President Joe Biden, in a hotly contested race for President, attacked Donald
Trump for his failed foreign policy in the wake of yet another missile test by
North Korea. Foreign policy is Biden’s
greatest strength among the Democratic rivals for 2020. Here is his statement:
This morning, North Korea fired two missiles in a
deliberate attempt to provoke its neighbors and intimidate the United States —
again. It was the 12th such test the regime has conducted since May in
violation of UN resolutions, and which President Trump has down-played. After
the latest round of denuclearization talks collapsed almost immediately in
Stockholm earlier this month, these tests are a stark reminder that Donald
Trump — a self-proclaimed deal maker — has achieved nothing but a string of
spectacular diplomatic failures that are making the American people less safe.
His “love letters” to murderous dictator Kim Jong Un have delivered little more
than made-for-TV moments. North Korea today has more fissile material and more
capability than when talks began, and Trump has given away our leverage —
including suspending military exercises with our allies and granting Kim
co-equal status at two summits with the president of the United States of
America — for practically nothing in return. Now a more confident Kim is
ticking up the pace of his violations because he believes he can pressure Trump
to bend to his will. There is no deal, because there is no strategy and no
patience for the kind of tough, hard diplomacy that actually produces results.
It’s a pattern we see over and over again. Donald Trump talks a big game,
promises the greatest deal ever, then gives away America’s best negotiating
tools in exchange for a photo op for himself. He only cares about his own
self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. And every single time, it’s the
American people who end up paying.
He pulled us out of the successful Iran nuclear deal, promising he’d get a
better one. He hasn’t. And now, Iran has taken its nuclear program out of the
deep-freeze and ramped up its aggressive acts across the region — and Trump has
no strategy to deal with these predictable responses.
He pulled us out of the Paris climate accord and dismisses climate change as a
hoax. In less than a week, we will officially notify our departure from Paris,
even as California is on fire and states throughout the Midwest are still
recovering from record flooding over the summer.
He scuttled negotiations with the Taliban that might have opened the door to a
peace settlement, reportedly because he didn’t get the Camp David moment of
glory he wanted. Meanwhile he’s significantly weakened our negotiating position
by imposing a possibly politically-motivated timeline for removing our troops
from Afghanistan, without extracting any concessions from the Taliban in
His vaunted Middle East peace deal has yet to emerge. He gave away our
strongest asset to take on ISIS by precipitously withdrawing our troops from
Northeast Syria. He promised to get tough with China, saying trade wars
were “good and easy to win.” But at more than a year in, what do we have to
show for it? Nothing but pain for American farming and manufacturing, and vague
promises that would only restore trade levels with China back to where they
were before Trump’s irresponsible trade war.
The American people can’t afford four more years of Donald Trump’s art of no
A dialogue between Malcolm Nance, a renowned counter terrorism and intelligence consultant for the US government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence Operations, and 4-star Admiral James Stavridis who was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of Defense, moderated by Errol Louis, a political anchor at NY1 News, took place at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island on March 18, 2018. It proved to be a seminar on foreign policy, with some tough words for the need to defend democracy against a tide of anti-democratic, authoritarian forces both domestic and foreign. “We have to solve this –at the ballot box.”
Here are highlights from the provocative discussion:
Errol Louis: Moderator: Both of you were at the Pentagon on 9/11; Nance was even an eyewitness. With the rise of terrorism, how safe are we?
Malcolm Nance: Since 9/11, we went for a short while in the correct direction in counterterrorism, bringing the world together to confront global threat. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq in 2003 broke the mechanisms in Mideast that were functioning – poorly, but indigenous – strongman dictators. Once we invaded, we unleashed demons we could not foresee. The ebb and flow of regional solutions all went out the window.
Before, the hardest problem was people trying to solve Palestinian problem. That’s nothing compared to radical Islam. You can negotiate with Palestinians, even Hamas, groups in Iran.
We have a bigger problem: just keeping the democratic norms in the world, not just US. Democracy as an ideology is now under attack, every day.
Admiral James Stavridis: I agree. Go back 100 years – 1918. The world is coming out of World War I, Spanish influenza pandemic sweeping, 40% of world’s population were infected, 20% of those will die. US walking away from Europe, isolating ourselves, rejects the League of Nations, erects enormous tariff barriers – cracked the global economy. You can drop a line from that to the rise of fascism and World War II. That is a dark global picture.
We have mechanisms to deal with many of the challenges but agree [with Nance] that the whole ideology of democracy is wrapped up in great power politics, the rise of two authoritarian figures- Putin [just “re-elected” to a fourth term]. President Xi Jinping isn’t even putting on faux election, he declared himself the new emperor. These authoritarian systems are a challenge to democracies in ways we haven’t dealt with in 100 years.
We have two other concerns: a new pandemic – don’t spend much time thinking – but every 100-200 years of human history, a pandemic rises, despite fact of enormous advances in medicine. We are due for one – ability to manipulate genome can allow dark dark work. [Consider how Trump has cut funding to the CDC, and would likely not step in to stop a new outbreak of Ebola or Zika outside the US.]
Our vulnerability is in cyber. We are utterly dependent on massive cyber systems. We are at great risk – that’s where the two strains – cyber vulnerability and way authoritarian regimes will come after us – those streams are crossing – we have work to do, tools,
So, how safe are we? We have challenges, but I am cautiously optimistic. The question is whether our democracy will put in the right people.
Louis:Pointing to [Trump’s] new direction in foreign policy [and the fact that the State Department is considering removing ‘human rights’ from its mission statement], why is it to our advantage to fight for democracy and human rights and why is this not a form of international charity?
Nance: NATO, after World War II [was devised] to stop wars by creating a grand alliance – to spread that ideology around the world., not just American democracy, but allow others to develop their own form of republic, democratic governorship, whether a constitutional monarchy or a republic like France. That is under attack. Democracy is in retreat. ‘Democracy’ has been removed from mission statement of the State Department.
When we were struck on 9/11, it hurt me deeply – I spent my life in worst parts of world getting back. Now, that threat is from within – people in our country do not believe in democracy; autocracy, as being pushed by [Putin] former director of KGB, is better alternative to liberal democracy and European parliamentary democracy-Iit’s all under attack.
It is not a charity – America doesn’t do this as charity. We invented globalism – in WWII –we literally dropped it out of airplanes; people wanted our products at the end of war. Now people believe our system of economy is fundamentally wrong, NATO should be disbanded, the European Union should go away and every country in Europe should be its own autocracy with Moscow as polar center. There are people in US government who believe that.
Stavridis: Why does democracy work? It’s not simply the value system. There’s a pragmatic element. With democracy, people [who are disaffected, aggrieved] get to change government peacefully – a safety value. That’s why we worry about authoritarianism –eventually [discontentment] will blow, and when that happens [authoritarian regimes] will go in search of monsters abroad, look for scapegoats, combat operations. We ought to be very concerned about authoritarianism.
What do we do about it? What’s our move? A couple of different things can do – continue to rely on a system of alliances – that’s why we should worry about tariff barriers, and walking away from NATO, that take global structures apart. We need to rely on those. We need to get vastly better at strategic communications, explaining our ideas. War of ideas? It’s a marketplace of ideas. We have to compete – democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, education, assembly, racial and gender equality – we execute them imperfectly but they are the right ideas. We have to communicate that in ways that get beyond ‘We have the right answer.’ Lay it out pragmatically: why it works. Because there are forces pushing against it.
Louis: Trump’s statements about NATO alarmed people, [yet] US deployed troops to Poland as part of NATO task force exercises. Is his rhetoric worse than reality?
Stavridis: Candidate Trump said NATO was obsolete and he would consider pulling out altogether. Fortunately, on this subject, he [appears to have] listened to General Mattis, the Defense Secretary; General McMaster, National Security Adviser [so far], Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (oops). But on NATO, I am cautiously optimist he has gotten the message that NATO really works.
Nance: NATO is 28 nations, 52% of world’s GDP, 3 million troops under arms, 24,000 combat aircraft, 800 warships, 50 early warning aircraft – it is the richest, most powerful alliance in human history. US spends $600 billion/year on defense, the Europeans $300 billion. To put that into perspective, Russians spend $80 billion, Chinese $150 billion. We outspend in part because of our European allies – they should spend 2%, and are on track to do so in next 3-5 years. The alliance remains fundamental to US – it is pragmatic value for US to be in alliance.
Where did this idea come into Trump’s head that NATO wasn’t a good value, that US was connected to countries not paying their fair share? In November 2013, Trump went to Russia for the Miss Universe pageant and while he was there, he was brought to a private 2 hour meeting arranged by Aras Agalarov, [a billionaire Russian real estate mogul with ties to Putin] who funded the pageant, in a restaurant owned by Galaroff. [Trump] came out of that meeting spouting the Kremlin party line – anti-NATO, anti-globalization, anti European Union, anti treaties and alliances, believing that Russia is the premiere superpower. The only thing we don’t know is whether he believed it or whether some inducement got him to believe – he said it during campaign. Now he seems to have some change of view. NATO [which Admiral Stavridis once commanded] unilaterally evoked Article 5 after [the US was attacked on] 9/11 – for 10 years they gave their blood and treasure to defense of this nation. This is the single greatest force for good since world War II. Russia wants to do away with NATO – they call us Atlanticist, globalist – their philosopher Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin [who holds fascist views] convinced Steve Bannon, almost the Goebels of the anti-democratic movement, goes around the world, trains, help foster other countries to believe the Atlantic alliance is the problem in the eastern and western hemisphere.
Stavridis: Why NATO matters: 1) The values we share. We will never see another pool of partners who have these values. It is no coincidence because [the Founding Fathers] got them from Europe, from the Enlightenment. 2) The geographic position of Europe matters – why we need those Cold War bases in Europe – those are forward operating stations in the global war on terror 3) It’s the economy and trade between US and the NATO countries.
Also, when I commanded 150,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the nation that lost the most on a per capita basis was Estonia. Number 2 was the Netherlands. The US was number 3. They were with us in that fight because we had been attacked on 9/11. This is an alliance that stands and delivers for us. (applause)
Louis: What does [Trump’s] firing of [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson mean in the broader sense. Is it deliberate, a competence question, a larger crisis, an administration not executing?
Stavridis: When Secretary Tillerson got the job, I thought it was a good choice –a global businessman, contacts all over the world, quiet, laconic, very serious Texan, tough minded. I thought it an interesting choice, it might turn out well. But Tillerson simply was not a very effective Secretary of State. He couldn’t gain real connectivity in the White House – in a state of constant chaos. How can you be Secretary of State for a president who one minute, says, ‘We will solve Korea with fire and fury like never seen – a preemptive declaration of war –and three months later, be ready to go and cut ‘the deal of the century’ – a defensible policy choices but not for same person. So to be Secretary of State trying to articulating that –the work of Sisyphus, boulder rolling down. As a result, morale in the State Department cratered, applications for foreign service are down 50% in the last 2 years. You don’t get that back –you lose a generation if you can’t fill those slots, let alone, not filling crucial ambassadorships [including South Korea]. This is as bleak a moment for American diplomacy. A chaotic inexperienced White House that sadly doesn’t seem to be getting better in 14 months (feels like 14 yrs).
Nance: It appears diplomacy has shifted over to war fighters. Trump thinks diplomacy is not speaking, thinks diplomacy is a big stick, and if everyone sees us as a big stick nation, there will be no communications. The acting Secretary of State is technically Ivanka Trump –Trump is using Ivanka and Jared as an alternate State Department because Trump doesn’t know what the state department is, what diplomacy is. His way of negotiating is threatening –he sees no value in the institution or maintaining. [He is defunding the State Department, institutes]. But the institutes (nongovernmental) are there to help foster democracy and republicanism within countries. They brought about change in countries that would otherwise become a dictatorship – gone. A generation [of diplomats] is gone. Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams –our first 3 ambassadors – must be spinning in their graves.
Louis:Will the opening of US embassy in Jerusalem bring about a cataclysm?
Nance: It could happen. What’s happening in Mideast – so much change, dynamics. You can even see in how the Israeli-Palestinian problem is pushed off – rise of Iran, Syria, Turks invading northern Syria and setting up against the entirety of Kurds (who we fund), Yemen. Palestine-Israel conflict is the ‘good ol days.’. When the deed is done, and US embassy is moved, Saudis may give head tilt to that. I don’t know if there will be another intifada – the strings were cut after the Iraq invasion.
Stavridis: These kinds of conflicts – religious with a geopolitical overlay – are very dug in, and go on and on. The really bad news is that in middle is our greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.
What should we do? Four things: stand with Israel – (applause)- the reasons are pragmatic, values, all the same things that make us want to be in NATO, should energize our alliance with Israel – 2) Need to work closely with Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan). The Saudis are giving head nod on the peace plan, drawing closer to Israel, willing to exchange information, intelligence, missile defense, early warning. Why? because both are concerned about Iran (which is Shi’a). We ought to understand the Iranian self-view: we think of them as mid-size power, they think of themselves as inheritors of the Persian Empire which 2000 years ago, dominated the region. That’s what they want to reconstruct. Working with Israel, alliances, better in cyber, insuring missile defense strong, stand with Israel.
Louis:How to address the humanitarian disaster in Syria, knowing Russia is smack in the middle?
Nance: We had the opportunity to crack this nut in 2012 after Assad’s chemical attack. I advocated then to destroy the Syrian air force utterly – that’s the strategic advantage Syria has over the allies. Then you have put Israel in powerful position; limits Iranian involvement (because they won’t have a runway to land), and gives opportunity to show Arab States here is a chance to use ground forces to do humanitarian intervention. Arab League, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis have enough forces to be in Damascus in 72 hours out of northern Jordan. But so long as Russia backed and Syria can resist, won’t do it.
Stavridis: We last saw a problem like Syria in the Balkans, 20 years ago: Yugoslavia blew up – forced migrations, 100,000s killed – like Mideast – Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians – a religious war with geopolitical overtones that was ultimately solved by partition. Yugoslavia was broken apart and created sub-states. That was imperfect but at the end of the day, that is what will happen in Syria – it is broken now, and won’t go back- that’s 3-5 years away.
Why is Iran in Syria? Iran wants a land bridge so it can move missiles and fighters from Tehran to Lebanon because that endangers Israel. That’s why we need to move to international solution that somewhat marginalizes Iranian influence – can do with leverage over Russia – the White House needs to get tough on Russia.
Louis:China. The notion they now have a president for life there, with no mechanism to change leadership – if there are internal problems, if there is a falling out within society or economy or ideology in a bad place, what happens?
Stavridis: The good news is that China will continue to grow at 5%. If they do, the population will stay relatively quiescent. But China’s road gets rough in out years- demographics – an aging population, the imbalance between men and women created by the One-Child policy which led to killing baby girls. We’ve never seen a society as ill balanced. Plus, China’s environment is disaster, requiring billions if not trillions to remediate. The housing market is overheated (reminiscent of 2008 in US). With no democracy, there is no way to relieve the pressure. Xi will have smooth run for awhile, but it gets rough in 5-10 years. That’s when we should worry about Chinese foreign policy that is nationalistic, seeks to find a scapegoat outside, and look for conflict in South China Sea. (See the movie, “The Last Emperor,” about Puyi and read Robert Kaplan’s, Asia’s Cauldron”.)
Louis:What is Putin’s end game?
Nance: Putin has imperial goals – Atlantic Alliance between Washington and European states has since WWII brought economic, cultural influences Russia cannot stand – They believe it has marginalized Russia’s limited economic power. All the good that has come from NATO, the EU single market, the US flow of traffic across Atlantic does no benefit to Moscow. Putin realizes that 75% of Russians live in the European part (75% of land in Asia). He believes Russia should be the pole in which Europe should do trade – EurAsianism. He is ruling more like Czar Nicolas I – religious orthodoxy, nationalism, autocracy (while France was creating fraternity, liberty, equality). Russia is buying every conservative, neoNazi group in Europe – owned, lock stock and barrel by Moscow.
Last march, for the second time in American history, France saved democracy – had Marine Le Pen won, France would have withdrawn from NATO,broken up the European Union and aligned France with Moscow, bringing along everyone to Moscow.
Stavridis: Putin’s end game: H will be the dominant force in Russia until the day he dies, and Russians accept it. This is Russian custom, history, culture. Read literature- Dostevsky, Pushkin – how Russians look at powerful male leaders. Sometimes they get a Peter the Great, the next time Ivan the Terrible; sometimes get Stalin, but then get a Gorbachev – they are willing to roll the dice. But the dice have landed on Putin, he will not give up power. We have to deal with this operative. I met Putin a couple of times. Bush Jr. met Putin and was completely taken –he said, ‘I looked into his eyes and saw his soul. We can work with Putin.’ McCain, a true war hero, met with Putin and said, ‘I saw 3 letters: K-G-B.’ I think McCain got that one right – and that’s what we will deal with.”
Is climate change a national security issue?
Stavridis: Climate change is a significant national security threat. Because of global warming, ice is melting in the Arctic, opening up shipping lanes and hydrocarbons, creating a great power competition – on one side is Russia, on the other side US, Canada, Iceland, Norway – they are all NATO; 2) Rising sea levels gradually affect our ports, our ability to operate in major naval bases and ports 3) Global warming will impact our ability to operate globally because of cost – we will have to mediate against environmental concerns, which will put downward pressure on defense budgets 4) What should worry us most is that as oceans heat up, photosynthesis is diminished affecting oxygen in the atmosphere. Vice President Gore called the Amazon the lungs of the earth; Nope, 70% of oxygen comes from photosynthesis in oceans, and we are abusing them. These are major national security concerns.
What if in the next few months Trump abrogates the Iran Nuclear Treaty?
Stavridis: I expect Trump to abrogate the Iran Nuclear Treaty. 1) That will have chilling effect on negotiations with North Korea – they are unlikely to enter into grand bargain having just witnessed the abrogation of the Iran treaty. 2) Iranians will almost immediately restart their nuclear program – they are probably in primed position to do so. 3) The treaty is not perfect but ending it will put Israel at greater risk because of re-energization of the Iranian nuclear program 4) Allies will be furious, it will put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, and probably not lead to European allies walking away, so US will become even more of an outlier. I wasn’t a fan initially – it isn’t a good/bad deal, it is a done deal, the best we could have at this point.
Nance: I spoke with a senior briefer at CIA who briefed Obama on the details that convinced Obama to sign the Iran Nuclear Treaty: The way the agency assessed, Iran was 6-12 months away from developing an atomic bomb, but with the treaty, Iran gave up all components, 90% of its enriched nuclear material and was pushed back 15 years We do not want a war with Iran. Why would we put ourselves in a position to give Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon? There is no limit to the mischief that would create. And if [unleashed], Iran would go straight to North Korea with $ millions to buy a nuclear weapon.
How to solve the humanitarian disaster that is Syria?
Stavridis: A combination of defense, diplomacy, development – hard and soft power. [This was shown to work in Colombia, after a 60-year insurgency that destroyed the fabric of the country; and the Balkans.] You don’t have to choose hard or soft power. So often, the long game is combination of all those tools – development, diplomacy and defense when need it – to get balance right, requires leadership. We are very good at launching missiles. We need to get better at launching ideas. We can do both. (Applause)
Nance: That’s smart power. We are a global force for good but have to be global force for diplomacy.
Considering the hollowing out of our diplomatic forces to the benefit of Putin, [possible collusion] in cyberwarfare, why is there reluctance to use the word ‘treason’ in regard to Trump?
Nance: There is a legal definition – Article 3 – to ‘treason.’ You literally have to be at declared war with an enemy and give aid and comfort to enemy. That is rarely invoked – we have sent people to prison for espionage, divulging secrets but the last time anyone was tried for treason was the Rosenbergs. I don’t think that word applies legally – from what we’ve seen. Where the president violated his oath of office, you can use ‘treason’ rhetorically if you feel betrayed, or ‘treachery’. I don’t think will be able to use ‘treason’ in legal sense . this investigation started as national counter intel – a spy hunt – still a hunt for citizens in direct communications with foreign intel officers.
What check is there on this president who many think is a madman, is the military prepared to step in and save democracy?
Stavridis: ‘I solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic – no expiration. The military isn’t going to step in and solve this. We have to solve this –at the ballot box. In 1840, Alexis de Toqueville wrote about this strange new phenomenon of democracy. He was largely laudatory, but the punch line: ‘the tragedy of democracy is that in the end you elect the government you deserve.’ We need to own this problem. No one will solve it for us. We need to get out in November, and again two years later, and we can solve this problem.
Nance: We have entered the greatest period of political activism – I believe it will even eclipse the Vietnam era – 1968. But since World War II, we have gotten fat and lazy and enjoy fruits of democracy.
We have guardrails – you have 246 days to solve part of this problem – but to do that you have to bring yourself and everyone who has not voted in last election.
The military is not designed for coup d’etat. We would really be a third world banana republic. But we can stop stupid – unlawful orders.
Emperor Xi. China building pipelines through Africa into the Stans, helping China, become #1 in world, developing 5G. How will that affect us?
Stavridis: China historically has not had global ambition, but 16 months ago, President Xi gave a “coming out speech” at Davos for China in the 21st century: One belt, one road philosophy – using economic power to further the interests of China. China just built its first overseas military base, at the Horn of Africa. China is on the move. When historians 300 years from how write about the 21st century, how that story comes out will be US and China and the rise of India. We need to be mindful of China, align with India, hold close our global allies, help develop this hemisphere to the south of US. That ought to be our strategy. And China should be top of the list to watch.
Nance: If this administration would understand strategy: China is brilliant. Go to sub-Saharan Africa –that used to be the land of the Land Rover, then Toyota, now you see Chinese Long March and Running Deer pick ups – they are $2000-$5000 but are everywhere. China is colonizing the sub-Sahara economically– buying whole sub-sections of countries to ship food to China. If China develops 5G cell telephone networks before the US gets it into Manhattan, China can export worldwide and own global communications. China is building wind plants, is now the world’s largest producer of solar panels (an industry we used to own). Without a strategy, where you think about where we are, where we will go and put together government resources to get there, we are dead in water. And that requires diplomats.
To what do you attribute Iran’s vitriolic hatred for Israel?
Nance: Iranians love America –they are held down by an authoritarian regime using Islamic fundamentalism which the bottom 20% believe, not the people who used to run the country or could be, not the youth who all want what all in the Mideast want – a 2018 Toyota Corolla – they want trade, to be involved with world. Hatred for Israel is a schtick. They don’t really care – they care about religion, family and to be left alone to do what they want. If they see a threat to Al Aksa mosque, they will respond. Palestinians smartest arabs in mide, most educated – everywhere but Palestine – if I were them, would work out public-private partnership to rebuild Palestine as moderate state, so don’t get Islamic cultism of ISIS. If that happens, will be zombie scene, walk into guns. Hopefully Saudi Arabia will focus away from ‘Death to Israel.’
What is impact of Erdogan of Turkey turning his back on western values toward Islamic fundamentalism?
Stavridis: President Erdogan, an authoritarian, is consolidating power rapidly, the most accelerated of all the authoritarian leaders in having taken his nation from functioning secular democracy to one man rule in 5 years. Extraordinary. The bad news is that Turkey is vital to Europe, to US. We need a stable western-looking Turkey – now drifting out of our orbit. We should pay attention, show respect, send high level missions, but behind closed doors, convince Erdogan the trajectory he is on will isolate his nation,. He will never have cozy relationship with Russia or Iran – that won’t work for Turkey. Turkey understands that at a fundamental level. We need to work with Europeans to exert pull on Turkey also. Turkey is more than a bridge (between Asia and Europe), it is a center of power – its population will exceed Russia’s. Turkey is on the move. We need to keep them in our orbit.
The intel community wanted the $120 million appropriated by Congress to fend off cyberattacks on our electoral system. Homeland security issued an alert that Russians already in our computers that run powerplants, and now could turn off electricity. What do we do about that?
Stavridis: We need to reveal more about what we know, to underpin the argument for retaliation –so we can be more aggressive in how we retaliate. We need better private-public cooperation. Government can’t solve this by itself – all our electric grids are intertwined. We have got to get government agencies working together on cyber – agriculture, interior – nobody is focused on cybersecurity.
Considering the rise of authoritarians, what happens If in the next 3 months, Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and a new one fires Mueller. Will Trump be impeached?
Nance: Trump won’t be impeached before November. But we have guardrails. John Dean said that the day after Nixon fired Watergate investigators, the rest were still at work, he just fired the leadership. If Trump fires [Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein] (and [Special Counsel Robert] Muller), he would have sealed his doom about obstruction of justice and the investigation will continue
Stavridis: I believe Congress, including enough Republicans, would respond – not impeach, but there would be a [Constitutional] crisis and the guardrails would kick in.
In the present nuclear environment, is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction still relevant?
The catastrophe in Syria is often leveled at President Obama as a horrible scar on his legacy. But what is ignored is the context, and also how Libya, which was an important achievement, was used as a weapon to attack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
So it is rather remarkable that none of the news outlets are reporting a significant victory in Libya, routing out the last ISIS stronghold, in Sirte.
But to begin:
What is happening in Syria today is where Libya would have easily been, the scale of carnage that Syria turned into, if Obama had not intervened with a coalition of countries including Arab States. At the time, Republicans including Donald Trump, cheered. During the election, the action was demonized, and used in the incessant conspiracy harangue about Benghazi.
So it is really hypocritical that Obama is criticized for not intervening more strenuously in Syria, when in fact, he did all that he could do given the convoluted circumstances and inconvenient alliances and oppositions. Take Turkey, for instance, which opposed the Kurds and worked against the US support of Kurds against ISIS, but US needed access to Turkey’s bases from which to strike at ISIS and needed Turkey’s support of Syrian refugees. (These nuances go beyond Donald Trump’s comprehension.)
The red line that was crossed when Assad used chemical weapons? Recall that Obama was poised to strike, the military was on alert, but the cowardly Congress refused to give its Authorization of Military Force (progressives are still upset that Obama uses the Bush-era 9/11 authorization to go after ISIS). But still, Obama was able to get Assad to give up chemical weapons without the US firing a shot or a single troop sacrificed. How? Putin.
But what could not be anticipated was Russia assisting Assad in the massacre of the Syrian people. Putin, after all, claimed to be joining the coalition against ISIS. Instead, it was a rout of the moderate rebels fighting Assad. Would Americans have endorsed a war with Russia? Would Americans have supported sending 180,000 ground troops into Syria?
As for not providing enough aid to moderate rebels? There weren’t very many to be found – millions of dollars of supplies and only 50 “moderate rebels” identified. What would have happened if it was discovered the US thought it was supplying “moderate” rebels but actually the armaments went to ISIS fighters? Can you imagine?
“For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering,” President Obama said in his final press conference of 2017. “It has been one of the hardest issues that I’ve faced as president. The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russia and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding and the seigeing and starving innocent civilians. We’ve seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and dust…
“We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through safe corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian to the Syrian people and beyond that, there needs to be a broader ceasefire that can serve as the basis for a political, rather than a military solution. That’s what the United States is going to continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the UN.
“Regretfully but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the security council from taking action on these issues so we’re going to keep pressing the security council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian to those who are in such desperate need and to ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we’re going work in the U.N. General assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories over the long term, the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. That’s why we’ll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government. And that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding.
“The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to confiscate the truth. The world should not be fooled and the world will not forget.”
Meanwhile, the US was not exactly not doing anything in Syria. The US operated tens of thousands of air strikes against ISIS, and has been the largest donor of aid to Syrian refugees.
And the US has not stood idly by in Libya, either, but assisted in the liberation of Sirte from ISIL. The Administration issued this statement:
Statement by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa O. Monaco on the Successful Operation to Liberate Sirte from ISIL
The United States congratulates the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan people on their successful operation to liberate Sirte from ISIL. The United States is proud to have supported the advance of the GNA-aligned forces into Sirte with precision airstrikes to eject ISIL from the only city that it controlled outside of Iraq and Syria.
We applaud the courage of the Libyan people, including the residents of Sirte, al-Bunyan al-Marsous forces, and others, who carried out this operation. We commend Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj for his leadership and dedication to the Libyan people. We also extend our sincerest and heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives fighting for this important cause.
The U.S. military conducted a carefully tailored counterterrorism operation, at the request of the GNA, to target ISIL while taking great care to minimize harm to civilians. This partnered operation has substantially reduced ISIL’s manpower in Libya, ended its brutal reign over Sirte’s population, and removed its primary base in Libya, dealing a blow to its ability to plot attacks in Libya and abroad. This progress comes as Libyans mark one year since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement.
We know that ISIL will continue its attempts to terrorize the Libyan people and sow instability in North Africa, and that Libyan efforts against terrorism continue in other parts of Libya. We stand ready to help the GNA as it secures and rebuilds Sirte. The United States also remains committed to working with the GNA, Libyans throughout the country, and regional partners to counter ISIL and other violent extremist organizations.
Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
In this section, the candidates debate national security and foreign policy:
National Security & Foreign Policy
Secretary Clinton, President Obama says the worst mistake in office that he made over these past seven and a half years was not preparing for Libya after Moammar Qadafi was removed. You were his secretary of State. Aren’t you also responsible for that?
CLINTON: Well, let me say I think we did a great deal to help the Libyan people after Qadafi’s demise. And here’s what we did.
“We helped them hold two successful elections, something that is not easy, which they did very well because they had a pent up desire to try to chart their own future after 42 years of dictatorship. I was very proud of that.
“We got rid of the chemical weapons stockpile that Qadafi had, getting it out of Libya, getting it away from militias or terrorist groups.
“We also worked to help them set up their government. We sent a lot of American experts there. We offered to help them secure their borders, to train a new military.
“They, at the end, when it came to security issues, Wolf, did not want troops from any other country, not just us, European or other countries, in Libya.
“And so we were caught in a very difficult position. They could not provide security on their own, which we could see and we told them that, but they didn’t want to have others helping to provide that security.
“And the result has been a clash between different parts of the country, terrorists taking up some locations in the country.
“And we can’t walk away from that. We need to be working with European and Arab partnerswith the United Nations in order to continue to try to support them.
“The Libyan people deserve a chance at democracy and self- government. And I, as president, will keep trying to give that to them.”
SANDERS: …For President Obama, this was a pretty tough call, like a 51-49 call, do you overthrow Qadafi, who, of course, was a horrific dictator?
“The New York Times told us it was Secretary Clinton who led the effect for that regime change. And this is the same type of mentality that supported the war in Iraq. Qadafi, Saddam Hussein are brutal, brutal murdering thugs. No debate about that.
“But what we have got to do and what the president was saying is we didn’t think thoroughly about what happens the day after you get rid of these dictators.
“Regime change often has unintended consequences in Iraq and in Libya right now, where ISIS has a very dangerous foothold. And I think if you studied the whole history of American involvement in regime change, you see that quite often.”
CLINTON: — I would just point out that there was a vote in the Senate as to whether or not the United States should support the efforts by the Libyan people to protect themselves against the threats, the genocidal threats coming from Gadhafi, and whether we should go to the United Nations to seek Security Council support.
“Senator Sanders voted for that, and that’s exactly what we did.”
SANDERS: No. (CROSSTALK)
CLINTON: We went to the United Nations — yes, he did. We went to the United Nations Security Council. We got support from the Security Council. And we then supported the efforts of our European and Arab allies and partners.
“This was a request made to our government by the Europeans and by the Arabs because of their great fear of what chaos in Syria would do to them. And if you want to know what chaos does, not just to the people inside but the people on the borders, look at Syria.
“Nobody stood up to Assad and removed him, and we have had a far greater disaster in Syria than we are currently dealing with right now in Libya.” (APPLAUSE) (CROSSTALK)
SANDERS: What you are talking about is what I think was what they call the unanimous consent, you know what that is, where basically, do we support Libya moving to democracy?
“Well, you know what, I surely have always supported Libya moving to democracy. But please do not confuse that with your active effort for regime change without contemplating what happened the day after. Totally different issue.”
CLINTON: There was also in that a reference to the Security Council, and I know you’re not shy when you oppose something, Senator. So, yes, it was unanimous. That’s exactly right, including you.
“And what we did was to try to provide support for our European and Arab allies and partners. The decision was the president’s. Did I do the due diligence? Did I talk to everybody I could talk to? Did I visit every capital and then report back to the president? Yes, I did. That’s what a secretary of state does.
“But at the end of the day, those are the decisions that are made by the president to in any way use American military power. And the president made that decision. And, yes, we did try without success because of the Libyans’ obstruction to our efforts, but we did try and we will continue to try to help the Libyan people.”
SANDERS: If you listen, you know — two points. Number one, yes, 100-0 in the Senate voted for democracy in Libya and I would vote for that again. But that is very different from getting actively involved to overthrow and bring about regime change without fully understanding what the consequence of that regime change would be.
“Second of all, I know you keep referring to Barack Obama all night here, but you in Syria, you in Syria talked about a no-fly zone, which the president certainly does not support, nor do I support because, A, it will cost an enormous sum of money, second of all, it runs the risk of getting us sucked into perpetual warfare in that region.
“Thirdly, when we talk about Syria right now, no debate, like Gadhafi, like Saddam Hussein, Assad is another brutal murdering dictator, but right now our fight is to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second.”
CLINTON: Well, I think Senator Sanders has just reinforced my point. Yes, when I was secretary of state I did urge, along with the Department of Defense and the CIA that we seek out, vet, and train, and arm Syrian opposition figures so that they could defend themselves against Assad.
“The president said no. Now, that’s how it works. People who work for the president make recommendations and then the president makes the decision. So I think it’s only fair to look at where we are in Syria today.
“And, yes, I do still support a no-fly zone because I think we need to put in safe havens for those poor Syrians who are fleeing both Assad and ISIS and have some place that they can be safe.”
BASH: Senator Sanders, in 1997, you said this about NATO, you said, quote: “It is not the time to continue wasting tens of billions of dollars helping to defend Europe, let alone assuming more than our share of any cost associated with expanding NATO.”Do you still feel that way?
SANDERS: Well, what I believe, if my memory is correct here, we spend about 75 percent of the entire cost of the military aspect of NATO. Given the fact that France has a very good health care system and free public education, college education for their people, the U.K. has a good National Health Service and they also provide fairly reasonable higher education, you know what, yeah, I do believe that the countries of Europe should pick up more of the burden for their defense. Yes, I do. (APPLAUSE)
BASH: And just following up, Senator Sanders, Donald Trump also argues that NATO is unfair economically to the U.S. because America pays a disproportionate share. So how is what you say about NATO and your proposal different than his?
SANDERS: Well, you got to ask — you got to ask Trump. All I can tell you is, with a huge deficit, with 47 million people living in poverty, with our inner cities collapsing, yeah, I do think countries like Germany and U.K. and France and European countries whose economy, or at least its standard of living and health care and education, they’re doing pretty well.
“So I would not be embarrassed as president of the United States to stay to our European allies, you know what, the United States of America cannot just support your economies. You’ve got to put up your own fair share of the defense burden. Nothing wrong with that.” (APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: I support our continuing involvement in NATO. And it is important to ask for our NATO allies to pay more of the cost. There is a requirement that they should be doing so, and I believe that needs to be enforced.
“But there’s a larger question here. NATO has been the most successful military alliance in probably human history. It has bound together across the Atlantic countries that are democracies, that have many of the same values and interests, and now we need to modernize it and move it into the 21st century to serve as that head of our defense operations in Europe when it comes to terrorism and other threats that we face. So yes, of course they should be paying more, but that doesn’t mean if they don’t we leave, because I don’t think that’s in America’s interests.”
BASH: To that point, there are 28 countries in the alliance, and the United States gives more money to NATO’s budget than 21 of those countries combined. If they don’t agree to pay more, as you suggested, then what would you do as commander-in-chief?
CLINTON: I will stay in NATO. I will stay in NATO, and we will continue to look for missions and other kinds of programs that they will support. Remember, NATO was with us in Afghanistan. Most of the member countries also lost soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. They came to our rallying defense after 9/11. That meant a lot.
“And, yes, we have to work out the financial aspects of it, but let’s not forget what’s really happening. With Russia being more aggressive, making all kinds of intimidating moves toward the Baltic countries, we’ve seen what they’ve done in Eastern Ukraine, we know how they want to rewrite the map of Europe, it is not in our interests. Think of how much it would cost if Russia’s aggression were not deterred because NATO was there on the front lines making it clear they could not move forward.” (APPLAUSE)
It would be a travesty if the Republicans cash in the fear they are sowing over the Paris terror attack for a ticket to the white House, in the way the Bush/Cheney Administration milked Americans’ fear after 9/11, a terror attack that incompetence made so much worse. And yet, despite their incompetence, they rode to reelection in 2004.
Brian Lehrer on NPR remarked that Jeb Bush seems to be using the Paris attacks “to claw his way back into relevance.”
On the Monday after the terror attack, AOL broadcast the headline that 72% of Americans are fearful. Well what would you expect with nonstop reports about terrorism? It’s exactly what ISIL wanted – just as Osama bin Lad3n was thrilled beyond imagination at the reaction after 9/11. In essence, thanks to Bush/Cheney reaction, 19 terrorists brought down a nation, because they let it happen.
Already, several Republican candidates have basically called for closing borders – Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say they would only admit Christians – effectively putting a religious test in violation of the Constitution. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress would withhold any funding to relocate Syrian refugees. And 27 (all but one) Republican Governors are refusing to allow any resettlement in their states, again, against the Constitution – basically a redux of what they said about the children fleeing Central American violence. It is absurd to hear the Alabama Governor justifying this stance by saying that his first priority is to keep his citizens safe, when Alabama promotes wanton gun violence, a state which ranks 4th in the nation for the highest number of incidents of and where one Alabaman is killed every 11 hours.
A doctor in a hospital in Paris talked about receiving 27 of the gunshot victims that night when the ER normally gets one. One a day? he was asked. “No, one a year. We’re not like America.”
Republicans are seizing on the fact that a passport attributed to a Syrian who came through Greece with the tens of thousands of refugees in October was left at one of the terror sites. But isn’t it interesting that this is the only terrorist found with an ID? How much logic does it take to realize that it likely was purposefully left – and very probably not the passport of the attacker at all – but was left because ISIL wants Europe and the US to cut off any safe haven for the millions that are fleeing their own terror. They want a population to terrorize. They want Muslims to be marginalized in their communities, to be able to tap the disaffected to their “cause.”
Donald Trump says he would shut down mosques. And, oh yes, points out that France has some of the strongest gun control laws. You might wonder if a President Trump, faced with terror attacks in Paris, would launch attacks against Muslims here. As for the “tough guy” pose as being all it takes to stop all the bad things in the world, Putin certainly strikes the strongman pose, and yet ISIS took down a Russian airliner. His solution? Bomb them to oblivion.
Obama answered “the broader issue of my critics… when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.
“But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
Does anyone else see the tragic irony that the terrorism is against tolerance, the terrorists can’t stand a society that is open, diverse in ethnicity, religion and thought, but Republicans want to dispatch intolerance with intolerance?
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” President Obama said at a press conference after the G20 in Turkey. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both….
“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion…
“And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”
Every society is vulnerable to a terrorist determined to kill himself – but societal institutions should not be.
On the other hand, there is nothing stopping homegrown terrorism, and not just the jihadi kind. White racists have been responsible for more acts of terror here in the homeland than self-proclaimed jihadis. Look at the attacks on Planned Parenthood centers and black churches just in the last few months.
While the Republicans don’t actually offer any constructive proposals, they are really, really obsessively upset over semantics that President Obama does not brand the entirety of Muslims as terrorists- that’s about 1 billion people around the world, including whole nations that we need as our allies in defeating ISIL such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. Obama, instead, uses terms like “violent extremists” as the enemy.
But these violent extremists no more embody Islam than Nazis embodied Christianity. These are sociopathic thugs – gangsters – who use terror and violence in order to secure power and control. It is a 21st century Facsist regime more similar to 20th century Nazi Germany. The new recruits might be swayed by propagandist ideology and even the idealism in toppling Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad – but they are being used and when some who came to fight for what they thought was a just cause want to leave, they are summarily killed.
Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to say Obama should have been more aggressive in Syria early on (give weapons to so-called moderates who turned out to be ISIL?) but at that point, the opposition was saying Assad was only weeks away from being deposed. Then, when Assad crossed the “red line” using chemical weapons against his own people, Congress failed to give Obama authorization for military strikes inside Syria (Russia stepped up and got Assad to agree to get rid of chemical weapons, without Obama needing to fire a shot). Even now, Republicans are great at hurling accusations of ‘fecklessness” and “weakness” but the real coward is a Congress that refuses to debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) agreement. And I’m sure even the Bush/Cheney neocons never imagined that after almost a decade and billions of dollars and 4000 American lives, that the Iraqi soldiers would not just cut and run, but would hand over their weapons and territory to ISIL.
For his part, Obama faced a choice – without a crystal ball, he sided with the less deadly option. ISIL changed, and even now has changed its strategy from just torturing and tormenting and terrorizing people within the Middle East, to exporting terrorism internationally – downing the Russian airliner at Sharm el Sheik, the bombings in Izmir, in Beirut and now Paris, all in short order – and Obama is adapting to the changes – essentially intensifying all the levers that can be brought to bear, including bombing, strengthening border controls, sharing more intelligence, and stepping up efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. “And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology,” Obama said.
Obama, in a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, sounded just the right tone, and also took on the critics who charge that his “strategy” lacked focus, that he underestimated the Islamic State.
“The strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.
“And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those….
“This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.
“And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”
In fact, the single-minded focus on the Paris attacks (while ignoring other terror attacks that took place in Beirut, Izmir, Kenya), seemed to swallow up the news of an attack that killed the Jihadi John, who executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as France’s attacks on ISIL oil distribution. Meanwhile, even France’s stepped up bombing of ISIL as retribution for the Paris attacks does not equal the 8000 bombing attacks by US planes.
But Obama added that no matter to what extent ISIL is destroyed, that there are still going to be the risks of individuals flowing into civil societies exacting mayhem on soft targets.
“There has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.
“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.
“Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris…
“We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.
“These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.
“Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.”
But the defeat of ISIS cannot be accomplished by the US alone and as Secretary of State John Kerry noted, a coalition did not even exist a year ago, a political partnership (involving Russia and Iran) did not even exist a month ago, and now Kerry is pointing to the possibility of a cease-fire in Syria in a matter of months, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the reality that Assad has to go, and there has to be a political transition. Solving the Assad problem would rob ISIS of a key motivator to its recruitment.
“The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding,” President Obama said. “With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward – negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.”
Ever the realist, Obama added, “These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.
“What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition [Obama has mobilized 65 nations], is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.”