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Broken alliances

Politics | Looking at the long-term effects of the U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria
by Harvest Prude
Posted 10/10/19, 05:15 pm

WASHINGTON—Overwhelming bipartisan backlash met President Donald Trump’s announcement Sunday that U.S. troops would withdraw from northeastern Syria, abandoning the Kurdish fighters who supported the battle against Islamic State (ISIS).

Many of the president’s allies in the Republican Party joined with their colleagues across the aisle to urge Trump to reconsider, citing humanitarian, national security, and geopolitical concerns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the move might jeopardize the coalition that had formed a partnership with the United States to defeat ISIS. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted Monday that the United States should “have the backs of our allies. … Leaving [the Kurds] to die is a big mistake.”

U.S. troops rolled out, and Turkey, which considers the Kurds “terrorists,” rolled in less than 48 hours after a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The bombardments so far have appeared to target Christian sites and neighborhoods. At least two children were reported dead.

Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, said that if the United States and other nations fail to act, “Turkey will complete the work that ISIS tried to do in eradicating Christians from this region.”

The fighting on the border between Turkey and Syria also threatens U.S. interests in the region, said Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He said the lack of a U.S. presence opens a vacancy for other bad actors to move in.

“We could see Russian, Iranian, [Syrian government] regime advances to control these territories,” Erdemir said. To defend from the assault at the border, Kurdish forces will have to shift their focus away from guarding detention centers that hold more than 70,000 ISIS militants, giving the terrorists an opportunity to escape and regroup.

Should ISIS resurge, the United States might not find such loyal partners in its future endeavors to counter the enemy. “Even if there is now a radical U-turn by the United States, the damage is done,” Erdemir said. “There is a perception in the Middle East that Iran and Russia always stick with their allies. … Now that the U.S. is abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces—one consequence will be [they] could look to Iran and Moscow as they attempt to diversify their options.”

Earlier this week, Trump doubled down on his decision and tweeted that if Turkey did anything that he considered “off-limits,” he would retaliate by moving to “destroy and obliterate” its economy.

In the meantime, U.S. lawmakers from both parties appear ready to buck the president’s foreign policy and attempt to take matters into their own hands.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced he and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., agreed to pile sanctions on Turkey. Van Hollen said they will introduce and ask for an immediate vote on the bill as soon as Congress returns from recess on Tuesday.

“The Turkish economy is in a very fragile state right now—and that could make it more vulnerable to the impact of U.S. sanctions,” said Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert for The Heritage Foundation, who added he did not think sanctions would successfully deter Turkish military action.

Erdemir said the region might never recover from some of the consequences: “The area we’re talking about is the cradle of ancient Christianity. … That’s what we’re putting at risk. That’s one mistake we’re not coming back from. Once you lose these last communities and their heritage, no matter how much you invest in, you will not be able to resuscitate it. I think that is why it’s very important for foreign and security politics to be prudent, to avoid radical turns—because the risks are enormous.”

Associated Press/Photo by Pavel Golovkin Associated Press/Photo by Pavel Golovkin Kremlin guards in Moscow’s Red Square

Unfriend Russia

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The report focused on social media disinformation planted by Russian actors with the Internet Research Agency. Volume 1 of the report, released earlier this year, focused on Russian efforts to compromise the United States’ election infrastructure.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the committee said. Russia also targeted GOP presidential candidates such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the presidential primaries. The Internet Research Agency heavily promoted a narrative that African American people could not count on a fair electoral process and should boycott the vote.

The bipartisan report noted that the Internet Research Agency’s activities have become “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”

The committee recommended that the Trump administration work to educate the public about the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election. —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Jim Mone Associated Press/Photo by Jim Mone Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey

Trump, Minneapolis mayor feud over rally

President Donald Trump urged voters Tuesday to “dump” the Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for allegedly overcharging for security at a campaign rally planned for Thursday evening.

City officials told the Target Center, the site of the rally, to pay about $530,000 for security costs. The arena then tried to pass those costs on to the Trump campaign, which responded that neither it nor the arena was responsible for the payment. It accused the city of levying the fee to try to get the Target Center to cancel the rally.

A statement from the Trump campaign pointed out that when President Barack Obama previously spoke at the arena in 2009, the appearance cost the police department about $20,000.

“Someone please tell the Radical Left Mayor of Minneapolis that he can’t price out Free Speech,” Trump tweeted. “Probably illegal!”

In response, Frey tweeted that Trump “can afford to help pay for the extra time our officers will be putting in while he’s in town.” The campaign said it would hold the rally as scheduled. The actual security costs and who would pay for them remained unclear. —H.P.

Libra on trial

The House Financial Services Committee will hear from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Oct. 23 about the social media giant’s foray into cryptocurrency.

In June, Facebook unveiled plans to introduce a bitcoin-like product called Libra that it claims would make sending money as easy as sending a photo. Lawmakers have reacted with skepticism because Facebook has failed in the past to protect consumer data. Some, like House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have called on Zuckerberg to temporarily halt the project until he addresses their concerns. Zuckerberg’s decision to personally testify, rather than sending one of his deputies, might be his attempt at a charm offensive. —H.P.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

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