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The IAEA’S Blind Spots on Iran’s Nuclear Program

On April 9, Iranian President Rouhani boasted that “today and throughout the past year, we have launched 114 new technologies via the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. This is the message to the world: You have not succeeded, and you will not succeed in preventing the progress and development of the Iranian people and their nuclear program. If yesterday you feared our IR-1 centrifuges, well, here you go!”

He has reason to boast. The 2015 Iranian nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama was extremely weak, but yet, given its weaknesses, the agency that was established to monitor Iran’s compliance has been exceedingly lax.

On April 4, The Wall Street Journal reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspected a warehouse in Tehran that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year said housed nuclear equipment and materials. When negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal, we had been assured constantly by President Obama of “anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Six months elapsed from the speech until the inspection. The question is what took the IAEA so long?

David Albright and Andrea Stricker of the Institute of Science and International Security noted in a paper published earlier this month that the IAEA inspection took place only after the Islamic Republic had the opportunity to empty the site and clean it up. “In short,” they wrote, “the IAEA visits in March 2019 are like looking for a horse when the barn door has been left open for many months.”

But this is far from the only failure of the IAEA to ensure that Iran was complying with the deal.

In his statement announcing the implementation of the nuclear deal in January 2016, President Obama said, “On January 16, 2016, the IAEA verified that Iran has completed the necessary steps under the Iran deal that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.”

The problem is that we have learned subsequently that the IAEA did not, then, have full knowledge of Iran’s past nuclear-weapons work. In January of 2018, Israeli intelligence recovered a half-ton of material documenting the advances Iran made in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Subsequent examination of the archives by weapons’ experts at the Institute of Science and International Security, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), found that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was more advanced than previously thought.

In a paper published in February, Albright, Stricker and Olli Heinonen of FDD, wrote that “this new information in the archive indicates that Iran might still be in breach of its nuclear nonproliferation undertakings.”

Yet the IAEA still has not acted upon the information contained in the nuclear archive that was obtained by Israeli intelligence, even though it would give them greater insight into the full scope of Iran’s nuclear-weapons research.

The IAEA didn’t just fail to pursue the information in the archives. Even before Israel recovered the documents, the nuclear watchdog failed to verify other elements of Iran’s compliance.

An IAEA official told Reuters in August 2017 that the agency saw no need to demand access to Iran’s military sites. Following talks with then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the IAEA official said, “We’re not going to visit a military site like Parchin just to send a political signal.”

By refusing to inspect military sites like Parchin, the IAEA is sending a much different political signal than what the official thinks. It signals a policy of appeasement.

These failures of the IAEA—the failure to follow up on the nuclear archive, the refusal to demand access to military sites and others—show that the agency that is supposed to verify Iran’s compliance with the deal has given too much leeway to the Islamic Republic.

It would appear that the IAEA’s role in the nuclear deal is to validate it—ensure that nothing, not even Iranian violations, undermines it—not to verify it.

In announcing the implementation of the deal, President Obama guaranteed that Iran would be “subjected to the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime.”

The record over the past three years is that the IAEA, the agency charged with the inspections, has been anything but “comprehensive” and “intrusive.” It has refused to investigate certain suspicions and, in the case of the warehouse, taken its time allowing Iran plenty of time to clean up illicit nuclear sites.

With all of these lapses, how can the IAEA be an effective force in preventing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons?

Originally published: https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-iaeas-blind-spots-on-irans-nuclear-program/

Photo: Getty Images

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The Caliphate Is Dead, but the Threat Remains

The U.S.-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces just finished off the last remaining territory held by the Islamic State in Baghouz, Syria, bordering Iraq. This is a significant achievement, especially as the U.S. presence in Syria will eventually shrink down to 400 troops from 2,000. Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF Press Office, conveyed on Twitter, “as the SDF continue the final push against whatever remains of so-called caliphate, jihadists are surrendering en masse…Between 1,500 to 2,000 fighters and their families surrendered to our forces within 24 hours.”

While the SDF will continue to battle what remains of ISIS, they certainly do not have the tools or capabilities to make sure that those who surrendered don’t rise again. The shrinking of U.S. forces continues to be ill-timed. Former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, also tweeted, “Given this serious situation in Syria and the SDF now holding thousands of ISIS fighters and families, the last thing we should do is plan to withdraw 90 percent of the American force. Makes no sense. The SDF needs more support right now, not less.” U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress, “What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization — but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge.”

In other words, ISIS is not defeated, and ISIS will likely reemerge.

I believe that it is in the interest of national security in the United States to preserve northeast Syria, secured by the SDF, through a no-fly zone. This would be realistic given the organized, disciplined, and representative force of the SDF, — which is willing to defend its territory from Iran, the Assad regime, Russia, and Turkey — and which has successfully done so against ISIS. A no-fly zone, along with some U.S. troops, would allow the U.S. to strategically place itself where our adversaries don’t want us, keep away vital natural resources from Iran and the Assad regime, prepare to respond to any threats coming from Shiite militias, and gradually diminish the need to rely on our problematic partner, Turkey, and its Incirlik Airbase.

I also believe that the U.S. must take the next step to recognize the Syrian Democratic Council as the legitimate governing body of an autonomous region in the northeast of Syria. Just as the SDF is composed of local forces, including Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians, the SDC is similarly pluralistic. The core idea behind the SDC is the ability to be inclusive of genders, nationality, and religion, without attempting to alter Syria’s sovereign borders. A stable region within Syria, largely free from President Bashar Assad, is crucial for the betterment of those that have survived the near decade-long civil war. Recognizing the SDC will allow Syrians to eventually choose for themselves whether they want to continue to live under Assad or stay with the decentralized and autonomous local government system east of the Euphrates. Additionally, recognizing the SDC will allow them to openly conduct trade relations with neighbors and regional partners.

The SDF, SDC, and the 79-member Global Coalition has taken away Assad’s lifeline by holding on to northeast Syria. The Assad regime is cash-strapped; relieving the pressure now would be a grave mistake. Assad may have retaken large swaths of territory west of the Euphrates river, but most of Syria’s assets are east of the Euphrates. He needs to take them back, and the U.S. presence there blocks him from doing so. The U.S. should hold its ground.

Originally published: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/the-caliphate-is-dead-but-the-threat-remains

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US Must Acknowledge Lebanon, Turkey No Longer True Allies

Photo: (John Grummitt/Dreamstime.com

Recently, the Trump administration made news by breaking with fifty years of U.S. policy and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The Golan Heights, of course, is mountainous territory that Israel conquered in a defensive war from Syria back in 1967. Israel extended Israeli law to the area in 1980, thereby annexing it.

Periodically, those in the peace process camp would propose that Israel trade the Golan for peace with the Assad regime. Luckily, Israel never did so; otherwise, today the Islamic Republic of Iran would be stationing its men and missiles on the Heights, and threatening not just Israel, but Jordan as well. But even though the U.S. had a national interest in keeping the Israelis in the Golan, it took President Trump, with his willingness to go against the conventional wisdom, to recognize the reality of the situation, and stop being afraid of the (supposedly) explosive “Arab Street.”

Recognizing reality is a good thing. And we need a whole lot more of it, when it comes to the Middle East. All too often, foreign policy makers in the U.S. get stuck in the past, and refuse to reevaluate policies that have long since become moot or counterproductive.

Here is one example: in 2005, after the (likely) Hezbollah orchestrated assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri, the people of that nation — including most religious groups in Lebanon, with the possible exception of the Shia community — went to the streets to protest the continuing occupation of Lebanon by Syria, and to demand more democracy. As a result, Syrian troops were pulled out, and eventually, Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, became Prime Minister. Hezbollah, the terrorist militia that Iran had established in Lebanon, which was aligned with the Syrians, was weakened considerably.

In 2006, to build on these positive developments, the U.S. began supplying military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).

U.S. policy makers hoped that this aid, which over the years has included Hellfire missiles, A 29 Super Tocano aircraft, and M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, would help to make the LAF a powerful counterbalance to Hezbollah. This should not be surprising, as Hezbollah is a bitter enemy of the U.S., having more American blood on its hands than any other terror group excepting al-Qaeda.

In the end, however, the LAF proved to be no match for Hezbollah.

Today, Hezbollah basically controls the Lebanese nation, and the LAF has essentially become an “auxiliary” of the terror militia. The cooperation between Hezbollah and the LAF has become so close that the two sometimes patrol the same villages togethershare uniforms and equipment, and conduct joint military operations.

But the U.S. continues to provide military aid to the LAF, a total of $1.7 billion so far.

If Hezbollah goes to war against Israel, as Hezbollah often threatens to do, it is likely that U.S. military equipment will be used by that terror organization against our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East. Needless to say, this is not in line with the United States’ national interest.

Here is another example; prior to the 2000’s, Turkey was a strong NATO partner of the U.S. But beginning in 2003, when (now) President Recep Erdogan first gained power, that nation slowly began to turn against the U.S., and against the West and democracy itself.

In 2003, Turkey refused to allow the U.S. to use the Incirlik military in the invasion of Iraq.

Since then, Turkey has violated international oil sanctions on Iran, allowed men and supplies to flow through Turkey to reinforce the Islamic State, and now threatens to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia. Plus, Turkey continues to attack U.S. allies in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, because the SDF started as a Kurdish militia, and Erdogan hates and fears the Kurds. Turkey also routinely threatens other U.S. allies, like Greece and Israel. Turkey has even grabbed American hostages.

Yet many in the U.S. government continue to pretend Turkey is still a trusted ally of the U.S. Both President Trump, and former President Obama, have relied on President Erdogan’s advice when formulating U.S. foreign policy. Reportedly, Erdogan was able to persuade President Trump to call for the removal of all the U.S. troops from Syria, which would have given Turkey the opportunity to invade and crush the SDF. Fortunately, President Trump reconsidered his decision.

Had this troop removal taken place, it would have been a huge mistake by the U.S. The U.S. had gone to great trouble to persuade the SDF to be the ground forces against the Islamic State in Raqqa and elsewhere in Syria. If, after the completion of that war against the physical caliphate (but with ISIS still a threat), the U.S. then abandoned the SDF to the Turks, the word would have gone out that the U.S. was not a loyal ally. Further, unlike in Afghanistan or Iraq, there was little pressure on the administration to remove these troops, as there have been few casualties since they were sent to Syria in 2014. Finally, by keeping the U.S. troops there, other enemy nations like Iran, Russia, and the Assad forces are blocked from expanding their areas of control in Syria.

The U.S. needs to recognize the reality of Lebanon and Turkey. At this time, both nations are led by enemies of the United States. President Trump needs to act accordingly.

Originally published: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/lebanon-turkey-golan-heights-trump/2019/04/03/id/910048/

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Roll Call Smears Jewish Groups That Called for Omar’s Removal From House Committee

Roll Call Smears Jewish Groups That Called for Omar’s Removal From House Committee

By: Adam Kredo
The Washington Free Beacon
March 6, 2019

Roll Call is facing backlash after one of its reporters attempted to discredit a recent effort by a group of leading Jewish and pro-Israel organizations to see Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee following a series of anti-Semitic statements that drew widespread condemnation.

To read the full article, click here: https://freebeacon.com/issues/roll-call-smears-jewish-groups-that-called-for-omars-removal-from-house-committee/ 

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EMET’s Statement on the Sense of Congress Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism

EMET’s Statement on the Sense of Congress Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism

The Sense of Congress Resolution condemning anti-Semitism is a hollow exercise and is far from sufficient. It is wholly insufficient because Representative Omar has demonstrated over and over again that she is comfortable issuing vile anti-Semitic attacks on a Jewish minority who once thought America was a safe place to live.

The time is gone for “feel good” resolutions that vaguely oppose anti-Semitism.  Who would oppose a resolution criticizing anti-Semitism or any other sort of racism?

House Democrats should do the right thing. They should censure Rep. Omar and immediately remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee where she sits. This would send an unmistakable message that Democratic leaders and its rank will not tolerate anti-Semitism in the House of Representatives and that Rep. Omar must be held accountable.

Speaker Pelosi, Holocaust survivors are still alive in the United States who remember the horror of that ugly time. Their children also lived their parent’s agony and persecution as they grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust.

They and all Jews who felt they were safe in America are now nervous again.  They are hearing the repetition of the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes from another loud political leader.

They are simply astonished that today there is an anti-Semite prospering in the halls of Congress who operates freely without any sanction.  And they are worried as they see others outside the Congress cheer on Rep. Omar for her despicable attacks on Jewish Americans.

Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic majority owe it to the Jewish community to take concrete action. We are depending on your good sense and your intolerance for the scourge of anti-Semitism to do the right thing.

Ms. Omar was appropriately rebuked by Speaker Pelosi on February 11 which prompted her to send out a perfunctory apology.  However, within weeks, she again invoked another ugly classic anti-Semitic canard, invoking the widely discredited position that Jewish Members of Congress demonstrate “dual loyalty” between the United States and Israel.

What is even more troubling is the fact that on February 23, Ms. Omar addressed a fundraising event for Islamic Relief USA.  Islamic Relief is a “charity” with documented operational ties to terrorist organizations. Years ago, UAE and Israel designated Islamic Relief as a terrorist organization.

Ms. Omar’s support for terrorists is nothing new.  In 2016, while a state representative from Minnesota, she wrote a letter to a judge asking for leniency for nine Minnesota men who made plans to join ISIS, including the purchase of fake passports to travel to Syria. This is ISIS, who considers the United States the ultimate enemy. This is ISIS, which engaged in the most barbaric acts of brutality, such as burning people alive in cages, chopping off their heads, and killing thousands of Christians, Yazidis and even other Muslims, not as extreme as themselves.

A person with these sorts of inclinations should never be allowed to sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This is a Committee where Ms. Omar will have access to highly classified and sensitive documents.

By allowing her to remain on this Committee, our national security interests and those of our one democratic ally in the region, Israel, might well be severely compromised.

Rep. Omar should be promptly censured and immediately removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Anything short of that simply rings hollow.

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Exclusive: Leading Jewish Groups Demand Anti-Semitic Omar Be Removed From Foreign Affairs Committee

Exclusive: Leading Jewish Groups Demand Anti-Semitic Omar Be Removed From Foreign Affairs Committee

Jewish groups slam Omar’s anti-Semitic language, ties to groups advocating terrorism

By: Adam Kredo
The Washington Free Beacon

A group of leading Jewish organizations petitioned the House of Representative’s top Democrats on Monday, demanding that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) be removed from her position on the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in light of her numerous anti-Semitic remarks and ties to groups that advocate terrorism against Jewish people, according to a copy of a letter exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

 

Entire article is available here: https://freebeacon.com/national-security/exclusive-leading-jewish-groups-demand-anti-semitic-omar-be-removed-from-foreign-affairs-committee/

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Iran Is Obviously Violating the JCPOA

Recently, the CIA Director, Gina Haspel, and the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, made news by testifying before Congress regarding Iran.

During the hearing, Haspel stated that Iran, “at the moment, technically they’re in compliance” with the deal. Coats said, “We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

I would love to know their evidence for these assertions.

For one thing, we already know of many Iranian violations (or likely violations) of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA). The Iranians have produced excess heavy water, illegally, at least twice, which they sold for profit. The Iranians have exceeded the limits on advanced centrifuge research and development, by assembling more than a half dozen IR-8 rotor assemblies and operating 13-15 IR-6 centrifuges in a single cascade. (Luckily, their efforts have largely been a failure.) Iran is likely violating Section T of the deal, which explicitly bans Iran from “activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” such as using computer models that simulate a nuclear bomb, or designing multi-point, explosive detonation systems. German intelligence has reported that in 2015 and 2016, when the U.S. was still part of the JCPOA, Iran attempted more than one hundred times to obtain illicit nuclear technology, which may be in violation of the deal. In 2015, Tehran violated the deal by refusing to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigating the Possible Military Dimensions of the nuclear program. (In 2018, Israel exposed much of what the Iranians had been hiding from the IAEA.)

Most recently, as an Iranian official admitted, Iran did not dismantle the core of the plutonium reactor at Arak, as required by the deal. He even bragged about tricking the international inspectors and the West with photoshopped pictures from the Arak plutonium reactor’s core.

For another, the IAEA inspectors — and the West itself — are severely limited in their ability to monitor Iranian compliance with the deal. This is because Iran has barred any outside inspectors from inspecting military sites in Iran. As an Iranian official said rather dramatically, “Iran’s military sites are off limits. All information about these sites are classified. Iran will never allow such visits. Don’t pay attention to such remarks that are only a dream.” Other Iranian leaders have echoed these statements.

This Iranian refusal to allow international inspections of its’ military sites is itself a violation of the Iran deal. The relevant language of the JCPOA states (see Annex I, Q Access, pg. 23):

“Requests for access pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made in good faith, with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities under this JCPOA. In line with normal international safeguards practice, such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities, but will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran’s other non-proliferation and safeguards obligations. The following procedures are for the purpose of JCPOA implementation between the E3/EU+3 and Iran and are without prejudice to the safeguards agreement and the Additional Protocol thereto. In implementing this procedure as well as other transparency measures, the IAEA will be requested to take every precaution to protect commercial, technological and industrial secrets as well as other confidential information coming to its knowledge.”

This language does not by itself create an exemption for military sites.

Immediately after this paragraph, the process of IAEA inspections is detailed in the JCPOA. In summary, for undeclared nuclear facilities, including military sites, the IAEA is granted access, although the process may be lengthy — as long as 69 days — if the Iranians dispute the need. Once again, there is no language carving out an exception for military sites.

Unfortunately, rather than expose the Iranians, the IAEA has instead provided cover to Iran by simply refusing to ask for inspections of any military sites. However, this does not make the Iranian ban on international inspections of military sites any less of a violation of the JCPOA.

Many of these violations, including exceeding the limits on advanced centrifuges and violating section T, would also seem to be “key activities” that are “necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

So is the Iranian testing of ballistic missiles (although it is not a violation of the JCPOA or of UN Resolution 2231). Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written:

“The ballistic-missile program is particularly problematic. Given that the Iranians are exploiting a loophole that the Obama administration permitted in the relevant UN Security Council resolution to plow ahead with developing missiles potentially capable of delivering nuclear weapons, it is wholly false for advocates of the deal to argue that the JCPOA has halted, frozen, or suspended Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Such a program has three main parts—development, weaponization, and delivery—and ballistic missiles are an integral part of that. In other words, critical aspects of the program are moving ahead, deal or no deal.”

If ballistic missile testing is an “integral part” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, then it would presumably also be a “key activity” that is “necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.”

Of course, the CIA Director and the DNI have access to classified information that the rest of us don’t. But it is hard to believe that this classified information contradicts all of the open source information mentioned above. And it is important to remember that the CIA and U.S. intelligence has been wrong before, whether it be in Iraq, in North Korea, in India, or in Iran itself.

U.S. intelligence needs to reevaluate their findings regarding Iran and its nuclear weapons program. The simple fact of the matter is that Iran is violating the JCPOA, and it is also “currently undertaking the key activities … necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

Adam Turner is the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs Director for the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

Originally Published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/gina-haspel-dan-coats-iran-jcpoa/2019/02/14/id/902775/

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The US Withdrawal from Syria, the Kurdish Perspective

American administrations are known to betray the Kurds, this is no secret. The Kurds are often viewed as secondary and sometimes third actors. The Americans have never had a sole policy aimed at moving the Kurds closer to their aspirations of statehood. Not surprising, the status quo lens in which Americans have viewed the Middle East has only brought anxiety to the Kurds. The US withdrawal in Syria is a continuation of the same policy. Despite this, the Kurds still look to the Americans for protection. The reality is, Kurds cannot rely on regional powers for protection, largely because it has been these same regional powers – Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria who have committed grave human rights violations against their existence. Therefore, America is the only solution.

The withdrawal of US troops from Syria was expected but not this soon. President Trump announced to withdraw early 2018, he later backed off. The tweet in December 2018 was a simple follow up, that time has run out. The problem was that no one was prepared on the ground in Syria, many were emboldened by the shifting US policy of “maximizing pressure” on Iran as repeatedly stated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Caught off guard, the Kurdish forces organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) scrambled to find answers. Not even their American counterparts had answers, they were just as shocked at the president’s decision.

The situation in Syria is clear. The Islamic State is not defeated. The caliphate is no more, but there still remains 20-30 thousand fighters. Assad is the winner west of the Euphrates. Iran has penetrated itself in Syria for the long term with its own agenda. Russia aims to be the top decision maker as the US loses its appetite for any presence in the country. While Turkey’s ultimate goal is to prevent any self-autonomous Kurdish region in northeast Syria, at any cost. Russia, Iran, Turkey all have an agreement, with Assad as the Symbolic winner. The US is nowhere to be seen, and the Kurds left to fend for themselves.

The Kurdish demands in Syria as I wrote here prioritizes a no-fly zone, a prevention of Turkish invasion that includes a so-called “safe zone,” proposed by the Turks, the US endorsement of Kurdish-led administration and for the US to mediate between the Kurds and Turks to generate economic opportunities similar to that of the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey.

The Kurds to date have had open lines with all sides, perhaps this has been their advantage. This is largely due to the expected American vacuum that would be left long before the President’s announcement. Despite their military alliance with the Americans, Kurds have had negotiations with Russia and even Assad to guarantee them a degree of autonomy. All talks have failed. Assad aims to regain control east of the Euphrates without giving any concessions to Kurds largely because he believes he can as the Kurds slowly lose US support and face Turkish threats.

By not putting all their cards into one basket (the US), the Kurds are attempting to pave the way to try to prevent a Turkish invasion by positioning Assad’s forces on the Syrian-Turkish border with Russia’s blessing. However, this may mean Kurds lose the leverage they have in that part of the country.

It is up to the Kurds to calculate the risks, should they wait for the US to negotiate on their behalf with the Turks, with the chance of still keeping their territories? Or should they give up on the Americans and fully engage Damascus, undermining the US before it withdraws, to avoid a Turkish invasion and risk losing their territories? That is the harsh reality the Kurds face.

The gains made by the Syrian Democratic Forces have come at a huge cost, nearly 10,000 fighters lost. A pre-2011 Syria with Assad at the helm would be catastrophic to not only the Kurds but for other minorities and would signal to the region that you can kill over 600,000 civilians, target half your population and force them to be refugees and IDPs and still get away with it all. This is the message if the global coalition, led by the United States abandons the Kurds. For Kurds, anything less than autonomy in Syria is a loss.

Originally published at: https://www.turkeyinstitute.org.uk/commentary/the-us-withdrawal-from-syria-the-kurdish-perspective/

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US Should Keep Troops in Syria

Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

On December 19, 2018, President Donald Trump announced by tweet that he was withdrawing all the estimated 2,200 American troops currently in Syria.

The president wrote, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Trump also promised in a video message on Twitter that, “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won.”

About 2,000 of these troops direct the air and land war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in coordination with the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). The remaining 200 are at al-Tanf, a crucial base at the Syrian-Iraqi border which blocks Iran from completing its land bridge to Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. In both areas, the U.S. troops have only very rarely been exposed to combat situations.

Since his initial announcement, the president and his aides have somewhat walked back these tweets.

For that, I am glad. I strongly believe the U.S. should keep its troops in Syria.

As I see it, there are at least three national interests that favor the U.S. staying the course there.

First, the U.S. clearly has a national interest in destroying ISIS. ISIS had conducted numerous attacks — both in the Middle East and outside of it — against Americans, killing and wounding many of them. It even executed some U.S. reporters. And unfortunately, ISIS is still a threat; the UN has reported that ISIS may have up to 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, plus there are ISIS sympathizers in the U.S.

Second, the U.S. has a national interest in keeping true to its alliance with the Kurds/SDF. It is important to remember that the Syrian Kurds originally only had an interest in pushing back ISIS from Kurdish majority areas. But at the behest of the U.S., the Kurds aligned with other moderate Syrian forces to create the SDF and act as the ground forces for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in non-Kurdish areas as well. They went as far south as Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, which is overwhelmingly Arabic in population. Thousands of Syrian Kurds/fighters from the SDF were killed or wounded in this fighting.

In return for the SDF efforts, the U.S. promised to supply the SDF with weapons and equipment and to provide the air power for strikes against ISIS. But the U.S. provided another service to the SDF as well. By stationing troops within SDF controlled territory, the U.S. was able to deter attacks from other bad actors, especially Turkey. This allowed the SDF to focus on destroying ISIS.

However, in SDF dominated areas that didn’t have U.S. troops, like in Afrin, Turkey was able to invade and crush the SDF. This invasion delayed the SDF’s campaign against ISIS. Therefore, if the U.S. removes the troops from the other areas controlled by the SDF, the Turks are likely to invade again, and the fight against ISIS would be further delayed.

Even worse, removing U.S. troops from Syria would disincentivize the SDF, and other observing groups/nations, from making any future deals with the unreliable U.S. This seems to violate the Trump doctrine. According to Sebastian Gorka (see 29:00), the Trump doctrine calls for the U.S. to help our friends fight their own wars for themselves. It is specifically meant to create trust between the U.S. and our allies. Removing the U.S. troops would do just the opposite with our SDF allies who are fighting their wars for themselves and for the U.S., but are also relying on the U.S. for support.

Third, the U.S. has a national interest in not allowing its enemies/rivals, such as Russia and Iran, to gain control or influence over more Syrian territory. Russia, of course, has long been a super power opponent of the U.S. Iran, meanwhile, is even more dangerous. The Iranian regime preaches “death to America” and has sponsored numerous acts of war against the U.S. If the U.S. troops leave Syria, the SDF will be forced to cooperate with those two nations and their puppet, the Assad regime. In fact, it is already happening. Removal of the U.S. troops will also allow Iran to solidify its ‘Shia crescent’ land bridge from Iran to Lebanon, on which it has transported soldiers, weapons, and missiles, and thus endanger the U.S., international shipping, as well as U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

An evaluation of the costs further demonstrates the wisdom of keeping U.S. troops in Syria.

Since 2014, the Defense Department has spent roughly $45 billion in Syria, or roughly $7 billion a year, out of a full annual defense budget of $600-700 billion. More importantly, there have been very few U.S. casualties in Syria. Only 6 American’s have been killed since 2014. (Another 4 U.S. soldiers have died while serving as volunteers with the SDF.)

I understand that many Americans are tired of the “endless” wars in the Middle East. And I get that they are greatly concerned with the high cost of these wars for American ‘blood’ and ‘treasure.’ But the U.S. troops in Syria are safeguarding important U.S. national interests, and they are doing so at virtually no cost to the U.S. We should not be removing them at this time.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/syria-trump-troops-isis/2019/01/16/id/898488/ 

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Retreat from Syria Will Cause the Region to Combust

Photo: REUTERS / Rodi Said

Ever since World War II, the United States has had a foreign policy where it supports its democratic allies and friends, and opposes its enemies. Today, in a simplistic tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump has just reversed this sound, longstanding American policy.

The critically important tweet read: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the evacuation orders have been given. As I write these words, some 2,200 U.S. service men and women are packing up their bags to leave Syria within the next 24 hours.

This is perhaps the most ruinous idea for the region since Obama’s 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Both ideas have emboldened, enriched and empowered Iran—the greatest regional threat not just to Israel, but to the United States, which is patently apparent in their regime’s hostile rhetoric.

Both ideas, along with President Barack Obama’s unenforced “red line,” have created a power vacuum in Syria, where not only Iran but America’s other adversaries and potential enemies, such as Russia under Vladmir Putin, Syria under Bashar Assad and Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, immediately have swooped in to fill the void.

If America is not there on the ground, it will not have a seat at the table regarding the potential outcome of this Syrian war.

This precipitous exit can only come from someone who lacks even the most fundamental   understanding of the nature of the Middle East, as well as the psychology of some of the actors. ISIS might be nearly defeated in its present form. However, the struggle for the members of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups is a passionate, ideological one. They might suffer a temporary defeat in battle, but they are convinced that they will eventually win the war.

Much like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that went underground under the years of Mubarak—only to re-emerge under Mohamed Morsi—ISIS is likely to re-incarnate itself and emerge in a stronger form, such as the Al-Nusra Front.

Beyond ISIS (in whatever future incarnation it might decide to take), there is an entire array of complex threats in the region that will emanate from Syrian borders, which include but are not limited to Iran, with its proxy organizations the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah. These nefarious forces are becoming more and more entrenched in southern Syria, and are as far south as Quinetra.

Bearing in mind that earlier this month, Iran fired a medium-range ballistic-missile test that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “is capable of carrying multiple warheads,” this leaves Israel totally exposed in its northern border.

I have often argued that there should be synergy between our foreign policy, and what is ethical and right. America has always been, hitherto now, a moral beacon, or as President Ronald Reagan had called it, “that shining city on the Hill.”

Moral beacons do not desert their friends.

What sort of message does this send to our friends in the region? We will be throwing the Kurds, our allies who have shed their blood together with us defeating ISIS, to the wolves? How does that make our other allies in other troubled regions of the world feel? What incentive would there be for other nations, such as Japan or South Korea, to trust us and want to ally themselves with us?

Throughout American history, there has been a familiar cycle of such isolationist tendencies. All of these have been like waving a rare, sizzling steak to the voracious, hungry dogs in the region.

One such example was the “America First Committee,” founded prior to World War II by Charles Lindbergh. In 1941, he said, “When history is written, the responsibility for the downfall of the democracies of Europe will rest squarely upon the shoulders of the interventionists who led their nations into war, uninformed and unprepared.”

As Franklin Roosevelt had said in response to this tendency: “Some indeed still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we of the United States can safely permit the United States to become a lone island, a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force. Such an island may be the dream of those who still talk and vote as isolationists. Such an island represents to me and to the overwhelming majority of Americans today a helpless nightmare, the helpless nightmare of a people without freedom; yes, the nightmare of a people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents.”

In the age of globalism and of medium- to long-range nuclear missiles, there simply are no safe islands we can retreat to. We should avoid the seductive impulse to flee from minor battles in the region. For by doing so, we will only pave the way for a much wider regional war.

Originally published at: https://www.jns.org/opinion/withdrawal-and-retreat-from-syria-will-cause-the-region-to-combust/

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