Tag: Syria

DEFENSE DOWNLOAD: Week of 1/3/19

Happy New Year!The Defense Download is back after a brief break for the holiday season. This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the 188金宝搏esportsCato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week.The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle,政策制定者们在说什么,and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum.If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I'm reading,writing,and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via@CDDorminey.

  1. ""2018 Was a Long Women's March Through Congress,"by Lyric Thompson and Christina Asquith.The 116th Congress was sworn into office today—the most diverse Congress in the history of the institution.
  2. ""With Mattis Out,How Will the Pentagon Transition Under Shanahan??""NPR's Morning Editionhosted by Rachel Martin,featuring Todd Harrison.With Mattis departing and Shanahan assuming the post of Secretary of Defense—at least temporarily—there could be changes in store with new leadership.
  3. ""US Withdrawal Plan from Afghanistan Won't Include SOF Strike Units,"Matthew Cox and Richard Sisk.President Trump's announcement that he intends to withdraw troops from Syria has renewed rumors of an imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan as well.Military.comreporters spoke to defense officials familiar with plans.
  4. ""This Map Shows Where in the World the US Military Is Combatting Terrorism,"Stephanie Savell and 5W Infographics.This is a new release of the Costs of War project's 188金宝搏esportsresearch—showing that the U.S.is militarily engaged in 80 countries.That's 40 percent of all the countries in the world.

Did Rand Paul Persuade Trump to Withdraw from Syria??

In the Washington Post,Josh Roginwarns usthat"Rand Paul is quietly steering U.S.foreign policy in a new direction."Indeed,the Post's overwrought headline is

Welcome to the world of President Rand Paul

Rogin goes on:

Several U.S.officials and people who have spoken directly to Trump since his Syria decision tell me they believe that Paul's frequent phone conversations with Trump,wholly outside the policy process,are having an outsize influence on the president's recent foreign policy decisions.Thetwo golf buddiescertainly are sounding a lot alike recently….

Paultold CNNon Dec.23 that he had talked to Trump about Syria and was"very proud of the president."That nighton Twitter,Trump quoted Paul as saying,"It should not be the job of America to replace regimes around the world… The generals still don't get the mistake.""

If Paul did in fact persuade the president to withdraw U.S.troops from one of thesevenmilitary conflictswe're currently engaged in,Bravo.Hetried to keep us outof the Syrian conflict back in 2013.That's not Rogin's view,though.He grumbles:

Of course,there's nothing wrong with a senator advising the president on foreign policy.Hawks such as Sen.Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey O.Graham (R-S.C.) do it all the time.But the Trump-Paul bromance is troubling because Trump may be taking Paul's word over that of his own advisers.

Well,presidents are allowed to choose their own advisers.But how is it"troubling"that Trump might take advice from Senator Paul,but it's fine to take advice from Senators Cotton and Graham?And by the way,check the quote above: how is a president's conversation with a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee"wholly outside the policy process"??

Of course,Paul isn't responsible for the fact that Trump is unable or unwilling to set a clear policy,implement it in an orderly manner,articulate a defense of it without using"alternative facts"and words like"suckers,"and make an inspirational,presidential speech to troops in a combat zone.It's better to withdraw from unnecessary wars inarticulately than to stay in them with a 500-page report.

Rogin concludes by bemoaning"dangerous … isolationism [and] retreat.""Isolationism"is a term that the foreign policy establishmentthrows aroundany time anyone questions whether all seven wars are actually wise.The New York Times also uses the term,reporting that the Syrian withdrawal"has been谴责整个意识形态,""with the exception of a few vocal isolationists like Senator Rand Paul."And a few realists and noninterventionists like my colleaguesJohn GlaserandChristopher Preble.Andabout half the American people.

Some Early Reactions to the Reactions to President Trump's Syria Announcement

PresidentTrump's Syria announcement yesterdayhas sent the foreign policy community into orbit.The distress is mostly bipartisan,although the real vitriol seems to be coming more from Republicans than Democrats.See,for example,the stories of Vice PresidentPence's meeting with GOP senators,and Rep.AdamKinzinger's meltdown on CNN.

A few,however,appreciated the president's decision.See especially,Cato's John Glaser (hereandhere),,Defense Priorities' Benjamin Friedman,,Win without War's Stephen Miles,and timely tweets from DemocratTed Lieuand RepublicansRand PaulandJustin Amash.

Rather than simply rehash these statements,here are a few brief observations related to the president's decision:

  • It should not be a surprise to anyone.Donald Trump has been railing against U.S.entanglement in Middle Eastern civil wars for years – ashe noted this morning on Twitter.The only real surprise is that it took so long for him to overrule his foreign policy advisers who were dead set against withdrawal.(It does raise the question: Does he have the right foreign policy advisers?) As recently as this September,JohnBolton explained publicly that U.S.forces would remain in Syriaas long as Iranian forces were there – effectively signaling a willingness to leave U.S troops there forever.Wednesday's announcement is merely the latest reminder that the president sets policy.
  • I'm particularly interested – and moderately concerned – by an apparent meeting of the minds (and possible quid pro quo?) between President Trump and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Aside from the troublesome atmospherics of the U.S.government drawing closer to an authoritarian thug,there are also grounds for asking what this means for the Kurds.Initial signs aren't promising –Erdogan hinted that an offensive was imminenteven before Trump's announcement.If the decision to remove U.S.forces from Syria is part of a larger project that will tie the United States even more closely to the Turkish president,then President Trump almost certainly made the right decision for the wrong reason.
  • I have zero tolerance for those who bemoan the lack of congressional oversight of this decision,or who complain that the president opted for a troop withdrawal on his own,an apparent case of executive overreach.Where was this same outrage when a progression of U.S.presidents,up to and including Donald J.Trump,undertook military operations either without any congressional authorization,or only under the dubious cover of the 2001 and/or 2002 AUMFs?We should have had a proper debate over the post-9/11 AUMFs,and the appropriate recourse is torepeal rather than replacethem.But those who didn't want such a debate when U.S.forces were actively engaged in acts of war in multiple theaters,but who want one now that they're leaving just one of those warzones,don't have a leg to stand on.
  • The execution of this policy is almost certain to be chaotic.That is both unfortunate and unforgivable.The Pentagon,as it often does,will try to make it seem well-thought-out,but the mixed messages and general confusion emanating from the Trump administration over the last 24 hours are apparent to everyone.I understand that President Trump was new to the policymaking process when he was elected  – and,indeed,that likely worked in his favor electorally,as millions of Americans appeared to value his fresh perspective over Hillary Clinton's experience.But his administration is now nearly two years old,and there simply is no excuse for a chaotic roll-out of an important foreign policy decision,one that certainly affects the lives of officially 2,000 American servicemen and women (the actual numbercould be twice that),plus potentially millions living in Syria.In my writing,I often stress how the impulse to do something (anything!!) often ignores the unintended consequences of our actions.The other side is more concerned about sins of omission than sins of commission,claiming that these,too,have unintended consequences.Fair enough.In this instance,President Trump initiated a significant change in U.S.force posture in an active war zone,believing that the decision serves U.S.strategic interests.He has an obligation to take every possible step to ensure that itactually doesadvance our interests.An approach that amounts to"Tweet and hope for the best"doesn't cut it.

Finally,the statements and tweets noted at the top reflect the major foreign policy debates going onwithinboth parties.My colleagues Emma Ashford and Trevor Thrall broke this down ina recent piece for War on the Rocks,and in two episodes of the"Power Problems"podcast (withBryan McGrathon the right andJake Sullivanon the left).A key area of disagreement among foreign policy thinkers of all stripes revolves around the efficacy of military force,and the utility of other foreign policy tools,including diplomacy,economic carrots and sticks – and,yes,moral suasion.Leading by example,and calling on others to behave in ways that serve the cause of peace,was the touchstone of U.S.foreign policy for at least the first half of this country's history.Some people have never forgotten that the nation's Founders generally abhorred warfare,and were extremely reluctant to become embroiled in others' disputes.It is significant,I think,that Rep.Ro Khanna frequently invokes John Quincy Adams in his speeches.

There is an alternative to the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that views the United States as the indispensable nation,and U.S.military power as the essential element of that indispensability.The responses to Trump's Syria decision remind us that the particulars of that alternative will continue to be hammered out over at least the next two years.

Trump Is Right to Withdraw From Syria

President Trump has ordered a withdrawal of U.S.troops from Syria.This is the right decision.The U.S.military presence in Syria has not been authorized by Congress,根据国际法,是违法的lacks a coherent strategy,and carries significant risks of entangling America in a broader quagmire in yet another Middle Eastern country.

As I wrote inAxios:

The Obama administration first deployed U.S.troops to Syria to complement its aerial bombing campaign against ISIS with special operations forces and coordinate with local anti-ISIS militias on the ground,gradually expanding from hundreds of troops to roughly 4,000.

The mission expanded,too,from merely defeating ISIS (substantially accomplished some time ago) to ushering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of power,expelling Iranian forces,and edging out Russia.

The bottom line:Absent achievable goals and a strong national security imperative backed up by congressional authorization,the U.S.presence in Syria is illegitimate and better off wound down.

One prominent criticism of Trump's decision is that it lacks a clear public explanation and evades the carefully planned and coordinated inter-agency process that enables such a withdrawal to be executed safely and responsibly.This is a fair criticism.Indeed,Trump seems not to have consulted the Defense Department,State Department,or really any of the national security principals in his administration before making this announcement.

But the fault for evading process may lie more with the president's hawkish advisors than with Trump himself. Trump has long expressed disapproval for the U.S.military presence in Syria,but his own officials – including National Security Advisor John Bolton,Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,Secretary of Defense James Mattis,and the current Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey – either resisted or ignored the Commander in Chief's clearly stated preferences on an ongoing military mission.That may have made the president feel he had no choice but to circumvent process and issue the order to withdraw on his own,via Twitter.

That said,I do worry about an administration that is too deferential to Trump's every whim.I was heartened,for example,that cabinet officials spent months pushing back on Trump's call to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.Likewise with the president's request for military options against North Korea,which the Pentagonreportedlyslow-walked in the months before Trump shifted from maximum pressure to diplomatic negotiations with Kim Jong-un.And when Trumpreportedlyasked Mattis to assassinate Assad,it was probably a good thing that the Secretary of Defense chose not to take the suggestion seriously.

That withdrawal is the right decision does not mean Syria will flourish in peace and security.Several undesirable contingencies may occur in the aftermath of our exit.The Turks may engage in operations against the Kurds in Syria's northeast.ISIS may make some gains here and there.But if these things materialize,they should not be cited as proof that withdrawal was unwise.That's exactly the flawed argument hawks employed to criticize the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq.Sure,it left a vacuum in which ISIS emerged.But ISIS itself isa product of the US invasion of Iraq.And our presence in Syria could very well be creating comparable unintended consequences,instead of preventing them.

It can't be America's purpose to indefinitely forestall every plausible misfortune that may or may not bedevil this troubled region.In the near term,we can engage in diplomacy to try to curb Turkish plans to target the Kurds.关于伊西斯,it's not at all clear that their permanent defeat depends on maintaining a U.S.ground presence in Syria.The extremist group is already decimated,and even without an indefinite U.S.presence,it is surrounded by enemies to whom we can pass the buck (should resurgence even occur,which is not a given).

Anyone who favors a U.S.military presence in Syria should be calling for Congress to formally authorize it.That process will require making a strong public case that deployment is required to preempt an immediate threat to U.S.security and that the mission have coherent,achievable goals that clearly define what victory looks like.Otherwise,our presence in Syria is illegitimate.

Gulf States Are Still Sponsoring Many Syrians

A persistent myth surrounding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is that the wealthy Gulf States are not sponsoring Syrian refugees.  As Iwrote in late 2015,the Gulf States did not host refugees but they were sponsoring almost 1.4 million Syrian emigrants in 2013 – about a million more than they were sponsoring in 2010 before the Syrian civil war began.  The recently releasedWorld Bank bilateral migration index for 2017shows that Gulf Countries are still sponsoring about 1.2 million Syrians,a 12 percent decline relative to 2013 (Table 1).

These Syrians are technically not"refugees"because Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States are not signatories to the1951 UNHCRconvention that created the modern international refugee system.Statementsby government spokesmen in the Gulf States confirm that they have taken in large numbers of"Arab brothers and sisters in distress,"but that they do not abide by international law governing refugees.In many cases,these governmentextended work and residency permitsto Syrians who were already there when the civil war began in 2011,allowed them to bring their families,and then permitted other Syrians to join them.

The total number of Syrians in the Gulf States declined by 12 percent from 2013 to 2017 but their share of all Syrians living outside of their home country more than halved.The number of Syrians living outside of Syria in 2017 increased by 96 percent over 2013,from about 3.9 million to 7.8 million (Table 2).About 82 percent of the global increase in the number of Syrian emigrants from 2013 to 2017 settled in Turkey and Lebanon.A full 88 percent of all Syrians who left Syria from 2010 to 2017 settled in other Middle Eastern countries.Of all Syrian emigrants globally,85 percent living in the Middle East (Figure 1).

Every additional Syrian emigrant living in the Gulf States is one fewer potential refugee elsewhere.Although the Gulf States have cut the number of Syrians living there since 2013,they are still housing over 1.2 million.The mere fact that the Gulf States have allowed large numbers of Syrians to live in their territory has helped relieve the humanitarian crisis somewhat.As much criticism as we can heap on the Gulf States for other issues,at least they allowed many Syrians to live there during the worst years of the Syrian civil war.

Kill the Iran Deal,Open Pandora's Box

This afternoon,Donald Trump made an announcement regarding the future of the Iran nuclear deal.Ahead of a self-imposed May 12thdeadline,the President announced that he will not be waiving the sanctions.This decision places the United States in violation of the deal.But while it may not kill the JCPOA completely – European states and Iran could decide whether to keep some version of the deal going without the United States – it will start a period of profound uncertainty about the future of U.S-Iranian relations.

In some ways,this uncertainty is the most concerning thing about the current administration's approach to the JCPOA.Trump's speech included no realistic alternate strategy,other than"get a better deal."His decision probably won't be followed by public debate over whether conflict with Iran is desirable,a proposition that many in the administration seem to favor,but which most Americans would undoubtedly oppose.

Instead,by blowing up the nuclear deal today without offering any clear strategy or plan for an alternative,Donald Trump is opening Pandora's Box,increasing the risks of escalation and bringing us gradually closer to conflict with Iran.

Initially,it probably won't look that bad.Sanctions penalties will not kick in for 180 days.Iran has said it will take a few weeks to decide on its response,and discuss the issue with European signatories of the JCPOA.These countries may well try to keep some form of the deal running without the United States.

A Goldilocks Strike against Assad has Few Benefits,Many Risks

Achemical weapons attackallegedly carried out by Syrian government forces against the rebel-controlled city of Douma has prompted the Trump administration toconsider military strikesagainst the Assad regime.The United States will likely follow through with military retaliation givenlast year's U.S.missile strike against a Syrian air basefollowing a similarly large chemical weapons attack.Since the last U.S.attack clearly failed to deter Syria from using chemical weapons,the Trump administrationfaces pressure to inflict greater painon the Assad regime this time around.However,a stronger U.S.military response—or any military action for that matter—carries more risks than rewards.

The argument supporting U.S.military action is more or less the same as the argument made in 2017: the United States must punish the Assad regime in order to deter any future use of chemical weapons by the regime.However,Washington seriously overestimates its ability to influence or change Damascus's behavior.

In theory,deterring the future use of chemical weapons requires the United States to make the costs of using these weapons unacceptably high.Over the course of the civil war,the Syrian government has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to absorb a great deal of military and economic costs.A military strike against Syrian air bases or chemical weapon sites may cause some temporary slowdown in the regime's operations but it will neither end the civil war nor prevent the regime from using chemical weapons in the future.Moreover,Russian and,to a lesser extent,Iranian support for the Syrian government will help insulate Syria from the costs of U.S.military action.

Using military force to prevent future chemical weapons attacks would require much more than a limited attack.Short of deposing Assad,which Russia and Iran would try hard to prevent,the United States would have to carry out sustained attacks against air bases,command and control assets,and chemical weapons sites to degrade the regime's ability to conduct future chemical weapons attacks.This would be a major escalation of the U.S.military role in Syria,which is at odds withPresident Trump's desire to reduce America's involvementin the country.There is also no guarantee that Assad and his allies would be cowed by a U.S.escalation.If Syria responds with more chemical weapons attacks or some other form of counter-escalation the United States would have to decide to up the ante or back down.

Another risk of a larger U.S.military response is the increased likelihood of inadvertent escalation with Russia.A sustained U.S.military pressure campaign that lasts long enough to significantly degrades the Assad regime's chemical weapon capabilities would necessarily increase the probability of American and Russian forces making contact with one another.

Figuring out what limited military attack can deter Assad from using chemical weapons without risking a broader escalation of the U.S.role in Syria—what my colleague John Glaser called the""Goldilocks military option"—is a practically impossible needle for the Trump administration to thread.A strike that minimizes escalation risks will be too small to change Assad's calculus about chemical weapons and a larger attack risks escalating a conflict that the United States has no great interest in fighting.The Trump administration must come to terms with the limitations of U.S.military power.