Trump Should Withdraw US Forces from Syria, But He Won’t

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Max Boot rails against the possibility that our illegal, unnecessary war in Syria might come to an end:

If the United States leaves both Syria and Iraq, it will be an incalculable windfall for Iran, a rogue state that Trump claims to hate – but not as much as he seems to hate long-term commitments.

I doubt very much that Trump will follow through on the suggested withdrawal for a few reasons. First, his incoming Secretary of State and National Security Advisor are sure to be vehemently opposed to doing this, and Trump is more malleable than clay when the people around him know how to flatter him and speak to him in terms he understands. Second, Trump fetishizes looking “tough” and hates appearing “weak,” and the foreign policy “Blob” will work overtime to make sure that he thinks a decision to leave Syria (the correct and relatively courageous decision) would be the latter. Boot’s criticism of a decision Trump probably won’t make is presumably just one of the first of these attacks. Third, hostility to Iran is one of the few constants in Trump’s foreign policy, so we have to assume that when staying in Syria is presented to him that way he will acquiesce in staying. Trump thinks that Obama was too accommodating to Iran, and he is determined to do the opposite of whatever he thinks Obama did. Finally, Trump has proven that he is a pushover for the Saudis and Israelis, and both governments have saidthat they want the U.S. to stay for a long time. Disregarding these clients’ preferences is what Trump thinks Obama would do, and so he won’t blow them off as he should.

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The Consequences of Blowing Up the Nuclear Deal

Originally appeared on The American Conservative February 28, 2018.

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz spells out what the nuclear deal with Iran does and what withdrawing from it would mean:

Conversely, if Trump withdraws the United States from the agreement, with Iran complying and with our allies clearly committed to its continuation, he will have compromised the most stringent nuclear verification standard ever achieved, with no credible prospect for restoring or improving it [bold mine-DL]. Such a move would hand Iran a political “wedge” dividing the international community, and undercut vital arguments for verification of any agreement reached with North Korea.

Opponents of the deal often claim to be against it because it isn’t “tough” enough, but as Moniz explains the deal contains the “most robust verification measures the world has ever known.” Withdrawing from the deal means throwing that away for no good reason. If Trump follows through on his threat to withdraw, he will confirm that his complaints about the agreement were made in bad faith. Reneging on the deal just because some of its restrictions expire after a decade or more gives the game away. It gives Iran the excuse to ignore some or all of the deal’s restrictions immediately instead of having some of them lifted in the 2020s or 2030s. We’re supposed to believe that the gradual expiration of some restrictions is so intolerable that we should throw away all of the restrictions right away. It’s a completely irrational position, and so it’s obviously just a bad excuse for killing an agreement that Iran hawks never wanted.

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John Bolton, Cheerleader for the MEK

Originally appeared on The American Conservative February 28, 2018.

Robin Wright reviews Bolton’s awful record, including his enthusiasm for the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK):

Bolton has also long backed a cultlike Iranian opposition group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or M.E.K., which has been held responsible for the murder of multiple American military personnel, a kidnapping attempt of a U.S. Ambassador, and other violent attacks in Iran before the 1979 revolution. The M.E.K. was based in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who provided arms, financial assistance, and political support. In 1997, it was among the first groups cited on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations. It wasn’t removed until 2012. Bolton spoke at an M.E.K. rally last year – for the eighth time – in Paris. Other speakers at M.E.K. rallies have reportedly been paid tens of thousands of dollars for their appearances.

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The Wall Street Journal’s Pathetic Case for Supporting the War on Yemen

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Wall Street Journal has distinguished itself for promoting pro-Saudi and pro-Emirati propaganda about the war on Yemen, gushing over Mohammed bin Salman, and for credulous reporting on the war and the humanitarian crisis it has created. Now their editors rail against S.J.Res. 54 because it threatens to put an end to the war they have supported for three years:

Saudi Arabia finally has a young leader pushing social and economic reform, fighting Iran’s attempt to dominate the Middle East, and even cooperating quietly with Israel. Wouldn’t you know now would be the time that a left-right coalition in Congress wants to snub this ally by pretending to be commanders in chief.

The WSJ editorial does its best to duck the real issues at stake while casting baseless aspersions at opponents of an indefensible war. U.S. involvement in the war is unauthorized by Congress, and it does constitute engaging in hostilities. US refueling of coalition planes makes our government a party to the conflict, and it means that our military is engaged in hostilities against the coalition’s enemies even if they are not directly involved in the fighting. The language of the War Powers Resolution is clear on this point. Our military is participating in the movement of coalition forces while they are carrying out attacks in Yemen, and as such they have been introduced into hostilities without Congress’ authorization.

The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most of the war’s civilian casualties. The claim that their “targeting has improved thanks to US intelligence and training” ignores that the coalition has frequently targeted civilian structures and infrastructure on purpose. Our military has just confirmed that they don’t track what happens after the refuel coalition planes, so by their own admission they have no way of knowing what the coalition is doing with the support that our government happily provides. The coalition has committed numerous war crimes, and so long as the US provides refueling and arms for their bombing campaign our government is complicit in those crimes. Voting for S.J.Res. 54 is also a vote to put an end to that complicity. Because US support for the coalition is so important to their war effort, they would be hard-pressed to continue their campaign without it. Halting support for the bombing campaign is the best option that the US has for ending the war and ameliorating the country’s humanitarian crisis.

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End the US Enabling of Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Zaid Jilani reports that the U.S. military has no idea what missions are carried out in Yemen by the coalition planes that they refuel:

In a surprising admission on Tuesday, the head of U.S. Central Command – which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia – admitted that the Pentagon doesn’t know a whole lot about the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen that the United States is supporting through intelligence, munitions, and refueling.

U.S. CENTCOM Cmdr. Gen. Joseph Votel made the admission in response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.

“Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.

If the U.S. military doesn’t track what the coalition planes do after they are refueled, it can’t honestly claim that it isn’t aiding and abetting coalition violations of international law. They don’t know what the coalition planes they refuel do later on, and perhaps they don’t want to know. If the U.S. isn’t tracking how our assistance is used, it isn’t credible to say that our government is using that assistance to change the coalition’s conduct of the war for the better. The U.S. is blindly enabling indiscriminate coalition bombing without making any effort to understand the effects of our support.

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The Saudi ‘Reformer’ Who Uses Torture

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Many of the detainees seized during Mohammed bin Salman’s purge last year were subjected to physical abuse, and one later died from his injuries:

During months of captivity, many were subject to coercion and physical abuse, witnesses said. In the early days of the crackdown, at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse and one later died in custody with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse, according to a person who saw the body.

Mohammed bin Salman’s power grab and subsequent shakedown of detainees were always aimed at consolidating power and extracting money by force. That seemed clear enough at the time, and this report just confirms it. The “anti-corruption” spin was always a pretext for doing these things and never a very convincing one, and it is a measure of how easily seduced by Mohammed bin Salman’s promise of “reform” they are that so many Western observers accepted his explanation at face value. Obviously, torturing people into handing assets over to the state is a crude abuse of power that has nothing to do with fighting corruption. Abusing detainees into signing over their wealth is consistent with Mohammed bin Salman’s heavy-handed crackdown on internal dissent and his prosecution of an atrocious war that is creating one of the worst famines of modern times. If foreign investors were nervous about the prospects of doing business in the new Saudi Arabia before now, this story should make them extremely wary. When the crown prince comes to the U.S. later this month, his hosts should force him to address the many abuses committed by his government. With any luck, he will find that many of his would-be investors don’t want to do business in a country ruled by such a reckless and incompetent man.

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