House of Cards

Cartoon by Bart van Leeuwen

Don't buy the hype: Boris Johnson's Brexit deal did not win approval 

The Guardian: It’s not over. For a few anxious, or jubilant - depending on which tribe you belong to – minutes between 7.15pm and 7.30pm, it seemed as if the Brexit saga might just be on the verge of resolution, after three and a half agonisingly long years. The House of Commons voted to allow Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill to advance to the next stage, a prize that had eluded Theresa May not once, not twice, but three times.

What’s more, MPs gave it a green light more emphatically than even the most ardent Brexiters had dared hope. While May had been crushed by triple-figure majorities, Johnson won his meaningful vote by 329 to 299 votes, a majority of 30. Put another way, and as if to reflect this divided nation through what have become the defining numbers of the Brexit era, he won by 52% to 48%.

For a prime minister who lost his governing majority within days of reaching Downing Street, and who lost six of his first seven votes in the House, this tasted like a rare and substantial victory. All he had to do next was win approval for his accelerated timetable, one that would cram line-by-line scrutiny of a 110-page bill giving legal effect to a 585-page withdrawal agreement, into 48 hours. For a few fleeting, clammy-palmed moments, it seemed as if he might pull it off. The naysayers of the DUP remained in their seats. Did that mean they were they going to abstain, thereby handing Johnson a second win?

It did not. They rose and walked through the no lobby, confirmation of their fury at a Tory prime minister who has done what he himself had said no Tory prime minister should ever do – agreeing to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK to such an extent that Northern Irish businesses will need to fill in customs forms to ship goods to their friends and cousins in England, Scotland and Wales. The result was defeat by 322 to 308 – all but 52-to-48 in reverse. Denied his fast track to approval, Johnson announced he was not pulling the bill – as he had threatened – but “pausing” it, as he waited to hear how long an extension the EU would grant to the Hamlet nation across the channel, forever paralysed by indecision.

Posing as a man whose determination would not be deflected, Johnson said that we would “definitely be leaving the EU with this deal”. But note what he did not say: he dropped his customary reference to “by October the 31st”. For all the talk of corpses in ditches, and “do or die”, it was that promise that expired this evening.

What does it mean? First, don’t fall for the hype that says that parliament approved Johnson’s deal. It did not. MPs simply voted for it to receive a second reading, some of them motivated by the desire not to endorse it but to amend it. As Labour’s Gloria De Piero confessed, she voted yes, “not because I support the deal but because I don’t”. That 30-vote majority will include MPs who wanted to propose UK membership of a customs union, others keen on conditioning the deal on public support in a confirmatory referendum. Screen out the Tory spin: those MPs should not be counted as backers of the deal.

As for the defeat on the timetable, that is the result of what now looks like a tactical misjudgment by the government. By making such a fetish of the 31 October deadline – arbitrarily imposed by Emmanuel Macron when Theresa May missed the last one – Johnson painted himself into a corner whereby even a delay of a few days looked like a humiliation. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Clarke signalled that it might not need much more than a few extra days to undertake the necessary scrutiny – though Nikki da Costa, until recently Johnson’s head of legislative affairs, had said it required at least four weeks – which is hardly that long to wait. Instead of taking that pragmatic course, Johnson felt compelled to call the whole thing to a halt.

Why? The obvious explanation is that this gives the PM a pretext to grab what he really wants: an early election framed as a battle to get Brexit done, with him as the people’s tribune pitted against those wicked remainer saboteurs.

But another explanation suggests itself, too. Any period of scrutiny is unpalatable to Johnson, because he fears that the threadbare coalition that might exist to back his deal will unravel once it engages in closer examination of the withdrawal agreement. Its erosion of workers’ rights; its creation of a new no-deal cliff edge in 2020; its entrenchment of a hard Brexit in law – all those dangers would only become more visible under the spotlight of protracted (or even normal) Commons scrutiny. Bits of his coalition – especially among those Labour MPs who backed him on Tuesday – would begin to flake off.

The truth is, Johnson will never have a bigger vote for his deal in this House of Commons than the one he assembled tonight. It will only get smaller. No wonder he had to pause. His next option is to call an election – and gamble that the next parliament will be more forgiving than the last. Either way, we are not free of the Brexit saga yet, not by a long way.

Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

Tears in Syria

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

Inside the Iran Hawks' Hijacking of Trump's Syria Withdrawal Plan

by Matthew Petti

The National Interest: President Donald Trump says he wants to “end endless wars.” But the counter-Iran, counter-Russia hawks on his national security team are planning to sneak in a long-term U.S. military presence in southeast Syria. And their plans may have been in the works for a while.

With U.S. forces opening the gates for Turkey to take over northeast Syria, Trump administration officials are now drawing up plans to keep several hundred U.S. troops alongside Arab rebel groups in the country’s oil-rich southeast. Trump has said, “we have secured the oil.” And Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) diplomats have said they’re willing to work with such a plan.

The National Interest has learned that the Trump administration’s anti-ISIS team, led by Ambassador James Jeffrey, has floated the idea of a counter-Iran presence in Deir ez-Zor for some time now.

“Every day, the [U.S.-led] coalition has been very strong against [Syrian ruler] Assad,” said Omar Abu Layla, CEO of Deirezzor24, who said that he has seen U.S. helicopters and F-35 fighter jets increase their presence against Iranian-backed forces in the region.

Abu Layla told the National Interest that he spoke to Jeffrey’s team three or four months ago. “They promised, ‘we will not leave Syria before we kick Iran out of Syria,’” he claimed. “They will not leave our province easily.”

"Since December, President Trump has been clear that American forces would be withdrawing from Syria. At the President’s directive, the State Department, including Ambassador Jeffrey, has been working with the Department of Defense on a deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of American forces overtime, while also working with our partners on the ground to maintain consistent pressure to ensure ISIS’s enduring defeat," a State Department spokesperson told the National Interest. "We do not discuss details of our diplomatic engagements but our message on this has been consistent with all of our partners in Syria."

“I can assure you that the effort to push back against Iran are real and continuous, unlike what the last administration did that picked Iran as its strategic security partner in the Middle East,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 20.

But it’s unclear how feasible a long-term U.S. presence will be without the Kurdish core of the SDF.

“It’s going to be a Fort Apache scenario,” former Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk, who ran the anti-ISIS team at the end of the Obama administration and beginning of the Trump administration, told the National Interest. “Very difficult to resupply.”

McGurk was describing the difficulty of supplying a military outpost in the middle of nowhere.

“Trying to do more, we’re going to dig a hole deeper” for the Syrian Kurds, McGurk had said at an event earlier today at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Jeffrey has made no secret of his desire to use the U.S. presence in Syria for a counter-Iran mission, even if he is uneasy with his Syrian Kurdish partners. He told the Atlantic Council on December 17 that the United States “does not have permanent relationships with substate entities,” referring to the Syrian Kurdish forces, but emphasized that U.S. forces will not leave Syria until all Iranian forces are gone. A few months later, Jeffrey took over McGurk’s office.

“I know Jeffrey and others, they have real passion on Syria. They want to do something on Syria. They want to kick Assad out,” said former Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi. “They want the Syrian people to have the chance to elect their leader.”

Barabandi says that he has talked to Jeffrey “many times” after defecting to America in 2013.

The end result of Jeffrey’s goals may be a plan to cultivate the Arab branch of the SDF as an independent counter-ISIS, counter-Assad force.
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“It had been under consideration,” said Brian Katz, a former CIA military analyst who served as the Secretary of Defense’s country director for Syria in 2016 and 2017. “Some of these efforts were underway.”

Katz also said there were efforts to tone down the ideological bent of the SDF, which reveres the imprisoned left-wing Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. Such a move could reduce the influence of the SDF’s core Kurdish leadership over other factions >>>

Despots in Autumn

Cartoon by Marian Kamensky

Impeachment and the Integrity of Foreign Policy

by Paul R. Pillar

Lobe Log: Amid the stream of impeachment-related developments in recent weeks is a largely overlooked contrast with the cases of the three previous presidents who have faced impeachment: U.S. foreign relations are at the center of the impeachment case against Donald Trump. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson involved a dispute with Congress over presidential appointment powers, embedded in a larger policy disagreement between Johnson and the dominant faction in Congress regarding post-Civil War reconstruction. Richard Nixon’s offenses centered on a cover-up of criminal activity within the United States undertaken for partisan political purposes, along with an associated obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Bill Clinton was impeached for not being forthcoming about a dalliance with an intern. Events beyond the nation’s borders had almost no role in any of those cases. But what has most energized the current movement to impeach Trump has been his subordination of U.S. relations with foreign countries, and specifically Ukraine, to his efforts to dig up dirt on his political opponents.

Setting aside any assessments of Trump’s behavior and how to judge it, the focus on foreign relations ought to be refreshing for anyone who is concerned about U.S. foreign policy and bemoans the deficiency of attention in U.S. politics to many important foreign policy issues. This deficiency is a long-standing pattern, rooted in the simple fact that most American voters naturally care more about what they can see and feel close to home than about aspects of U.S. foreign relations that ultimately may affect their interests but about which they have little or no awareness. Ukraine is a large country that figures prominently in relations with Russia, European security, and post-communist political development, but without the news about Trump’s and Rudy Giuliani’s doings, most Americans would be hard-pressed to identify even the most basic facts about Ukraine.

The foreign relations side of the current news-hogging impeachment story ought to be a teaching moment for the nation about two important principles. One is that U.S. foreign policy and foreign relations should be guided solely by the best interests of the United States as a whole, and not by personal or partisan interests of anyone who happens to hold office at the moment. Violation of this principle means that U.S. interests are being ill-served, because those interests are often different from those of the more personal or partisan variety.

The other principle is that there should be no involvement by foreign countries or foreign interests in domestic U.S. politics, and that no American should countenance such foreign involvement. Violation of this principle also means that U.S. interests, which are never identical with the foreign interests, are ill-served. Moreover, it means that the United States would no longer have a government of, by, and for the American people but instead would partly be of, by, and for someone else.

The Founding Fathers considered these principles important, as reflected in the Federalist Papers. The authors’ priorities were reflected in the fact that, after an introductory essay by Alexander Hamilton, the next four installments, written by John Jay, were on this subject, under the title, “Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence.” A major theme throughout the Federalist Papers’ defense of the newly written U.S. Constitution was the need for unity of Americans, and this applied to foreign relations at least as much as to anything else. As James Madison put it in essay number 42, “If we are to be one nation in any respect, it clearly ought to be in respect to other nations.”

Impediments to Learning

Utilization of the current teaching opportunity faces three major impediments. One is the tendency to conflate the issue of integrity of foreign policy with substantive differences over the content of foreign policy. Important messages regarding the former get muddied by disagreements over the latter. This is happening today, as vociferous attacks on Trump’s Syria policy gets casually lumped together in anti-Trump criticism with his integrity-violating efforts to get foreign governments to find dirt on his political opponents. Notwithstanding any valid criticisms regarding the Syria policy, that problem does not appear to involve, in the same way the Ukraine case does, an improper subordination of a relationship to personal and partisan interests—unless it turns out that Trump’s policies have been motivated by his business interests in Turkey and a desire to stay in good graces with the Turkish president because of those interests.

A second impediment is the complexity of something like the messy Trump/Giuliani/Ukraine story and the difficulty most Americans will have in fully grasping it. The difficulty would be there even without the obfuscation caused by pro-Trump ads that perpetrate blatant lies about Trump’s opponents and the willingness of profit-motivated tech companies and some media outlets to air such ads. The underlying messy story seems to get even more complicated by the day, such as with revelations about the side-games that Giuliani’s associates had been playing in the course of their dirt-digging and for which they have been indicted.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reportedly assessed that the Ukraine caper is an appropriate centerpiece for impeachment partly because it would be easier for the public to understand than many of Trump’s other outrages, including those touched on in Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference and the related obstructions of justice. It remains to be seen if Pelosi is right about that. If the speaker is looking for Trumpian offenses that are easy for the public to understand, she might do better to focus on Trump’s ethically-blind mixing of government and personal business, as highlighted by his attempt to hold the next G-7 summit at one of his under-performing resorts before backing down after widespread criticism of such blatant self-dealing.

Partisan Acceptance of Wrongdoing

The third impediment is that the inclination to see nothing wrong in manipulating foreign relationships to undermine domestic political opponents goes well beyond Trump and his administration. The inclination is rooted in a view, which has become widespread over the last twenty-five years among many who identify with one of the two major parties, that members of the other party are every bit as bad as foreign adversaries and thus deserve to be treated like foreign adversaries. At a Trump rally in Dallas during the past week, one of the warm-up speakers, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, declared that liberals “are not our opponents; they are our enemies.” Or consider the comparison a Republican senator made earlier this year in expressing opposition to any concessions to Iran aimed at easing tensions, saying the Iranians “are almost as bad as the Democrats now.” >>>

Paul R. Pillar is Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

Dear Santa

Cartoon by Joe Dator

Trump’s Gut, and the Gutting of American Credibility

By Roger Cohen

The New York Times: President Trump has given a master class in the unhappy link between his “gut” and the gutting of American credibility. His flippancy over the fate of the Kurds in northern Syria has been criminal in its disregard for human life, America’s friends and American interests. From Trump’s sort-of green light to Turkey’s assault on northern Syria, to his threat to “totally destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy, to his Chamberlain-like dismissal of Kurds’ fate (“We are 7,000 miles away!”), he has played the clown in chief.

America’s word is worth less today than at any time since 1945. Trust is not an easily recoverable commodity. Solemn accords entered into by the United States, like the Iran nuclear deal, are ripped up — and replaced by empty threats. Friends like the Kurds who have shed blood to inflict great harm on the Islamic State are betrayed. Day after day a president for whom facts don’t matter dismantles the idea of truth.

The postwar American-led order was based on treaty undertakings convincing to allies. That’s dead. What will take its place is unclear. Under President Trump “foreign policy” has become an oxymoron. Foreign theater has replaced it — and people die on the bloody stage of Trump’s whims.

Europeans now shrug when they don’t laugh. The consensus is the United States has lost it. There’s nobody home. A child-president in the Oval Office writes a letter to the Turkish leader who appropriately tosses it in the garbage. That’s where we are this week. Next week is anybody’s guess. Trump and uncertainty are synonymous. A rough compass indicates presidential derangement is pointing north.
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Where are we in the Middle East? The short answer is nowhere good. Hard-liners in Iran are exultant, having attacked major Saudi oil facilities with scarcely a whimper from the Saudis or Trump. Moderate Iranian reformists are in retreat. Bashar al-Assad, the gasman-henchman of Vladimir Putin, is ascendant, moving back into northern Syria with Russian help.

Even the Saudis have begun questioning Trump in the light of his yo-yoing behavior toward President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the resultant mayhem that saw ISIS prisoners walk free. A recent report from Patrick Wintour in The Guardian quoted the Saudi ambassador to Britain calling Trump a “tweet monster” and saying the abrupt American troop withdrawal from northern Syria “does not give one incredible confidence.”

There are mutterings about Trump in Israel, too: The Kurds are about the best Middle Eastern friends Israel has. Jared Kushner’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan was always a sick joke. Turkey continues its freelance strategic drift out of the European orbit and NATO responsibilities toward Putin. Those mortal enemies (at least supposedly), Iran and Saudi Arabia, are putting out feelers to each other, having concluded that Trump is all hat and no cattle.

Besides, Trump is several thousand miles away.

A Middle East in which strongmen are reinforced, reform is stillborn, Islamist radicalism thrives, and pluralism is a pipe dream hardens under a president who doesn’t know a moral principle from a Big Mac. Well, you might say, what else is new? American credibility began to erode when Barack Obama abandoned Syria and his red line there.

Sure, but this Middle East demeans the sacrifice of the thousands of Americans who died for something better, and makes a nonsense of the nearly trillion American dollars spent to that end. Trump is not cutting losses; he’s perpetuating them. Iran could not have asked for American chaos more conducive to its interests. Nor could Putin, al-Assad and Erdogan.

The Kurds, with their fledgling democratic institutions and sympathy for the West, have offered something more hopeful in this bleak landscape. But few rules in history are as ironclad as KAGS: Kurds always get shafted. Being a minority in the Middle East is never fun. Being a minority in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria is as bad as it gets.

Promised a state after the Ottoman Empire collapsed in World War I, the Kurds emerged with nothing. Turkey, Iran and Iraq have long made common cause in quashing Kurdish national aspirations, no matter what. Turkey has proved particularly assiduous in this regard, as any visitor to Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey knows. The prominent Kurdish human rights lawyer I spoke to there in 2015, Tahir Elci, was killed a few weeks after I interviewed him. In 1991, the United States urged the Kurds of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein, only to allow many to be slaughtered.

Still, Trump’s abandonment of the Kurdish forces that died by the thousands fighting the Raqqa ISIS caliphate in northern Syria ranks high for sheer perfidy. Trump folded to Turkey’s Kurd Derangement Syndrome. Even the plankton known as the Republican Party were so appalled that some lawmakers developed sufficient backbone to protest.

It’s the Age of Impunity, in the phrase of David Miliband, the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary. Still, I have a hunch some dim tide of reprisal will return to haunt Trump for his recklessness.

“Foreign policy is what I’ll be remembered for,” Trump has said. Damn right.

Roger Cohen has been a columnist for The Times since 2009. His columns appear Wednesday and Saturday. He joined The Times in 1990, and has served as a foreign correspondent and foreign editor. @NYTimesCohen 

Thanks Donald

Cartoon by Robert Rousso

Study group warns ISIS could see resurgence after U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria

PBS NewsHour: A group tasked with studying U.S. policy in Syria warned lawmakers Wednesday that ISIS could see a resurgence because of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Trump’s move allowed Turkey to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurds, who were guarding ISIS fighters and ISIS sympathizers in camps in northern Syria. Since then, hundreds of detainees have escaped.

Members of the Syria Study Group told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that those events pose an opportunity for ISIS to regain strength.

“[ISIS] will replenish its ranks with fighters breaking out of detention facilities today and will prey on vulnerable communities as the humanitarian situation deteriorates,” Dana Stroul, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute and co-chair of the Syria Study Group, told lawmakers.

Stroul urged the U.S. to consider the long-term consequences of its decisions in the Middle East and how that could affect Americans.

“What happens in Syria does not stay in Syria,” she said.

Stroul and her co-chair Michael Singh released the group’s final report with recommendations for U.S. policy in Syria last month, weeks before Trump made the controversial decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

“I wouldn’t want to give the impression that everything was hunky dory before recent decisions. It wasn’t, but in the last few days, things have gotten much worse,” Singh said.

Both Republican and Democratic subcommittee members expressed their dismay with Trump’s moves in Syria.

“President Trump’s irresponsible choice makes the American people less safe,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said.

“I was deeply disappointed by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and effectively greenlight Turkish incursion, putting our Kurdish allies at great peril,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., in his opening remarks during the hearing.

Trump defended his decision in a news conference Wednesday, saying he did not “greenlight” Turkey’s invasion of Syria and that the Kurds are “no angels.”

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to condemn Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops in Syria.


Where were you?

Cartoon by Alan Moir

Trump’s Syria Policy Is a Strategic and Political Disaster

The New Yorker: The Turkish invasion of northern Syria, which Donald Trump green-lighted last week, has already turned into a humanitarian disaster for the Kurds, at least a hundred thousand of whom have been displaced. It is now mushrooming into a strategic disaster for the United States, which appears weak, powerless, and isolated. It also risks turning into a political disaster for Trump, whose bungling incompetence and boundless arrogance may finally be catching up with him. If the analysis of James Mattis, his own former Secretary of Defense, proves accurate, Trump could well go into the 2020 election as the President who allowed ISIS to make a comeback. Arguably, that would be a bigger threat to his prospects of reëlection than the Democrats’ efforts to impeach him.

This was the context for Monday evening’s announcement from the White House that the United States was demanding a ceasefire and imposing economic sanctions on Turkey. In a phone call with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Trump “communicated to him very clearly that the United States of America wants Turkey to stop the invasion, to implement an immediate ceasefire, and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence,” Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters. Pence also said that he and Robert O’Brien, the new national-security adviser, would travel to Turkey for talks.

Trump himself was vague about exactly what he said to Erdoğan. On Twitter, he posted a statement, saying, “I have been perfectly clear with President Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes.” But the statement didn’t say anything about demanding a ceasefire, and in other tweets Trump continued to defend his decision to pull U.S. troops out of the area near the Syria-Turkey border. “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!”

But, despite Trump’s bluster, it was clear that his hands-off approach had backfired so spectacularly that it was no longer sustainable. In recent days, senior Republicans such as Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham joined those criticizing the decision to abandon the Kurds. Even inside the White House, the President was dangerously isolated. “Trump was told on Monday afternoon by advisers that it would be costly not to do anything, that the absence of the United States from the region could strengthen Iran, and that the deteriorating situation could hurt him politically,” the Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim and Karen DeYoung reported on Monday night.

The Administration’s about-turn came after days of alarming news from Syria. Over the weekend, Turkish-backed militias summarily executed Kurds, including a female human-rights activist, and Turkish troops swept deep into Syria to cut off major highways. Even more disturbing, from the perspective of Trump’s political advisers, was a report that hundreds of ISIS fighters had escaped from a prison camp run by the Kurds. Since the U.S.-backed rout of the ISIS caliphate in eastern Syria, about ten thousand Islamic State prisoners have been confined to camps. Last week, a commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the Kurdish fighters, told NBC News that guarding the ISIS camps, for many Kurds, is now a second priority.

Trump may well be correct that most of his supporters, and perhaps even a majority of Americans, are sympathetic to the argument that it is time to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. (The polling on this is a bit ambiguous; a lot depends on how the question is framed.) But there is certainly very little support, particularly among Republicans, for abandoning the U.S. military fight against ISIS. And a resurgence of the terrorist group—a possibility that Mattis warned about over the weekend—could well be disastrous for the President.

Some Democratic Presidential candidates are already seizing on the reports about the ISIS prisoners. “President Trump betrayed our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and endangered our hard-won gains against ISIS. . . . He has failed as Commander-in-Chief to safeguard our country & protect our troops,” Joe Biden tweeted, on Sunday night. On Monday, Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “One week later, we see ISIS fighters escaping and Assad and Russia advancing. This president is not ‘ending an endless war,’ he’s fueling one.”

But it wasn’t just the Democrats who were issuing warnings about the folly of Trump’s policy. “For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate,” McConnell said in a statement, on Monday. “Abandoning this fight now and 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.”

Trump never admits fault, of course, but some of his tweets suggest that he feels vulnerable. “The U.S. has the worst of the ISIS prisoners,” he wrote in a tweet, on Sunday night. “Turkey and the Kurds must not let them escape. Europe should have taken them back after numerous requests. They should do it now. They will never come to, or be allowed in, the United States!” Trump was referring to reports that, in the hours before the Turkish invasion, members of the U.S. Special Forces had detained some of the most notorious ISIS members, including two dubbed “the Beatles,” who are believed to be responsible for the torture and murder of U.S. journalists and British aid workers. But these detentions did nothing to secure the bulk of the ISIS prisoners, and neither did Trump’s tweet. On Monday morning, he tried to shift the blame. In another pair of tweets, he wrote, “Europe had a chance to get their ISIS prisoners, but didn’t want the cost. ‘Let the USA pay,’ they said. . . . Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming!” >>>

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for

No Kurd Pro Quo

Cartoon by R.J. Matson

We need the real story of why Trump sold out the Kurds

By Frida Ghitis

CNN: What was President Donald Trump thinking when he abruptly announced that he had agreed to reverse years of US policy in Syria and withdraw American forces, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an attack on what had been loyal US allies, handing a long-sought victory to America's foes, including Iran and Russia.

Indeed, Trump's decision came as a shock to America's Kurdish friends in Syria, who reportedly found out about America's betrayal from a tweet. "You are leaving us to be slaughtered," a Syrian Kurd leader told a US diplomat.

Americans on the ground knew it. They knew many would die. Some Green Berets there said they felt "ashamed." US allies worried that if Trump (meaning the United States) can suddenly betray its friends without warning, they could be next.

The decision, made after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, caused an easy-to-foresee chain reaction of disasters so egregious, that even many of Trump's most loyal Republican backers were appalled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has bent and broken rules and norms to defend Trump, warned that a sudden withdrawal of US forces, "would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime." Sen. Lindsay Graham called the move, "the biggest blunder of [Trump's] presidency." Rep. Liz Cheney called it a "shameful disaster."

Late on Monday, Trump announced new economic sanctions against Turkey for its "destabilizing actions in northeast Syria." If nothing else, this is an acknowledgment that the removal of US troops was a grievous mistake. But that in no way excuses it; rather, it highlights how disastrously incoherent, chaotic and contradictory the policy is.

Trump's Syria decision is so harmful, that it is imperative we find out what was behind it. What exactly did Trump and Erdogan say to each other on that phone call? Why did Trump agree to stand back and allow Erdogan's forces -- the Turkish army and Islamist militias -- to make their move?

These are compelling questions that demand an answer. Congress should require that Trump turn over a complete transcript or recording of the call with Erdogan. In fact, we also need to find out what exactly Trump has discussed with Putin on this issue. The transcripts don't need to be released to the public. Maybe a joint committee of Congress or even a panel of judges can hear the evidence. But the steps and reasoning that led to this catastrophic self-inflicted wound on American security and standing in the world must be scrutinized.

If Trump refuses, we will know he has something to hide.

American presidents enjoy a great deal of latitude, particularly on foreign policy. Trump, like his predecessors, has a right to make the wrong strategic decisions. He has a right to make stupid mistakes. God knows previous US presidents have made them before. But presidents must make these decisions, even foolish ones, based on what they think is in the best interest of the United States.

Rudi WHO-liani

Cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz

Lawyer: Giuliani associate 'being cooperative' with House impeachment probe

KTBS: The House Intelligence Committee and one of Rudy Giuliani's associates have reached "an understanding" for now to avoid a closed-door deposition over any knowledge he may have of Giuliani's efforts to push the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, according to the associate's attorney.

The committee had scheduled a deposition with Semyon Kislin, the Giuliani associate, for Monday, sending a letter earlier this month demanding a wide range of information related to President Donald Trump's personal attorney's efforts to push for an investigation into the Bidens and what he may know about the freezing of US aid for Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden in Ukraine.

Kislin's attorney Jeffrey Dannenberg told CNN his client was "being cooperative" with the House panel but had no knowledge to advance the inquiry.

Kislin was one of three Giuliani associates that received requests for documents and testimony from House Democrats. The other two, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were indicted last week on charges of funneling foreign money into US elections, and were served with subpoenas last week by the House Intelligence Committee to turn over documents. But it had been unclear why Kislin had not been issued a subpoena.

On Monday, Dannenberg told CNN that he reached an agreement with the House committee so that Kislin did not have to appear for the scheduled deposition. Dannenberg said his client was being responsive to the committee, and that Kislin "has no such information" to share with House investigators relevant to the impeachment inquiry.

"Following an understanding reached with counsel for the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Kislin will not be appearing for an interview or deposition today," Dannenberg said. "Mr. Kislin is not refusing to cooperate with the Committee's requests. I continue to communicate with the Committee's counsel to satisfy the Committee that Mr. Kislin has no knowledge of any matters relevant to the pending impeachment inquiry."

A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee did not respond to a request for comment on Kislin.

Parnas and Fruman have been of high interest to Democrats in part because they worked with Giuliani to remove former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from her post earlier this year. It's unclear what information Kislin could have about that effort.

Kislin is a longtime aide to Giuliani. His website says he was on Giuliani's Council of Economic Advisers when Giuliani was mayor of New York.

The committees requested he provide documents related to Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens, and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired Hunter Biden; to the freezing of US aid to Ukraine and any communications with former Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who consulted with Parnas and Fruman.

CNN's Sam Fossum contributed to this report.


By Mana Neyestani

Syria Retreat

Cartoon by Marco De Angelis

Trump's Syria Retreat Will Mostly Benefit Russia and Iran, Former CIA Deputy Director Warns

Newsweek: A former deputy director of the CIA has cited President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria as evidence of the commander in chief's "impulsive and reckless instincts" which have left the administration rudderless.

In an article published by Ozy, John McLaughlin condemned Trump for abandoning America's Kurdish allies in Syria, who have subsequently come under attack by Turkish forces. He also suggested that two of America's biggest rivals—Russia and Iran—would be the ultimate beneficiaries.

McLaughlin called the decision "a disaster on multiple levels." He explained the withdrawal "illustrates not only his reckless instincts on foreign policy but also the near-total absence of a process for making momentous decisions in his administration."

The long-time intelligence official said Trump's strategy could be described as "reverse gear" foreign policy. "Make the decision in a tweet or with a tiny group of advisers, throw it out the door, let people—including experienced foreign policy hands—react, then flip-flop if a critical mass of objections appears."

Such an approach, he argued, leaves other nations "shaking their heads and wondering: what is U.S. policy and how is it made?"

Trump's Syria withdrawal prompted criticism from across the political spectrum. The president has defended his actions, suggesting there is no longer a need for U.S. troops to be stationed in northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, now fighting the invading Turkish army and its proxies, bore the brunt of the Western-backed campaign against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). At least 12,000 SDF fighters were killed in the fighting.

At a rambling Wednesday press conference, however, Trump told reporters that the U.S. "have spent a tremendous amount of money helping the Kurds…They're fighting for their land. When you say they're fighting with the U.S., yes. But they're fighting for their land."

Trump also appeared to try and justify his decision based on the fact that Kurdish soldiers did not fight alongside Americans in the Second World War. He said the Kurds "didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy as an example—they mention the names of different battles, they weren't there."

McLaughlin suggested that Syria remains important "if you see merit in maintaining U.S. international leadership and think it matters to keep promises to close allies." The country is "the touchstone for America's reputation in the Middle East, and our policy there will be judged by other countries around the world," he added.

The Turkish offensive will let up the pressure on surviving ISIS fighters, who are still fighting a guerrilla war across Syria, Iraq and further afield. They are not, despite Trump's repeated claims, a defeated force. "Weakening the Kurds will clear part of the path for its renewal," McLaughlin warned.

Ultimately, the U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria "means the U.S. will surrender most of its influence in resolving what many countries see as the key political, military and humanitarian conflict of this decade," McLaughlin wrote.

"The kingmakers will be U.S. rivals Russia and Iran, working with a wandering U.S. ally, Turkey. For many close U.S. friends, the world will seem to have turned upside down."