seizure of Crimea, and its actions in supporting rebels in Ukraine.  Vice President Mike Pence has also stated that he hopes the sanctions will encourage Russia to cease its support of North Korea and Iran.

Both sides have indicated that they will continue to respond “in-kind” to one another’s actions.  Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the future of NATO remain as areas of dispute between Russia and the U.S.; these issues are likely to further aggravate the relationship between the two countries.

Common Wisdom on Killing Support for Anti-Assad Rebels May Be Wrong

President Trump, listening to his advisors, has ended the semi-covert (it was well-known) program to arm and train anti-Assad rebels in Syria. I rarely disagree with Streiff at RedState, but this time I think the common wisdom is wrong.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the quaint little regional war that Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power fomented in Syria during the “Arab Spring” with the idea of overthrowing Bashar Assad was as chuckleheaded an idea to come out of any administration since Bay of Pigs. What had started out as war on the cheap mutated into a very ugly and protracted war and a humanitarian nightmare that is still in full swing.

I agree that the rainbow unicorn warriors of the Obama administration had no clue what they were getting into with Syria. I agree that getting Assad to leave is a fool’s errand. The only way to remove Assad is to kill him, and Russia is not allowing that to happen.

I also agree that Russia wanted us to end the anti-Assad support. Trump made the decision before leaving for the G20 meeting with Putin.

The media is harping on the fact that Russia wanted the program ended, so therefore Trump ♥ Russia. But that’s not the primary reason the program ended. Getting to a cease-fire was Trump’s goal, and this was one prerequisite. We got the cease-fire.

While the common wisdom (and Streiff’s opinion) is that this was a good move, not everyone agrees. Shmuel Rosner wrote in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday:

The United States and Russia are the cease-fire’s main architects. Jordan is also a party to it. Israel was consulted behind the scenes but had no official part in the agreement. Still, the agreement concerns a territory in which Israel has crucial interest: the border area between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. In this narrow strip of land, rebel forces that oppose President Bashar al-Assad of Syria still hold their ground. Reportedly backed by Israel, some of the more moderate rebel groups prevent forces influenced or controlled by Iran from getting too close to Israel’s border, one of Israel’s biggest security concerns.

Those “moderate rebels” are the ones the CIA was equipping. Streiff noted: “They are mostly funded/supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And the Department of Defense program that is focused on ISIS will remain.” But that’s not fully true.

The Saudis are confused by America’s mixed signals, and the Turks are unreliable. The cease-fire and simultaneous withdrawal of America’s imprimatur for the Syrian rebels creates a power vacuum where those forces provided a buffer for Israel. Iran is more than happy to fill the vacuum.

Israel looks at this move, along with the cease-fire, as the U.S. disengaging in the theater, ceding influence to Russia, Assad, and Iran (and their Hizbollah proxies). Temporary and unsustainable wins and placating Russia are not a strategy.

Israeli planners believe that there is only one good solution to this strategic problem: for the United States to go back to being a superpower. Namely, to involve itself not just in the worthy cause of temporarily ending a current war, and not just in the important objective of defeating the Islamic State. The United States, being the indispensable superpower, must invest in the more calculated planning aimed at preventing a potentially more dangerous war. It must have a strategy for Syria.

Since the cease-fire had as a pre-requisite set by Russia to remove support for the anti-Assad rebels, there was no way to achieve it without that overt act. This exposes Israel (and the U.S.) to more dangerous threats. Once ISIS is defeated, do you think Iran and Russia will voluntarily give up their newfound positions?

I will grant that the anti-Assad rebels cause is fairly well lost–Assad is going nowhere. But they do have a purpose, and value to America beyond as a bargaining-chip with Russia. This move may have larger consequences than Trump’s advisors calculated. Or, rather, we may see it reversed fairly soon when the cease-fire falls apart.

In any case, the conventional wisdom on this program–regardless of its failures (some of the troops we trained ended up joining ISIS to fight against us) is very likely wrong and short-sighted.

Trump Presses Reset Button on Russia

A notable moment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was her presentation of a “reset” button (pictured above) to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2009. In February 2017, President Trump rightly criticized Clinton for the reset, which came the year after Vladimir Putin had invaded the country of Georgia and seized two of the nation’s provinces, although his criticism seemed to concentrate more on style than substance.

“Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks?” Trump said in the Washington Examiner. “[Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov] looked at her like, ‘what the hell is she doing with that cheap plastic button?’”

Now, eight years later, President Trump is attempting his own reset with Russia. Less than a year after Putin’s hackers attempted to influence the American presidential election and succeeded in penetrating voter databases in at least 39 states, Donald Trump appears to be ready to forgive and forget.

After a rousingly strong speech in Poland in  which he criticized the Russian president for “destabilizing” Europe and the Middle East, two days later Trump seemed to make a 180 degree turn after a private meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany.

The two men seemed to hit it off in Hamburg. An hour into the 30-minute meeting, First Lady Melania Trump was sent in to get the two billionaire world leaders to break it up. Despite the First Lady’s efforts, the men talked for another hour and 15 minutes before moving along to the next items on their respective schedules.

When President Trump emerged from his conversation with Putin, he was far less critical of Russia than he had been a few days earlier. Immediately after the meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a press conference that, with respect to Syria, “by and large, our objectives are exactly the same” as Russia, despite the fact that Trump has just called Russia’s influence “destabilizing.” Russia intervened to support the Assad regime while the US position is still that “there will be a transition away from the Assad family.”

With respect to Russian interference in the American presidential election, Tillerson said, “The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.”

“The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward,” Tillerson continued, “and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of non-interference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries. So, more work to be done on that regard.”

The work must have been quick and productive because today President Trump said, “It is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia.” Shockingly, the president even said that he and Putin “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit,” a move that Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said was “akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.’”

Trump’s statements translate to an “aw, shucks, I just can’t stay mad at you” moment in which he proposes to put the proverbial fox on guard duty at the henhouse. In addition to meddling with the 2016 elections, Russia is the state actor that is widely suspected of cyberattacks on US energy companies that were apparently occurring even as the men talked in Hamburg.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not the only US officials that have fallen prey to the Putin’s apparently considerable charm and personal magnetism. In 2001, George W. Bush famously described the man he nicknamed “Pootie-Poot” as “very straightforward and trustworthy.”

Barack Obama seemed to be more honest with Putin than with his own constituents. In March 2012, President Obama told then-Russian President and Putin lackey Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” after the US election that year. A few months later, Obama pooh-poohed Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia was a “geopolitical foe.” In a presidential debate, Obama poked fun at Romney saying, “The 1980’s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”

Putin played them all for fools.

George W. Bush closed out his presidency with the Russian invasion of Georgia, a US ally. Five years after Hillary Clinton’s reset and two years after Obama claimed the Cold War was over, Russia annexed Crimea, a territory of the Ukraine, and then launched into a shooting war with Ukraine itself. Obama’s administration ended with Russia meddling in the core institution of American democracy, the presidential election.

The previous resets with Putin’s Russia have been disappointments. Vladimir Putin will undoubtedly take advantage of President Trump’s naiveté as well. The Russian president has shown himself to be a man who sees an outstretched hand as a sign of weakness and who responds only to strength.

“A productive conversation would be one where President Trump clearly communicates to Putin that the US won’t be quick to offer concessions, but to the contrary, that Trump is going to be a tough negotiator, one who Putin feels is committed to protecting American interests and values, and someone who he will back his talk with action, not just as a one-off, but on a consistent basis,” Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, advised in Business Insider before the meeting.

Unfortunately, the conciliatory Trump, not the tough negotiator, is the man who met with Putin. Trump didn’t bring a cheap, plastic reset button, but he may as well have.

 

 

 

 

U.S. Warns Syria Concerning Chemical Weapons

Yesterday, the Trump administration released a statement warning Syria’s President Assad not to conduct chemical weapon attacks.  The statement said:

As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.

The warning was apparently prompted by increased activity at a Syrian airbase which has been used in the past for chemical weapons attacks.

Assad has previously used chemical weapons, most recently on April 4th.  The attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern rebel-held Syria was reportedly carried out by Syrian government aircraft.  The warplanes dropped bombs containing Sarin, killing over 89 people and injuring 541.  Sarin is a highly dangerous nerve agent, causing death within minutes to those directly exposed; survivors suffer long-term neurological damage.  It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless liquid which evaporates into a gas and therefore expands its reach.

The April 4th attack prompted the United States to conduct missile strikes against Syrian government installations.  Russia, Assad’s ally, condemned the U.S. strikes and has claimed that rebels conducted the chemical weapons attacks themselves to implicate Assad.

The situation in Syria with Assad has caused a deterioration in American and Russian relations.  Most recently, it has culminated in the recent shoot-down of a Syrian government warplane by U.S. forces and Russia’s corresponding threat to shoot-down U.S. warplanes in the region.  Predictably, then, Russia has called this most recent American warning “unacceptable.”