Fact Check; Trump lies about cease fire and more

Turkish soldiers stand in attention during a ceremony for soldier Sefa Findik, killed in action with Kurdish fighters in Syria earlier Sunday, during a ceremony at the airport in Sanliurfa southeastern Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.It brings Turkey’s military death toll up to seven soldiers in its wide-ranging offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

As President Donald Trump describes it, the U.S. swooped into an intractable situation in the Middle East, achieved an agreement within hours that had eluded the world for years and delivered a “great day for civilization.”

It was a mission-accomplished moment that other Republican leaders, Democrats and much of the world found unconvincing.

Trump spent much of the past week trying to justify his decision to pull U.S. troops away from America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, leaving those Kurdish fighters vulnerable on several fronts and already reeling from attacks by Turkish forces.

In the process, Trump exaggerated the scope of a deal bringing a temporary cease-fire to Turkish-Kurdish hostilities, falsely suggested that U.S. troops in Syria will come home and mischaracterized the history of the conflict and even the geography of it.

A look at his rhetoric on that topic and other subjects over the past week as well as a sampling of statements from the latest Democratic presidential debate:

SYRIA

TRUMP: “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: That’s not what he’s doing.

While the U.S. has begun what the Pentagon calls a deliberate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump himself has said that the 200 to 300 U.S. service members deployed to a southern Syria outpost in Al-Tanf will remain there.

And on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the current plan calls for all U.S. troops who are leaving Syria to go to western Iraq, not home. They number more than 700.

Asked Sunday why troops weren’t coming home as Trump said they would, his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said: “Well, they will eventually.”

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TRUMP: “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ’Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “A lot of things are in that agreement that nobody ever thought possible.” — remarks at Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: The agreement he is hailing is not nearly as consequential to the prospects for peace as he claims. It provides for a five-day cease-fire in the Turks’ deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which began after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. troops.

The agreement requires the Kurds to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border in an arrangement that codifies nearly all of Turkey’s stated goals in the conflict and relieves it of U.S. sanctions.

It imposes no apparent long-term consequences for Turkey’s move against the Kurds, important U.S. partners in the fight against the Islamic State group. Trump calls that fight a mission accomplished despite the U.S. officials’ fears of an IS resurgence.

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TRUMP, on the Syrian areas of Turkish-Kurdish conflict: “It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.” — remarks Wednesday.

THE FACTS: The area of conflict is not known for being particularly sandy. In contrast to Trump’s imagery of arid, worthless land that other countries — not the U.S. — should fight over, it’s actually the breadbasket of Syria.

The area is part of what was historically known as the Fertile Crescent, where settled farming and early civilizations first began.

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TRUMP: “We were supposed to be in Syria for one month. That was 10 years ago.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Previous administrations never set a one-month timeline for U.S. involvement in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria in September 2014. About a year later, the Pentagon said teams of special operations forces began going into Syria to conduct raids and start efforts to partner with the Kurdish forces.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter made it clear to Congress at that time that the Pentagon was ready to expand operations with the Kurds and would continue to do so as needed to battle IS, without setting a specific deadline.

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TRUMP: “Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: They’re mostly still there.

Close to 30 U.S. troops moved out of two outposts near the border area where the Turkish attack was initially centered. But the bulk of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops deployed to Syria are still in the country.

According to officials, most of the U.S. troops have largely been consolidated into a few locations in the north, including an airfield facility in the western part of the country known as the Kobani landing zone. A couple hundred have left in recent days with military equipment, and officials say the withdrawal will take weeks.

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JOE BIDEN: “I would not have withdrawn the troops, and I would not have withdrawn the additional 1,000 troops that are in Iraq, which are in retreat now, being fired on by Assad’s people.” — Democratic debate on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: The former vice president is wrong. There is no evidence that any of the approximately 1,000 American troops preparing to evacuate from Syria have been fired on by Syrian government forces led by President Bashar Assad. A small group of U.S. troops came under Turkish artillery fire near the town of Kobani last week, without anyone being injured, but there is no indication that Syrian troops have shot at withdrawing Americans.

Also, Biden was addressing the situation in Syria, not Iraq.

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WOMEN IN SPACE

TRUMP: “This is the first time for a woman outside of the Space Station. … They’re conducting the first-ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the Space Station.” — speaking to flight engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch outside the International Space Station in a teleconference Friday.

THE FACTS: Meir corrected the record, telling Trump: “First of all, we don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time. ”

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AMMUNITION

TRUMP: “When I first got in, a general told me we could have had a conflict with someone. Said, Sir, we don’t have ammunition. And I said I never want to hear a president — I just never want to hear somebody have that statement made to them again as president of the United States. We don’t have ammunition. Think of how bad. Now we have so much ammunition we don’t know what to do with it.” — Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump periodically quotes unidentified generals as saying things that he wants to hear and that are hard to imagine them actually having said. This is no exception. The U.S. doesn’t go to war without sufficient ammunition.

At most, budget constraints may have restricted ammunition for certain training exercises at times and held back the development of new forms of firepower. It’s not unusual for generals to want more people and equipment at their disposal than they have. But they don’t run out of bullets.

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ECONOMY and TRADE

TRUMP: “Just out: MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS AT THE HIGHEST POINT EVER, EVER, EVER! How about saying it this way, IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Another way of saying it is that median household income has been this high before.

Trump also builds his boast on the records of others.

In the Census Bureau’s definitive annual report on income and poverty, it found that median household income in 2018 matched the previous peak of $63,200, in inflation-adjusted dollars, reached in 1999.

While that was a welcome increase after household income fell sharply in the Great Recession, it also suggests that the median American household went back to where it was 19 years ago. (The median is the point where half of households earn more and half earn less).

Household income began rising in 2014, after falling in the aftermath of the recession, and jumped 5.1% in 2015, making its most significance gains in President Barack Obama’s second term.

It grew just 0.9% in 2018, the slowest in three years. The Census Bureau says its data is difficult to compare with previous years because it changed its methods in 2013.

It released a supplemental report showing that, adjusted for those methodological changes, median incomes in 2018 matched those in 1999. A separate census report, which has fewer details on incomes, said last month that median household income has reached a record high, but those data only go back to 2005.

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TRUMP, on a World Trade Organization ruling allowing the U.S. to tax impose tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of European imports annually: “I think the WTO award has been testament to a lot of good work by the Trump administration. We never won with the WTO, or essentially never won. Very seldom did we win. And now we’re winning a lot.” — remarks Wednesday before meeting with Italy’s president.

TRUMP: “We didn’t win anything for years practically. Now we’ve won a lot of cases. You know why? Because they know I’ll leave if they don’t treat us fairly.” — Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s incorrect to say the U.S. never or rarely got any WTO victories under other presidents.

The U.S. has always had a high success rate when it pursues cases against other countries at the WTO. In 2017, trade analyst Daniel Ikenson of the libertarian Cato Institute found that the U.S. had won 91% of time it brought a complaint that ended up being adjudicated by the Geneva-based trade monitor. True, Ikenson noted, the countries bringing complaints tend to win overwhelmingly. That’s because they don’t bother going to the WTO in the first place if they don’t have a pretty strong case.

The WTO announcement culminated a 15-year fight over EU subsidies for Airbus — a fight that began long before Trump was in office.

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JULIÁN CASTRO: “Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania actually in the latest jobs data have lost jobs, not gained them.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: No. Figures from the Labor Department show that the former Housing and Urban Development secretary is wrong.

Ohio added jobs in August. So did Michigan. Same with Pennsylvania.

So Castro’s statement is off.

These states do still have economic struggles. Pennsylvania has lost factory jobs since the end of 2018. So has Michigan. And Ohio has shed 100 factory jobs so far this year.

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TRUMP: “MORE PEOPLE WORKING TODAY IN THE USA THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: True, but it’s due to population growth, not just steady hiring.

A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.

According to Labor Department data , 61% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in September. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9% when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

BERNIE SANDERS: “We’re forgetting about the existential threat of climate change.” ″Right now the CEOs in the fossil fuel industry know full well that their product is destroying this world and they continue to make huge profits.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: Earth’s existence and life on the planet will not end because of climate change, as the Vermont senator suggests. Fossil fuels do not have Earth on a path of destruction.

Science says climate change will cause great harm, but it won’t wipe out everything and won’t end humanity.

“It’s an existential threat for many species,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. “It’s an existential threat for many ecosystems. I don’t think it’s an existential threat for humanity.”

Life will be dramatically altered if the burning of fossil fuels continues unabated, said Oppenheimer, a co-author of many of the most dire international science reports on climate change.

“Existential” has perhaps lost its literal meaning, as politicians in general and Democrats in particular cast many threats as existential ones even when existence is not on the line. In the debate, for example, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker described the closing of two Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio as an existential threat to abortion rights in America.

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GUN CONTROL

PETE BUTTIGIEG: “On guns, we are this close to an assault weapons ban. That would be huge.” — Democratic debate.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: “I just keep thinking of how close we are to finally getting something done on this.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: No, the U.S. is not close to enacting an assault-weapons ban, as Buttigieg claimed, nor close on any significant gun control, as Klobuchar had it. Congress is not on the verge of such legislation. Prospects for an assault-weapons ban, in particular, are bound to remain slim until the next election at least.

Legislation under discussion in the Senate would expand background checks for gun sales, a politically popular idea even with gun owners. But even that bill has stalled because of opposition from the National Rifle Association and on-again, off-again support from Trump. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress say they will continue to push for the background checks bill, but movement appears unlikely during an impeachment inquiry and general dysfunction in Congress. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has made it clear he won’t move forward on gun legislation without Trump’s strong support.

Buttigieg was citing the chance for an assault-weapons ban as a reason for not supporting the more radical proposal by Democratic presidential rival Beto O’Rourke to force gun owners to give up AR-15s and other assault-style weapons. Klobuchar spoke in a similar context.

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RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

ELIZABETH WARREN: “Mueller had shown to a fare-thee-well that this president obstructed justice.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: That’s not exactly what special counsel Robert Mueller showed.

It’s true that prosecutors examined more than 10 episodes for evidence of obstruction of justice, and that they did illustrate efforts by Trump to stymie the Russia investigation or take control of it.

But ultimately, Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether the president obstructed justice or broke any other law. He cited Justice Department policy against the indictment of a sitting president and said that since he could not bring charges against Trump, it was unfair to accuse him of a crime. There was no definitive finding that he obstructed justice.

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Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak, Robert Burns, Matthew Daly, Eric Tucker and Paul Wiseman in Washington, Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

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As his presidency melts down, Trump freaks out

Donald Trump: Lies, rants and melt-downs

Embattled and corrupt president Donald Trump is a control freak, and he freaks out when he can’t even always control the political party he thinks he owns.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned Trump’s abrupt and inconceivable withdrawal of American troops, leaving our Kurdish allies facing death.

The 354-60 votes including the 255 Democratic majority member and 129 Republicans.

Trump freaked out.

“He couldn’t handle it, so he kind of engaged in a meltdown,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said after she and other Democratic leaders tried to meet with Trump at the White House, and he issued an “insulting and nasty diatribe.”

Trump screamed that Pelosi is “third-grade politician.” The Democrats walked out.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Pelosi told reporters, “because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of our president.”

Trump also blasted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

‘He’s even more out of control than usual,” says one White House aide, who obviously does not want to be identified.  We worry he may stroke out. Or he might order troops to take over our government I wish that was a joke, but some in the West Wing say it could happen.”

Notes columnist Jennifer Rubin:

As on impeachment, Trump cannot spin his way out of a self-made disaster on Syria, cannot distract the media and cannot control Congress’s reaction. When deprived of scapegoats and the ability to distract the media, Trump melts down. He cannot acknowledge fault nor ignorance nor gullibility. Hence, like a toddler, he pitches a fit. One wonders what he will do when the House actually votes on impeachment.

Trump faces eroding support among American voters:

The latest Gallup poll says:

Currently, 52% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% say he should not be. This is roughly the opposite of what Gallup found in June when asked in the context of special [counsel] Robert Mueller’s investigation.

As Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives work through an impeachment inquiry regarding alleged abuses of office by President Donald Trump, approval of Congress is now at 25%. That is up from 18% in September, prior to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the impeachment inquiry following news of possible wrongdoing by the president in communications with Ukraine.

More Democrats now favor Trump being removed from office than did for Nixon in July 1974 (71%). As many independents now favor Trump being impeached as did Nixon at the same time.

Rubin adds:

He finally appears to grasp that he is about to suffer a permanent stain on his presidency. As a smart political observer suggested to me, his full-blown panic also might reflect a genuine worry that Republicans will abandon him in the Senate, thus putting him in real jeopardy of removal.

For once, Trump cannot thwart Congress by blocking witnesses (they show up despite orders not to), cannot come up with a satisfactory and coherent excuse for soliciting foreign intervention in our election and cannot distract the media nor normalize his conduct. His tricks don’t work when the questioners won’t be bullied and the enormity of his misdeeds drives the news cycle. Now politically impotent, he faces a special kind of public embarrassment that comes with impeachment. The injury to his ego becomes exponentially more severe with each Republican senator who votes for removal.

Trump’s massive ego requires constant approval and acclaim, even when not earned, which is often the case.

Greg Sargent writes:

President Trump is in a rage, because nobody in Washington will take his claims about pulling U.S. troops out of Syria seriously. He insists he’s operating in the national interest, but everyone aside from his base and his most slavish loyalists knows that’s utter nonsense. Trump either has no idea what he’s doing, or has uglier motives — either way, he isn’t acting in accord with any meaningful conception of what’s good for the country.

But Trump has only himself to blame for this. At precisely the moment he’s defending his Syria moves, the unfolding Ukraine scandal is showcasing in vivid detail that Trump is perfectly willing to sell out our foreign policy for profoundly corrupt, self-interested reasons.

The big lie at the core of all of this — that Trump is operating out of any devotion to the national interest — is getting harder to sustain, precisely because of what’s about to unfold in the Ukraine scandal that’s consuming Trump’s presidency.

The big lie. Trump’s only consistency are his lies. As he more and more of his corrupt and illegal transactions emerge, his lies grow even bigger.

He’s a liar, a crook and a disgrace to America.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

 

As usual, Trump comes up short on facts

With apologies to Netflix.

President Donald Trump muddled the facts Wednesday on America’s withdrawal from Syria and the conditions on the ground there, as he distanced himself and the U.S. from the ongoing Turkish invasion into Syria.

He suggested incorrectly that the Syrian Kurds who fought alongside U.S. forces against the Islamic State group deliberately released IS prisoners and wrongly said Americans have been in the Syria conflict for 10 years.

A look at his claims and the reality:

U.S. INTERVENTION IN SYRIA

TRUMP: “We were supposed to be in Syria for one month. That was 10 years ago.”

THE FACTS: Previous administrations never set a one-month timeline for U.S. involvement in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria in September 2014. About a year later, the Pentagon said that teams of special operations forces began going into Syria to conduct raids and start up efforts to partner with the Kurdish forces. Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter made it clear to Congress at that time that the Pentagon was ready to expand operations with the Kurds and would continue to do so as needed to battle IS, without setting a specific timeline for completion.

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PRISON RELEASE

TRUMP: Speaking about IS detainees, Trump said: “People let some go. They opened a couple of doors to make us look as bad as possible.” Later he described the IS detainees as “people that probably the Kurds let go to make a little bit stronger political impact.”

THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration. There is no evidence that Kurdish forces, who fought IS for years with U.S. and coalition troops, deliberately opened prison doors to let militants out.

According to U.S. and defense officials, fewer than 100 prisoners have escaped and Kurdish fighters are still guarding the prisons. Officials say that some of the Kurdish forces have moved north to fight the invading Turks, but many remain to secure the prisons, which hold about 2,000 foreign fighters and another 10,000 Iraqis and Syrians who fought with IS. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing military operations.

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LEAVING SYRIA

TRUMP: “Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area.”

THE FACTS: They’re actually mostly still there.

Trump is correct that close to 30 U.S. troops moved out of two outposts near the border area where the Turkish attack was initially centered. But the bulk of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops deployed to Syria are still in the country.

According to officials, most of the U.S. troops have largely been consolidated into two locations in the north, including an airfield facility in the western part of the country known as the Kobani landing zone. A small number of troops left in recent days with military equipment, and more recently the withdrawal of forces began but so far not in large numbers. Officials say the withdrawal will take weeks.

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COMING HOME

TRUMP: “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home.”

THE FACTS: Despite what Trump suggests, American forces in Syria won’t be returning home in mass numbers anytime soon.

While the U.S. has begun what the Pentagon calls a deliberate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump himself has said that the 200-300 U.S. forces deployed to a southern Syria outpost in Al-Tanf will remain there. Also, while the U.S. forces are leaving Syria, that doesn’t mean they are automatically coming home. Instead, military officials are developing plans to station U.S. forces in nearby locations, including Iraq and possibly Jordan, where they will still be able to monitor and, if needed, continue to conduct operations against IS.

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Dems walk out on Trump, House condemns troop withdrawal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washing his hands of Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no stake in supporting the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as U.S. partners against IS extremists. Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting at the White House, accusing him of having a “meltdown,” calling her a “third-rate politician” and having no plan to deal with a potentially revived Islamic State group.

Condemnation of Trump’s stance on Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was quick and severe during the day, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to the slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

After the House condemnation vote, the congressional leaders of both parties went to the White house for a briefing, which grew contentious, with Trump and Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they walked out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown,” Pelosi told reporters, saying Trump appeared visibly “shaken up” over the House vote.

“We couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS fighters who have been held by the Kurds. He said the meeting “was not a dialogue, this was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”

Republicans pushed back, saying it was Pelosi who’d been the problem.

“She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive,” said House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi’s action “baffling but not surprising.” She said the speaker “had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.”

Trump himself famously stormed out of a meeting with congressional leaders during the partial government shutdown last January.

In public appearances Wednesday, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish fighters, stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little concern in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

But Republicans, too, made their concerns clear.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10 2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters he didn’t know what could be done to undo the harm he felt was resulting.

“There are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible,” said Rubio, who was a Trump rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) -deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has “largely” completed its pullout.

A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said, adding that he’s more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.

In the meantime, he said, “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”

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Trump defends walking away from Kurds

U.S. and Kurdish flags flutter in the wind while displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Syria-Iraq border
(AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

Washing his hands of America’s presence in Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no stake in supporting the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as U.S. partners against Islamic State extremists.

Condemnation of his stance was quick and severe, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch Trump supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

Trump said he is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria not only betrays the Kurdish fighters but stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.
ratio

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little at stake in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10 2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters he didn’t know what could be done to undo the harm he felt was resulting.

“There are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible,” said Rubio, who was a Trump rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) -deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has “largely” completed its pullout.

A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said, adding that he’s more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.

In the meantime, he said, “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”

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AP writers Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump’s traitorous actions to abandon allies in battle

The increasingly incompetent, ignorant and immoral actions by the corrupt president Donald Trump in Syria finalizes his efforts to destroy America’s foreign policy and turn the nation’s back on its allies.

Editorialized The Washington Post Monday:

Until now, it was possible to hope that the damage caused by President Trump’s terrible incompetence, ignorance and impulsivity in foreign policy was largely theoretical, and possibly reparable. That is no longer true. The cost of his latest Syria blunder is unfolding before our eyes: Innocent lives lost. U.S. servicemen and -women betrayed. Butchering dictators emboldened. Dangerous terrorists set free. A ghastly scene is playing out, and it almost surely will get worse.

Mr. Trump — with no consideration, no warning, no consultation with allies, no regard for the other nations that have fought alongside the United States and risked their men and women in the fight — has turned tail. In the past two years, courageous U.S. troops cooperated with our Kurdish allies to defeat the deadly Islamic State caliphate. These allies lost more than 11,000 men and women killed; the United States, a dozen. It was a rare U.S. success in the Middle East.

The president has thrown it all away. His surrender is so hasty that U.S. forces could not execute a long-standing plan to take dozens of high-profile Islamic State detainees with them; we can expect to hear from those terrorists before long, in the region, in Europe or in the United States. The Islamic State is likely to exert its malign force again. The allies who fought alongside us are being slaughtered, and noncombatant women and children, too. Iran is strengthened, which threatens Israel. The murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is strengthened, too. Russia is taking charge. America’s adversaries could not have scripted a better outcome.

In Syria, U.S. soldiers ordered to pack up and leave calls the order “a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us.”

“It will go down in infamy,” an Army officer who served in the Syria campaign told David Ignatius, who covered the efforts in Syria for The Post. “This will go down as a stain on the American reputation for decades.”

“What do these American soldiers feel as they watch Trump retreat from the Syrian battlefield and leave their former comrades to die? They feel sick,” Ignatius writes.

“For these soldiers, abandoning an ally on the battlefield is about the worst thing that can happen,” he adds.

To make matters worse, the orders to pull out come from a disgraced president who allies himself with vicious dictators who are enemies of the United States.

In other words, the actions of a traitor who betrayed the Constitution, the nation and the allies who trusted us.

A traitor named Donald John Trump.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

 

 

More GOP Senators question Trump’s actions

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Now there are four: Are more wavering?

Ohio’a Rob Portman Monday became the fourth Republican Senator to admit president Donald Trump’s use of his office to seek help from Ukraine and China to investigate a political appointment is “inappropriate.”

Portman joins Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine to break from the Republican ranks in the Senate and raise questions about Trump’s actions that led to a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.

“We now have cracks in the wall,” says one GOP senior staff member in the Senate.  “Will it start crumbling?”

While Portman admits Trump’s actions are “not appropriate,” he still claims he does not see them as “impeachable offenses” and feels the House “rushed to impeachment assuming things.”

But Trump is running into increasing questions from his one-solid wall of support from the GOP Senate.  Majority leader Mitch McConnell Monday joined a rare bi-partisan group of Republican and Democratic Senator in rebuking Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troopers from Syria.

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” McConnell said in a statement. “And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

McConnell says it is time for Trump to “exercise American leadership” by reconsidering his plans to pull troops back from the Syrian-Turkey border.  Other Republicans in the Senate agree.

“This betrayal of the Kurds will also severely harm our credibility as an ally the world over,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said. “President Trump should rethink this decision immediately.”

Democrats have also condemned the withdrawal plans but the growing Republican opposition shows a new area of concern from Republicans.

“The Trump has made a great administration has made a grave mistake that will have implications,” said Sen. GOP Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“So sad. So dangerous” says usually staunch Trump ally Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Twitter. “President Trump may be tired of fighting radical Islam.  They are NOT tired of fighting us.”

At least one Republican says criticism of the Syria move wile standing fast with Trump on the Ukraine debacle that has resulted in formal impeachment probes is hypocritical, at best.

“The Ukraine issue is personal, it is a real threat to the president, and a lot of Republicans know they will face his wrath if they defy him,” former congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a critic of Trump who was ousted in the 2018 midterms, tells The Washington Post. “The issue of our presence in Syria is more obviously a substantive policy issue, where it’s safer to disagree with the president. If Republicans want to be consistent, they should speak out about both.”

“They can speak up, but they can’t so anything,” says former senator Judd Gregg (R-NH).

One thing it has done is bring Republicans and Democrats together in a rare bipartisan rebuke of Trump.

McConnell says 68 Senators voted to rebuke Trump in January when he threatened to withdraw troops from Syria — a majority that overrides a presidential veto.

“The conditions that produced that bipartisan vote still exist today,” he says.

A joint statement from Sen. Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) adds:

Barring a reversal of this decision, the Administration must come before Congress and explain how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests.

With four Republican Senators also now saying Trump’s actions with Ukraine and China in asking for help to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden are “inappropriate” and “out of line,” some wonder if Trump’s hold on the GOP is weakening.

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Claims of victory over Islamic State are premature

President Donald Trump shows a map of Syria and Iraq showing the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in 2017 and 2019, as he speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In a campaign that spanned five years and two U.S. presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of civilians, the U.S. military engineered the destruction of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed empire in Iraq and Syria.

That’s a military success, but not necessarily one that will last.

The Islamic State group is down, but it is not done.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday flashed a color-coded map to illustrate what he called the imminent demise of IS in its last speck of Syrian territory. At its peak, in 2014-15, it controlled an area the size of Britain across Syria and Iraq and launched a series of extremist attacks around the world.

His suggestion of finality for the anti-IS struggle, however, seemed premature.

If history is a guide, the reconquering of IS-held territory may prove a short-lived victory unless Iraq and Syria fix the problem that gave rise to the extremist movement in the first place: governments that pit one ethnic or sectarian group against another.

The U.S. military has been through this scenario before. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, ousted the ruling Taliban regime in a matter of weeks and installed Hamid Karzai as the country’s leader. The war seemed over. But the Taliban regrouped while Washington shifted its attention to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and by 2009 the top U.S. commander in Kabul was calling the war a stalemate.

The U.S. military is still in Afghanistan amid uncertain peace prospects.

The Iraq experience followed a similar path. The U.S. military had seemingly conquered the Sunni insurgency in Iraq by 2011 after eight years of war. American forces departed, only to see sectarian tensions revive and provide an opening for Syria-based IS to take over large parts of Iraq in 2014.

As Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, architect of the plan for defeating IS in Iraq and Syria, put it in 2015, the majority of Sunnis in Iraq simply refused to fight for their government when IS swept across the Euphrates and took control of much of the country’s north and west.

“They allowed — and in some cases facilitated — ISIS’s push through the country,” Austin said. The reason for their complicity, though he didn’t say it, was a deep Sunni distrust of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

President Barack Obama, who had called the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq a mistake, sent small numbers of U.S. military advisers back to Iraq in the summer of 2014, followed by an air campaign. This time a new approach was adopted: train and equip the Iraqis to do the fighting, rather than do the fighting for them. Thus was born a counter-IS strategy that ultimately prevailed in both Iraq and Syria.

The problem now is achieving the political goal of reconciling the rival internal groups in both countries.

Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, sees a strong chance that IS will remain an insurgent threat in Iraq and Syria with an intensity that is likely to grow.

“If it gets worse, which it probably will, then I suspect that analysts in 2025 looking back on this will see the eviction of ISIS from its last contiguous territory and the associated American celebrations as yet another example of overly narrow, short-sighted reactions to secondary events,” Biddle wrote in an email exchange.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative-leaning research institute, tweeted that the remaining IS presence in Iraq and Syria shows that it is not defeated.

“I’m not saying that ISIS is going to reach its peak power again,” he wrote. “Hopefully, the loss of its territory has helped discredit (somewhat) the idea of its caliphate. But ISIS still has resources and a significant footprint — especially in Iraq, but also in Syria.”

A new analysis by the Institute for the Study of War says IS is re-establishing insurgent networks in historical strongholds in northern Iraq and setting the stage for future attacks on the Iraqi government.

“The U.S. and its partners should not view the current relative security in Baghdad as confirmation of the defeat of ISIS,” the Institute’s Brandon Wallace wrote in a recent analysis.

Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East as commander of Central Command, told Congress earlier this month that extremism in Iraq and Syria is a “generational problem.”

When the U.S. military began its counter-IS campaign it focused mainly on Iraq, in part because Baghdad itself seemed in danger. The going was slow, and in May 2015 the whole effort appeared in doubt when Iraqi defenders were routed at Ramadi. The U.S. defense secretary at the time, Ash Carter, questioned the Iraqis’ will to fight, but gradually the tide began to turn in their favor.

The Syria campaign also began slowly and was marked by startling setbacks. In September 2015, Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, acknowledged during congressional testimony that despite hopes of putting several thousand U.S.-backed Syrian rebels into battle against IS, they had managed only four or five.

“This is a total failure,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., declared, prematurely.

But the effort gained momentum, and by early 2016 the U.S. had recruited and organized what came to be called the Syrian Democratic Forces, which U.S. special operations troops trained, advised and assisted. Despite new complications on the battlefield, such as Russia’s entry into the conflict, the campaign methodically recaptured IS territory and cut off the extremists’ lifelines.

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Robert Burns has been covering the U.S. military and national security for The Associated Press since 1990.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Graham: Trump will slow Syria withdrawal

Sen. Lindsey Graham. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump has ordered a slowdown to the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday.

“I think we’re in a pause situation,” the South Carolina Republican said outside the White House after lunch with the president.

Trump announced earlier this month that he was ordering the withdrawal of all the roughly 2,000 troops from war-torn Syria, with aides expecting it to take place swiftly. The president had declared victory over the Islamic State group in Syria, though pockets of fighting remain.

Graham had been an outspoken critic of Trump’s decision, which had drawn bipartisan criticism. The announcement also had shocked lawmakers and American allies, including Kurds who have fought alongside the U.S. against the Islamic State group and face an expected assault by Turkey.

“I think we’re slowing things down in a smart way,” Graham said, adding that Trump was very aware of the plight of the Kurds.

Critics had contended that the U.S. withdrawal would embolden Iran and Russia, which have supported the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

National security adviser John Bolton was expected to travel to Israel and Turkey next weekend to discuss the president’s plans with the American allies.

During his appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Graham previewed his arguments to Trump for reconsidering the Syria pullout.

“I’m going to ask him to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this. Slow this down. Make sure that we get it right. Make sure ISIS never comes back. Don’t turn Syria over to the Iranians. That’s a nightmare for Israel,” Graham said.

“And, at the end of the day, if we leave the Kurds and abandon them and they get slaughtered, who’s going to help you in the future?” he said. “I want to fight the war in the enemy’s backyard, not ours. That’s why we need a forward-deployed force in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan for a while to come.”
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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Congress, America’s allies fear Trump’s increasingly frantic, unnerving actions

From members of Congress of both parties to leaders of allied nations around the world, worry is reaching a fever pitch about the frantic, unnerving and unpredictable actions of scandal-ridden American president Donald Trump.

The resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after Trump blindsided him with the shocking announced, by tweet, that American soldiers will leave Syria within 30 days left both the opposition — and Trump’s shrinking base of support — shaking their heads and wondering what will happen next.

Trump doubled down on his Syria withdrawal by directing the Pentagon Thursday to withdraw halt of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan — another move decried by senior advisers and military officials.

The move made it clear that the steadfast approaches of Mattis are gone.

“Having Mattis there gave all of us a great deal more comfort than we have now,” said retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “He was the steadiest hand in the Cabinet, and we’ve all slept better and felt better that he was there.”

Even steadfast Trump yes-man, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), appeared to echo Mattis’s critical assessment of Trump’s lack of leadership and publicly urged the President to find a new defense secretary who matches Mattis with an “equally clear understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter.”

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was “shaken” when she heard Mattis resigned.  Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) called the news “scary.”

Russia’s presidential dictator Vladimir Putin heartily endorsed Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria after claiming a “complete defeat” of ISIS — a fantasy that few others believe.

In his blunt letter of resignation, Mattis questioned Trump’s erratic, impetuous and dangering approach to foreign policy that does not provide needed protection America faces.

Mattis felt he could no longer work with Trump, so he becomes the latest addition to an unprecedented departure of Cabinet and senior aides.

“Secretary Mattis was giving advice the president needs to hear,” said Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.  “This is a sad day.”

Sasse also called Trump’s isolationist foreign policy approach “a weak strategy that hurts America and our allies.

Former State Department senior official Eliot Cohen, who served under the presidency of George W. Bush, said Mattis put service to the country above a president.

“He was an example of someone who could retain his character while serving an entirely unqualified and despicable human being,” Cohen said. “The overall caliber and character of those who are still willing to serve will be abysmal.”

European Council on Foreign Relations co-chair Carl Bildt, who is also a former prime minister of Sweden, called Mattis “the remaining strong bond across the Atlantic in the Trump administration.  All the others are fragile at best or broken at worst.”

Bildt adds that Mattis’s resignation sparked “a morning of alarm in Europe.”

Jürgen Hardt, senior foreign policy aide to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, predicts Trump will pull forces next from Western allies and says Praise for Trump’s actions by Russian president Putin “should give all of us concern.”

Norbert Röttgen, chair of the foreign affairs committee in the German Parliament said of Mattis: “The last voice of reason leaves the administration.”

Mattis, he said, understood that “what sets the US apart from other powers is its right net of alliances and the loyalty of its friends.  Trump does not.”

“Believe me, America’s allies are already reviewing all options,” says Francois Heisbourg, president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a former diplomatic adviser in France.  “This is big bad.”

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