Senior Lawmakers Urge U.S. Engagement in Libya

Libyans take part in a celebration with fireworks marking the sixth anniversary of the Libyan revolution / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, Natalie Johnson, April 25, 2017:

Senior lawmakers on Tuesday rejected President Donald Trump’s declaration that the United States has “no role” in Libya, citing the threat of regional instability to U.S. national security interests.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin (D., Md.) said Libya’s ongoing battle over power and access to natural resources has created a permissive environment for extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Cardin, during opening remarks for a hearing assessing U.S. policy options in the war-torn nation, said it is vital to U.S. security interests that the Trump administration work with the international community and local forces to craft a political solution that creates a representative government.

“The United States must be engaged,” Cardin said. “When we don’t have representative governments … it creates a void and that void is filled by ISIS, as we’ve seen in northern Africa, and it’s filled by Russia, which we’re seeing Russia’s engagement now in Libya.”

“I think this hearing is an important indication by Congress that we do expect a role to be played,” he added.

Trump raised concerns Thursday when he rejected calls from Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to maintain America’s “very critical” role in Libya. The United States currently is working to build political consensus around the fragile United Nations-backed government in Tripoli. Trump said during the joint press conference with Gentiloni that the U.S. priority in Libya is counterterrorism efforts to degrade ISIS.

Moscow in recent months has ramped up support for Libyan military commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who controls large swaths of eastern Libya, including Benghazi. Haftar’s forces do not recognize the UN-backed Government of National Accord, posing a significant challenge to international efforts to unify the country.

Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told lawmakers Tuesday that U.S. disengagement from the embattled nation would widen the opening for Russian involvement and create conditions likely to perpetuate the spread of ISIS.

U.S. Africa Command released its 2017 posture statement in March, declaring instability in Libya and North Africa the “most significant near-term threat” to the United States and its allies in the region. The command warned that Libya’s precarious security situation has created spillover effects in Tunisia, Egypt, and most of western North Africa, enabling the flow of foreign fighters and migrants to Europe.

“The notion of the problems of Libya spilling over is really profound—we’re talking about a number of U.S. interests in the region. [It’s] really this epicenter that effects the surrounding region.” Wehrey testified.

Trump Has a Foreign Policy Strategy

Donald Trump at the Department of Homeland Security. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Yes, there is a method to Trump’s foreign-policy “madness.”

The National Interest, by James Carafano, April 21, 2017:

For two weeks, the White House has unleashed a foreign-policy blitzkrieg, and Washington’s chattering classes are shocked and, if not awed, at least perplexed.

CNN calls Trump’s actions a “u-turn.” Bloomberg opts for the more mathematical “180 degree turn,” while the Washington Post goes with “flipflop.” Meanwhile, pundits switched from decrying the president as an isolationist to lambasting him as a tool of the neocons. Amid all the relabeling, explanations of an “emerging Trump Doctrine” have proliferated faster than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Here’s my take on what’s going on:

• Yes, there is a method to Trump’s “madness.”

• No, there has been no big change in Trump’s strategy.

The actions that flustered those who thought they had pigeon-holed Donald Trump simply reflect the impulses that have driven the direction of this presidency since before the convention in Cleveland.

At the Center of the Storm

Where is the head and heart of the president’s national-security team? Ask that question a year ago, and the answer would have been simple: General Mike Flynn, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator Jeff Sessions.

Today, Flynn is gone. Giuliani never went in. Sessions is still a crucial voice in the administration, but his duties as Attorney General deal only partially with foreign policy and national-security matters.

The new team centers round Jim Mattis at the Defense Department, Rex Tillerson at the State Department, John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security and H. R. McMaster in the West Wing—ably assisted by Nikki Haley at the United Nations. Trump barely knew these people before the election.

There is little question that the new team’s character and competence affected the White House response to the recent string of high profile events and activities—from presidential meetings with Egypt and China and Tillerson’s tête-à-tête with Putin, to the ominous developments in Syria and North Korea. Though on the job for only about dozen weeks, the new administration handled a lot of action on multiple fronts quite deftly. Much of that can be credited to the maturity and experience of Trump’s senior national-security team.

But how the administration responded was purely Trumpian—reflecting an impulse that transcends the makeup of his foreign team or other White House advisors.

Decoding Trumpian Strategy

Since the early days of the campaign, one thing has been clear: trying stitch together an understanding of Trump’s foreign and defense policy based on Trump’s tweets and other off-hand comments is a fool’s errand. That has not changed since the Donald took over the Oval Office.

That is not to say that none of Trump’s rhetoric matters. He has given some serious speeches and commentary. But pundits err when they give every presidential utterance equal merit. A joint address to Congress ought to carry a lot more weight than a 3 a.m. tweet about the Terminator.

But especially with this presidency, one needs to focus on White House actions rather than words to gain a clearer understanding of where security and foreign policy is headed. Do that, and one sees emerging a foreign and defense policy more conventional and more consistent than what we got from Bush or Obama. Still, a deeper dive is necessary to get at the root of Trump’s take on the world and how it fits with recent actions like the tomahawk strikes in Syria and the armada steaming toward North Korea.

I briefed Candidate Trump and his policy advisors during the campaign. I organized workshops for the ambassadorial corps during the Cleveland Convention and worked with the presidential team through the inauguration. Those experiences let me observe how the policies from the future fledgling administration were unfolding. Here are some observations that might be helpful in understanding the Trumpian way.

At the core of Trump’s view of the world are his views on the global liberal order. Trump is no isolationist. He recognizes that America is a global power with global interests and that it can’t promote and protect those interests by sitting at home on its hands. Freedom of the commons, engaging and cooperating with like-minded nations, working to blunt problems “over there” before they get over here—these are things every modern president has pursued. Trump is no different.

What distinguishes Trump—and what marks a particularly sharp departure from Obama—is his perception of what enabled post–World War America and the rest of the free world to rise above the chaos of a half century of global depression and open war.

Obama and his ilk chalked it all up to international infrastructure—the UN, IMF, World Bank, EU, et al. For Trump, it was the sovereign states rather than the global bureaucracies that made things better. The international superstructure has to stand on a firm foundation—and the foundation is the sovereign state. Without strong, vibrant, free and wealthy states, the whole thing collapses like a Ponzi scheme.

Trump is an arch nationalist in the positive sense of the term. America will never be safe in the world if the world doesn’t have an America that is free, safe and prosperous.

That belief is at the heart of Trump’s policies designed to spark an economic revival, rollback the administrative state and rebuild the military. It lies at the core of his mantra: make America great again.

Even the strongest America, however, can’t be a global power without the willingness to act globally. And that’s where Trump’s declaration of “America First” comes in.

What it means for foreign policy is that the president will put the vital interests of the United States above the maintenance of global institutions. That is not an abandonment of universal values. Every American president deals with the challenge of protecting interests and promoting values. Trump will focus on American interests and American values, and that poses no threat to friends and allies. In many cases, we share the same values. In many cases, what’s in America’s vital interest is also in their interest—and best achieved through joint partnership.

Here is how those animating ideas are currently manifesting themselves in Trump’s strategy:

A strategy includes ends (what you are trying to accomplish), means (the capabilities you will use to do that) and ways (how you are going to do it). The ends of Trump’s strategy are pretty clear. In both talk and action in the Trump world, it boils down to three parts of the world: Europe, Asia and the Middle East. That makes sense. Peace and stability in these regions are vital to U.S. interests and are under assault. The United States wants all three parts of the world to settle. It is unrealistic to think all the problems can be made to disappear, but it is not unrealistic to significantly reduce the potential for region-wide conflict.

The means are more than just a strong military. Trump believes in using all the instruments of power, hard and soft. He has unleashed Nikki Haley on the United Nations. He has ordered Rex Tillerson to revamp the State Department so that it is focused on the core tasks of statecraft and the effective and appropriate use of foreign assistance. He wants an intelligence community that delivers intelligence and doesn’t just cater to what the White House wants to hear. And he has ordered Homeland Security to shift from being politically correct to operationally effective. Further, it’s clear that Tillerson, Kelly, Mattis and Sessions are all trying to pull in the same direction.

The ways of the Trump strategy are not the engagement and enlargement of Clinton, the rearranging of the world by Bush, or the disengagement of Obama. The world is filled with intractable problems. Trump is less interested in trying to solve all of them in a New-York minute and more concerned about reducing those problems so that they give the United States and its friends and allies less and less trouble.

Trump is traveling a path between running away and invading. It might be called persistent presence. The United States plans to engage and use its influence in key parts of the world consistently over time to protect our interests. Done consistently, it will not only protect our interests; it will also expand the global safe space by causing bad influences to fade.

Recent activities in the Middle East are a good example. The bomb strike on Syria was not a prelude to regime change or nation-building in Syria. It was a warning shot to Assad to cut it out and stop interfering in U.S. efforts to finish off ISIS, stabilize refugee populations and keep Iraq from falling apart. Engagement with Egypt was to signal America is back working with partners to stabilize the region and counter the twin threats of Islamist extremism and Iran. Neither is a kick-ass-and-withdraw operation. These are signs of long, serious engagement, shrinking the space in which bad actors can operate.

The U.S. regional strategies for Europe and Asia are the same, and it seems clear that Chinese and Russian leaders have gotten the message. In the wake of recent meetings, both countries have reacted by treating Trump with the seriousness he has demanded. Others get it too. I’ve talked to many foreign officials who have come through Washington, DC this year and they have all told me that they got the same impression: this administration is about resolve and persistence. Still, no strategy is without risks and pitfalls. This one is no different. Here is how Trump might screw up or be upended by a smarter or luckier enemy:

Pop goes political will. A strategy of persistent presence can work only if the United States persists. It took past presidents over a decade to screw things up. It is going to take at least eight years of reassuring friends and wearing down adversaries to fix it. Trump will have to get reelected.

Strength for the fight. Trump has to deliver guns and butter: a rebounding economy at home and a strong face abroad. That means a combination of growth and fiscally responsible federal spending—a challenge that eluded the last two presidents.

Mission creep. Presence can lapse into ambition, which can become overreach, or certainly taking on more than make sense to handle. There might always be temptation to deal with a North Korea, Syria or Iran once for all.

Blindsided. There are other parts of the world. An administration can’t be indifferent to effective engagement in Latin America and Africa.

Distractions. Persistence is boring. There is always the temptation to follow the bright foreign-policy object.

Enemy gets a vote. The United States has to be strong in three theaters at the same time, so there will always be a temptation for its competitors to coordinate efforts or seize opportunities to give the United States multiple problems to solve, straining its capability to persist in each theater.

Black Swans. Competitors might get tired of the long war and risk throwing in a game changer. For example, rolling the dice on an Electromagnetic Pulse attack. Effective persistence requires a measure of paranoia. Competitors are never inanimate entities to be pushed around. They have agency, and they are always looking for a way to make a bad day for the other guy.

It remains to be seen if Trump can become a strategic leader capable of steering America past all these obstacles, but certainly he sees the path forward much more clearly than his domestic opponents are willing to recognize or acknowledge.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research program for national security and foreign relations.

***

On Turkey, Trump Catches Spring Fever

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves after he visited the graves of three conservative late Turkish prime ministers, in Istanbul, Monday, April 17, 2017. (Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Press Service via AP)

PJ MEDIA, BY ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, APRIL 19, 2017:

Amid reports of significant ballot-box stuffing, roughing up dissenters, and other electoral fraud, Turkey’s sharia-supremacist strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hammered the final nail in the coffin of his country’s democracy. Last weekend, he narrowly prevailed in a referendum that formally concentrates in the presidency the autocratic powers he had previously usurped.

Afterwards, Donald Trump called to congratulate him.

You read that right. The president of the United States called to congratulate a terror-supporting Islamist ruler on completing his country’s turn away from Western liberalism.

Five years ago, I wrote a book called Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy. It was largely about Erdogan and Turkey. That story needed telling in order to explain why, far from a democratic revolution, the so-called Arab Spring would result in the ascendancy of political Islam in all its classic totalitarianism. The point was that we knew how the story would end in the Middle East and North Africa because the same story had already played out in Ankara.

And so it did.

Erdogan had seized the reins thanks to a constitutional quirk ironically designed to keep Islamists out of power. Gradually — in many ways, brilliantly — he strengthened his hand until, finally, he succeeded in his goal of eviscerating the secular, Westward-leaning society forged by Mustafa Kemal — Atatürk — out of the Ottoman Empire’s post-World War I collapse.

Spring Fever presaged what happened last weekend. Though he was still prime minister at the time (mid-2012, the height of Arab Spring exuberance), I contended that Erdogan’s goal was “the adoption of a new constitution with a powerful presidency that Erdogan would occupy.” Thus, my rueful conclusion that “‘Islamic Democracy’ begins to sound a lot like Russian ‘democracy.’”

It was always sadly amusing that Western devotees of “Islamic democracy” pointed to “the Turkish model” as proof positive that their oxymoronic fantasy could become Middle Eastern reality.

Even in their rose-tinted telling, the Arab Spring was supposed to be a mass transformation from dictatorships to democracy. Turkey, to the contrary, was already a democracy when Erdogan took over in 2003. He represented a shift from a secular, pro-Western orientation to sharia supremacism. There never was an Arab Spring, but Erdogan is the Turkish Winter, transforming democracy into dictatorship.

Steadily, he accumulated power though starting from a position of weakness. He was shrewd, but the tea leaves were never hard to read. “Democracy,” he proclaimed, “is just the train we board to reach our destination.” Erdogan never saw democracy as a goal, never aspired to adopt a culture of liberty and the protection of minority rights. For him democracy was nothing but the procedural means — mainly, popular elections in a Muslim majority country — to the desired end of imposing sharia, Islam’s societal framework and legal system. “I am a servant of sharia,” Erdogan was wont to say when he was Istanbul’s mayor — though he preferred to refer to himself as the city’s “imam.”

As prime minister, his masterstroke was to exploit the con-job known as European integration. Erdogan knew that, for all their flowery rhetoric, Germany, France, and the rest had no intention of welcoming a Muslim country of 80 million into the EU. Moreover, as an Islamist in the Muslim Brotherhood mold, Erdogan despises the West and had no intention of conforming in order to join. To this day, he exhorts Muslims to integrate into the West but resist assimilation. Indeed, he has described Western pressure on Muslims to assimilate as a “crime against humanity.” When it comes to Europe, Erdogan’s long range plan is to extort its accommodation of Islamic norms, not to become a partner.

Thus, we find the brilliance of Erdogan’s strategy. His main opponents when he took power were the Turkish military, which had staged coups throughout modern Turkey’s history to prevent an Islamist takeover, and the rest of the “deep state” guardians of the secular Kemalist order. So Erdogan undertook to leverage the endless European integration process in a manner that undermined his rivals. There was the Western insistence on civilian control of the military, which paralyzed Kemalists who might otherwise plot to remove Erdogan; the prime minister thus gradually installed his own loyalists. And while EU bureaucrats care little about Western religious traditions, they are indignant on the matter of religious liberty where Islam is concerned. As applied to Turkey, this EU integration metric gave Erdogan the cover he needed to ease Kemalist restrictions on the teaching and practice of Islam.

Meanwhile, Erdogan focused on restoring sharia norms in the culture and sharia tenets in the classroom. When it became clear that the armed forces would not dare overthrow him, he purged Kemalist officers, including in mass, trumped-up prosecutions. Ditto journalists: Erdogan’s Turkey imprisons more reporters than China, and is brutal generally toward dissenters.

Concurrently, he rolled out the red carpet for the Muslim Brotherhood, which turned Turkey into a center of movement gravity. He cultivated friendship with Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of jihadist terror, working to help the mullahs defeat American sanctions. He is one of the world’s foremost promoters of Hamas, maintaining that the Palestinian jihadist faction is a political party fighting against occupation — just like Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite jihadist faction. And Erdogan’s determination to arm and train Sunni jihadists has contributed to the rise of the Islamic State, even if it has strained his relations with Tehran.

To summarize, Erdogan is an anti-Western, anti-Semitic, sharia-supremacist, jihadist-empowering anti-Democrat. As a ruler, he is a Putin wannabe who persecutes those who dare defy him, running his country like a mafia don. His referendum victory is the death knell for democracy in Turkey.

Last summer, candidate Donald Donald Trump lavished praise on Erdogan after the latter put down an attempted coup. The nominee did not realize, or perhaps did not care, that the revolt had been a last-ditch attempt to thwart the regime’s sharia authoritarianism and restore the secular, pro-Western constitutional order. This was bad enough — an early reflection of Trump’s indifference to the internal affairs of countries he perceives as potentially helpful (however well- or ill-informed such perceptions may be).

But it is simply mind-boggling that, as president, Trump would congratulate Erdogan for a stolen election victory that crushes democracy and accelerates Turkey’s Islamist turn.

After he won in November, I wondered aloud whether Trump grasped the reality of sharia supremacism. Sure, he deserved praise for his willingness to name America’s enemy — “radical Islamic terrorism,” he called it. Yet it remained to be seen whether he understood the enemy, particularly the ideology that drives the enemy.

Suffice it to say: I continue to have my doubts.

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination, Trump railed about the “radical Muslim Brotherhood” and put a positive spin on the Egyptian military’s decision to wrest control from the Brotherhood regime. All fine … except this came at the very same time he was lauding Erdogan, the Brotherhood’s key ally and ideological twin, for crushing a similarly motivated coup. Since then, Trump has opined that Turkey could be of great help against the Islamic State, notwithstanding that Erdogan’s empowerment of Sunni militants helped create the Islamic State.

Perhaps someone could explain to the president that although Erdogan, like the Brotherhood and other Islamists, has his disagreements with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, he shares the jihadists’ commitment to sharia rule. That is, his worldview is more like that of totalitarian jihadists than of, say, NATO countries. Of course, when Turkey was permitted to join NATO in 1952, it was Kemalist. Now, though the alliance of democracies has added counterterrorism to its renewed mission of containing the Kremlin’s ambitions, Turkey is Islamist, anti-democratic, supports terrorists, and has cozied up to Putin.

There are two things to notice about Erdogan. First, he sees Islam as the foundation of life, with no division among the political, civic, social, and spiritual realms. Second, he emphatically rejects the concept of “moderate” Islam – recall his famous outburst: “It is an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” That is why Erdogan so naturally champions the jihadists of Hamas and Hezbollah, and why he was so willing to provide logistical support, training space, weapons, and funding for Sunni jihadists headed to Syria.

Eventually, of course, jihadists began biting the hand that fed them, bombing targets in Turkey and kidnapping Turkish officials. It’s an old game, one Erdogan could learn about from the Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptians, and other Islamist regimes that have similarly supported Muslim militants in the vain hope of controlling them and using them geopolitically. Only after ISIS struck Turkey did Erdogan begin posing as a committed ISIS enemy. But the new American president is kidding himself if he thinks he can bank on that, or that an Islamist dictator can be a reliable ally against Islamic terrorism while promoting sharia supremacism and continuing to support his preferred Islamic terrorists, such as Hamas.

Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s renowned jurist (and Hamas’s inspiration), has explained that Western democracy is incompatible with Islamic society because sharia is a comprehensive societal system that regards secularism as apostasy — a capital offense in Islamic law.

Al-Qaeda and its breakaway branch, the Islamic State, seek a global caliphate governed by totalitarian sharia, and thus attack governments that aspire to real democracy.

Now, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has snuffed out democracy in his quest to turn Turkey into an authoritarian sharia state.

And the president of the United States has called to congratulate him.

Trump drew his gas-attack red line 6 months ago

Tomahawk missile fired at a Syrian air base from the USS Porter April 6, 2017

WND, by Garth Kant, April 13, 2017:

WASHINGTON – Many of President Trump’s supporters are wary, some even critical, of the cruise-missile strikes against Syria because he had so severely criticized previous U.S. foreign interventions, particularly in the Mideast.

However, candidate Trump actually gave a warning half-a-year ago that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for him.

In an interview with Sara Carter of Circa News in September, the candidate said an ISIS mustard-gas attack on U.S. troops at a training facility in northern Iraq that had just happened was intolerable.

“When you look at [the fact that] they’re starting to hit us with gas now on top of everything else, that’s a total lack of respect and you cannot let them get away with it,” candidate Trump told her. “You have to go after them big league.”

Carter wrote that Trump said anyone who uses chemical weapons should expect military action.

“You have to hit them so hard and the people that did it,” said Trump. “Don’t forget they’re out there looking to do it again.”

Still, some voters and pundits seem to feel double-crossed by the president after he ordered 59 cruise missiles to hit a Syrian airbase on Thursday in retaliation for the gruesome and deadly gassing of Syrians.

As WND reported, perhaps the president’s biggest supporter in the 2016 campaign, columnist Ann Coulter, tweeted, “Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates.”

Talk-show giant Michael Savage declared, “This beating of the war drums with Russia has to stop.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, “Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”

On Tuesday, the Washington Times’ Byron York cited a Washington Post poll showing only 35 percent of the public would support another round of airstrikes, and 54 percent opposed that.

York asserted, “[L]eaders don’t surprise the voters with an out-of-the-blue act of war. In the case of Syria, Trump moved so quickly, and with such little effort at public persuasion beforehand, that he maintained the element of surprise on his own voters. That’s not a good idea.”

York cited comments made by radio host Laura Ingraham on Fox News Tuesday morning that Trump’s campaign had “focused on America first. Jobs, the economy, wages going up – that’s it.”

She also quipped, “I’m not sure getting rid of Bashar al-Assad was at the top of the list of the people in Pennsylvania.”

But, also on Tuesday, the president’s top military man sought to reassure the public that America was not heading into another war.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was confident that “it will not spiral out of control,” and that the cruise-missile strikes were a one-off mission to deter any more chemical attacks by the Assad regime.

However, he did add that any more such attacks would cause Assad to “pay a very, very stiff price.”

WND spoke with one of the nation’s top Middle East experts, who, like the president, is opposed to expanding U.S. intervention in the region but considers the missile strikes the right thing to have done.

Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy

Clare Lopez is vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy and has an impressive array of credentials. In addition to spending two decades in the field as a CIA operations officer, Lopez was an instructor for military intelligence and special forces students; has been a consultant, intelligence analyst and researcher within the defense sector; and has published two books on Iran. She also served as a foreign-policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Lopez said: “I’ve long opposed U.S. intervention in the middle of an intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Sunnis and Shiites, now much muddled by all kinds of external actors and powers. I still do.”

But, she looks at President Trump’s strike on Syria “in a couple of ways,” detailed in comments emailed to WND:

  • “Iran, Russia, Syria and the U.S. are all signatories to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, which obligate us to enforcement of its provisions. President Trump accepted and fulfilled that obligation, not so much in opposition to Assad or in support of any opposing force(s), but in defense of whatever international order still exists.
  • “I believe in so doing, the president not only reasserted U.S. power and influence in the region and put other international leaders on notice, but, in a way, reshuffled the deck in the Middle East to set the stage for what will come next.
  • “Al-Sham (a historic name for Syria) is splintering and will not be put back together again. The best we can salvage out of all that are some autonomous, and perhaps more stable, regions: a Kurdish one (but one that does not touch Turkey’s borders); an Alawite one under the control of a leader in Damascus, but not necessarily current President Assad; and a Sunni-controlled territory to replace the Islamic State – but one that is not, and must not be allowed to be, jihadi.
  • “I think Russia could be a constructive partner in achieving something like this. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not personally wedded to al-Assad remaining in power, and he does not seek to empower Hezbollah to destroy Israel (like Iran does). Moscow wants an arms client in Damascus; its two military bases in Latakia and Tartus; a foothold in the southeastern Mediterranean and influence in the region. It will have those anyway, with or without the involvement of the U.S. government. It’s better, I say, that we are involved than not involved.
  • “At the February 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, Russian officials already openly and explicitly expressed a willingness to see Assad go. They even suggested, as a temporary placeholder, retired Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard Manaf Tlass (from the regime of Assad’s father) who defected and went into exile in 2011. Why aren’t we jumping all over that, especially as I know for a fact that a number of Free Syrian Army rebel commanders (officers who defected from the Syrian Armed Forces) would also accept such an arrangement? As an interim replacement, Tlass would only serve a while, but he’d keep the Damascus regime in Alawite hands, and not ones from an Assad clan. The Sunnis will fight from now until Armageddon unless the Assads go.
  • “The Islamic State is not now and never has been an existential threat to the USA. Let the regional forces take care of them. But Iran is an existential threat to us and to Israel. It is a nation state, has nuclear programs plus ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles), chemical and biological weapons, and has been enabled to solidify a Shiite crescent around the region (including Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and maybe Yemen). And it projects power via terror militias like Hezbollah all over the world, including the Western Hemisphere and right here in America.
  • “The Trump team needs to focus on a broad strategic vision for region that prioritizes core, compelling U.S. national security objectives. It must first establish a strategic policy, then react only within that when events demand and exigencies arise – not the other way around. No knee-jerk responses in response to everything that happens but without the framework of a national strategy to guide us.
  • “We can only hope the National Security Council, Pentagon and White House will be able to develop such a plan with some good advice from knowledgeable experts. And at all costs, avoid any more U.S. troop deployments over there. As Caroline Glick wrote in the Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago, ISIS is a vanguard for Iran, which is why neither Damascus nor the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its foreign-specialist Qods Force, nor Hezbollah, nor the Russians ever really went after it in a serious way. ISIS served their purpose, which was to advance and expand Iranian power. Wherever ISIS is, or even recedes from, Iran and Shiites fill in. Is that what the American military is for?! To clear the decks for a Shiite crescent across the Middle East? I don’t think so.”

Gorka on Mark Levin: Trump ‘Inherited a Global Firestorm’ from Obama Admin.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 13, 2017:

Host Mark Levin welcomed Dr. Sebastian Gorka, former Breitbart News national security editor and current deputy assistant to President Trump, to his radio show on Tuesday evening.

Gorka said that current American policy in trouble spots such as Syria and North Korea was consistent with President Trump’s positions during the 2016 campaign.

“Very simply put, the man that was Donald Trump before January the 20th is the same man who is the president today,” he said. “He has re-instigated American leadership around the world. We’re not going to perpetuate the vacuum created by President Obama that was exploited by people like Assad, like Putin, like the crazy regime in North Korea.”

“We are reasserting the values that made America great and will make America great again,” he said, alluding to Trump’s campaign slogan. “It’s leadership from the front, and it’s standing up to the founding principles of the Republic. It’s that simple, Mark.”

“For all the people who supported Donald Trump on November the 8th, I’d like them to think about one thing: what we did on Thursday is not 2003 nor is it the first Gulf War in 1991,” Gorka said.

He suggested:

The president is clear. He’s not about invading other people’s countries and occupying them, but he is not going to let dictators use weapons of mass destruction against unarmed women and children. If you have a problem with us launching a cruise missile strike on an airfield used to execute such an attack, you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, what is the problem with taking that action and making a red line a real red line?

Levin said some disappointed Trump supporters feel he has “embraced the McCain wing of the Republican Party” with his Syrian intervention.

“I say they really need to look at the facts,” Gorka countered. “The idea that deploying 150,000 troops into the Middle East is the same as one of our ships sitting in safety, in the middle of the Med, launching unmanned vehicles to take out this airfield — the two can not be compared.”

“Also, there’s a very important point here: statecraft, leadership is nothing if it doesn’t understand that diplomacy must be backed up by force,” he continued. “We had eight years of just words — words that were exploited by our enemies and, on top of that, the support of our enemies when you look at the JCPOA, the Iran deal, the ransoms and everything else.” He said:

We understand, and the president understands this implicitly, diplomacy is nothing if you’re not prepared to back it up with force. Everyone who needs to understand what we did in Syria on Thursday understands it. Look at the nations that have an issue with it and you will see just how morally sound our actions were — and also how they overlapped with our national security as well.

Gorka noted that Russia’s response to the strike on the Sharyat airbase in Syria has been thus far limited to “some very predictable statements that they have to make for domestic, internal purposes, but I think they are drawing the necessary conclusions.”

“There is a point at which your satrapy, your client state maintaining a state like Assad’s state is no longer in the interest of even the Kremlin,” he said, making one of those necessary conclusions explicit. “I think they’re starting to understand that as well.”

Levin proposed that Russia’s weak economy would hinder them in a conflict with the United States.

“This is one of the things that Ronald Reagan understood,” Gorka agreed:

In one of his first meetings in the NSC, he asked, “What is the GDP of the Soviet Union?” He was told it was roughly on par with California. Then he understood how much of a paper tiger the Soviet Union was. So yes, if you look at the GDP, if you look at their resource-intensive economy, if you look at their demographics — 600,000 people die a year in Russia, more than are born. That’s a demographic reality. So yes, we look at the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be, which was the last White House.

Levin asked for an update on North Korea, which Gorka said he could deliver only with caution because, “unlike the Clinton administration and unlike the Obama administration, we do not give our game plan away — we do not tell our adversaries what to expect from us, as Clinton did in the Balkans, and as the last president did in Iraq.”

“I think people understand, and that the movement of our vessels, the action we took on Thursday, they’re all part of the same kind of deck of cards,” Gorka said. “We are reinforcing the statements made by the president, by Secretary Tillerson, with actions that fill the vacuum created by the Obama administration.”

Levin observed that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is “a very dangerous man.”

“The problem with that nation, in particular, is that unlike other countries, including I would say even the Russian Federation, you simply cannot model them on the rational-actor models that we use,” Gorka said. “When ideology overtakes reasoned cost/benefit analysis, nations like North Korea are very difficult to model. That’s why other messages are needed.”

“That’s the similarity between Iran and North Korea. We are not looking at your standard, rational actors in either case,” he said.

“It’s very important that everybody, whether you voted for him or not, is clear on this issue that there is no desire, and no intent, inside the White House, inside the Oval Office — the president does not wish to be some kind of global policeman,” Gorka stressed. “That is not what we’re talking about.”

However, he agreed with Levin’s point that “we have inherited a global firestorm” from the Obama administration.

“If you look at any cardinal point on the compass — north, south, east or west — the world is on fire,” he said. “Just one thing: if you listen to the United Nations, we have 65 million refugees in the world today. That’s more than we had in 1945, after the death camps and the destruction of World War II.”

“That is, in part, a direct function of the feckless foreign policy and a lack of leadership under the Obama administration,” Gorka contended. “We can’t ignore that because sooner or later that will have a national security impact on every American living in the United States as well.”

Levin feared that even Trump’s request for increased military funding was not enough and that Congress was not moving quickly enough to provide the funds requested.

Gorka said that “certain individuals” in Congress saw the urgency of rebuilding the military, although it was not a “groundswell” yet.

“There’s a lot of freshmen congressmen, many of them, who are actually Iraq veterans. Some of them are my friends,” he said:

They fully understand it. When you look at the U.S. Marine Corps, in the last eight years, ended up having to cannibalize active aircraft they were using so they could use those spare parts for other aircraft. That is the dire situation that we inherited. The president is serious about fixing that as well. But it’s separation of powers, so as you rightly note, we have to have that requisite support on the Hill to make things happen. The purse strings are there. The intent exists in the White House. We’ve already set with the increase in the budget the direction we need to go in, but it’s not just up to the president.

Levin concluded the interview by asking Gorka what it was like to “be under constant attack, in ways that really are quite vicious,” and if he was still glad to be at the White House after dealing with such abuse.

“Look, Mark, I’m living the dream,” Gorka replied. “I was an immigrant. I chose this country because I truly believe it’s the last great hope. I came here nine years ago, and I’m walking around the West Wing every day. God has smiled on me, and I’m thankful for that.”

“With all of these fake news attacks — there’s going to be another one in USA Today tomorrow — I just smile and I laugh. Why? Because I’m not in the cellar of the secret police headquarters in Budapest being tortured, like my father in 1950. So bring it on. Call in Karl, Ben Rhodes, Politico — I laugh in your face because it is pathetic and it’s only words,” he declared.

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Frank Gaffney: ‘If Assad Must Go, What Do We Want There Next?’

Associated Press

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 12, 2017:

Frank Gaffney, Center for Security Policy president, joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Wednesday’sBreitbart News Daily to discuss Gaffney’s warning that things can get worse in Syria.

“The Syria situation is one that is fraught with peril, as I see it, for the United States at this particular moment in time,” Gaffney explained. “Because President Trump seems sorely tempted – and I think that tempting is not simply a function of the usual suspects, people who have been horrified by the humanitarian crisis there, the people there who think that it will be resolved, or at least diminished, by bringing Heaven knows how many refugees from Syria here and the like – but now from his own national security team that we must get involved, we must inject ourselves into the crisis in Syria.”

“I think that’s folly,” he said. “It’s not because I’m indifferent to the suffering of the people there. It’s that I don’t see a good solution for, frankly, either the people of Syria or their neighbors or for us by making America part of this civil war.”

Gaffney said his specific concern is that “the idea that Assad is Hitler or something akin to him and must go, and Russia must help with that, raises, inevitably, the question: so what do we want there next?”

“The choices, unfortunately, seem to be more of the same. At best, it’s an Assad-Lite, supported by the Russians, supported presumably by the Iranians, supported by Hezbollah. Or, alternatively, it’s sharia supremacists of the Sunni stripe supported by the Saudis, supported by the Turks, supported by perhaps al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, or simply the Muslim Brotherhood. All very bad choices, in my judgment,” he said.

Gaffney noted Russia has some concrete interests in Syria, including a warm-water port in the Mediterranean.

“They have had the use of an airfield there as well. It’s been sort of a foothold for most of this period, certainly since ’67,” he said. “That’s been pretty much it for the Russians. They kind of lost their client relationship with the Egyptians. The United States became the dominant power in the Middle East. That base was important, and it remains so today. I think it’s been an incredibly critical vehicle for Putin to re-insert himself, not just into Syria, but into the Middle East more generally during the Obama years. So it’s a big deal, certainly, for the Russians.”

“It’s been the difference between holding on to power, perhaps even re-establishing his claim to much of Syria, and either death at the hands of the mob, as Qaddafi experienced, or exile for Bashar Assad,” he added.

Marlow noted the lack of consistency in comments from various Trump administration sources about Syria, making it difficult to judge if removing Assad from power is an active goal of the United States or how much military involvement with Syria might be on the horizon.

“Putting the best face on it, Alex, as you know, Donald Trump indicated that he was going to be unpredictable to our allies, and most especially to our enemies overseas,” Gaffney replied. “He thought that that was a virtue. And arguably it is, at least in a tactical sense.”

“But what you’re describing is part of what worries me,” he continued. “I’m afraid that in the absence of clarity about what we’re doing, you may well see the president do what he did last week – which is on the basis, it seems as much as anything, of the horrific imagery on television of children being gassed, he decided he was going to depart from what he said repeatedly was going to be his policy and inject himself at least in that very tactical way, in retaliation against the gas attack.”

“Here’s the kicker: the president is perilously close in some of these comments, particularly by some subordinates, to embracing what the Obama administration actually formally embraced, which is the so-called ‘duty to protect’ that is a formula for having the United States essentially become, if not the policeman of the world, the punisher of bad people around the world, without regard for the vital interests of the United States and the other demands on our resources – military and economic and so on,” he said.

“This is a moment for real care to be exercised,” Gaffney advised. “I think, as usual, I find myself much more sympathetic to the views that we’re hearing attributed to Steve Bannon, who seems to be kinda holding back on some of this stuff. But let’s face it, pressure is on from General McMaster, the national security adviser; General Mattis, the secretary of defense, and others – certainly the whole coterie of Obama holdovers who would love to see this president become embroiled in Syria. I think that would be a very serious mistake.”

Marlow asked about rumors that President Trump’s decision to strike the Syrian airbase was influenced by emotional responses to pictures of suffering Syrian children from members of his family.

“It’s not to say that that’s not a perfectly responsible and even humane reaction to the horrors that we’re seeing,” Gaffney said. “It’s just to say, is it consistent with our national interests? I think keeping people from using weapons of mass destruction is consistent with our national interests, and I think that’s sort of the underlying rationale beyond that humanitarian response. But we’ve got to be thinking more strategically.”

“Let me just throw one idea out that I think it’s high time we begin to address,” he offered. “There is in this mix that I mentioned mostly bad actors. There’s a group that has generally been very responsible, very helpful to us and I think a force for good in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. And that’s the Kurds.”

“I think one of the things that, as the administration thinks strategically about what the end state is that they’d like to see, everything ought to be on the table, as they say. One is redrawing the maps to recognize reality. There is no homeland for the ethnic population that is arguably the largest dispossessed people in that part of the world, namely the Kurds,” he elaborated.

“I personally think the President of the United States ought to be thinking about a Kurdistan in at least the parts of Syria – and maybe even Iraq or Iran for that matter – that are Kurdish, that have the opportunity or the basis for being safe havens for minorities that are currently very much at risk and are being helped by the Kurds,” he suggested. “This is a place where some creative thinking is warranted and might actually have a strategic value, whereas just responding willy-nilly to the humanitarian crisis du jour is a formula for squandering resources and lives, probably American ones.”

“If we wind up embracing the Obama and U.N. idea of a ‘responsibility to protect,’ all bets are off on an America First sort of approach, either to national security or to rebuilding on the home front because there is no end of need-to-protect people in all kinds of places,” Gaffney warned.

“I think the president is now being buffeted by individuals who have come in who apparently do not agree with his priority of defeating radical Islamic terrorism, as he calls it, and who have, instead, have the view that we should align ourselves with people who are the prime movers behind radical Islamic terrorism. That would include, by the way, the Saudis. It would include the Turks. It would include the Qataris and others in the region. I think that’s a grave concern,” he said.

“I think the idea that the president is going to transform the Chinese, the Russians, the North Koreans into benign actors through the force of our diplomacy or through our various emissaries going there and telling them what to do, is unlikely as well,” he judged.

“His planned and, I think, necessary focus on rebuilding what he called ‘peace through strength’ – my old boss Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of how to protect the United States – is the way forward. You can begin to perhaps moderate others’ behavior by demonstrating that you have the will, you have the capacity to be a formidable adversary, and not have to use that force or that coercive pressure on the ground,” Gaffney said.

He added a prediction that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow would be “an early indicator of: is he going to be approaching that job as he did his last one, which is, essentially, as a guy who’s going to figure out how to do the bidding of the Russians – or is he going to be helping the President of the United States really institute this notion that America is a formidable force, and Putin is best advised not to be screwing around with us?”

“Again, the philosophy of peace through strength in practice – watch for it, hopefully, in Moscow,” Gaffney concluded.

U.S. and European Leaders Pressure Russia to Back Away from Syria

The Associated Pres

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 11, 2017:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the highly symbolic opportunity of a visit to the Sant’Anna di Stazzema memorial in Italy – a memorial to the victims of a Nazi massacre – to declare Americans would “rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

From there, Tillerson went on to the G7 summit, which CNN notes is “the first meeting of US allies since President Donald Trump ordered the bombardment on the Shayrat airbase in western Syria last week.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the Trump administration’s strongest voices against the Syrian regime, described regime change in Syria as a high priority on CNN’s State of the Union.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government,” Haley reiterated on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The BBC describes G7 ministers as seeking to “hammer out a unified approach to the Syria conflict.” This remains as elusive a goal as ever, although creating some distance between Russia and Syria looks like the top item on the agenda.

Even though Tillerson is generally less aggressive about regime change in Syria than Haley, and insists defeating the Islamic State is still the Trump administration’s top regional priority, he has criticized Russia for not keeping its promises to eliminate Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s This Week.

“I will tell you, I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said. “And so the failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack, in large measure, was a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”

Tillerson said he would discuss Russia’s “obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons” when he meets with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson more directly advised Russian President Vladimir Putin to sever ties with Assad, warning that Putin was “toxifying the reputation of Russia” by associating with “a guy who has flagrantly poisoned his own people.”

“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone. He must understand that Assad is now toxic in every sense,” Johnson urged

Johnson also suggested the G7 would consider further sanctions, not only against Syria but against Russian military officials deemed accomplices to the Syrian government’s atrocities. The BBC notes that if Johnson’s threat is realized, it would bring the first sanctions against Russians over their Syria policy.

Haley had similar ideas about calling Russia out for enabling Assad’s crimes. “You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people,” she said on Meet the Press.

“Look, when you have a violation of the chemical weapons issue, and you’ve got a violation of Security Council resolutions over and over again, and you vetoed, seven times, to protect this war criminal, we’re going to call you out on it. We’re going to call you out for the fact that you’re covering up,” she added.

“I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Assad is in power,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday, echoing Haley almost word for word.

Spicer stressed that Russia “stands with Syria, North Korea, and Iran,” which is not the sort of company a respectable nation ought to be keeping.

Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull joined in as well, denouncing Assad’s “criminal horrendous action” of “gassing his own people, women and children and babies.”

“What we await now is leadership from Russia, which is the sponsor of the Syrian regime, to work with other powers to bring this shocking conflict to an end,” said Turnbull.

The UK Independent doubts Russia will give up on Assad, no matter how hard the G7 nations push because Russia “owes its return to great power status in the eyes of much of the world to its military intervention in Syria and will not want to change its previous stance.”

Also, with the tide of the Syrian civil war so clearly turned by Russian and Iranian intervention, it’s not certain the Russians could unseat Assad if they wanted to, and if they did, the resulting power vacuum could easily be filled by something worse.

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