Sunday, January 6, 2019

Last Call For A Syria's Reversal

Donald Trump ignored his own Defense Secretary who quit rather than take the heat for withdrawal from Syria, ignored Republicans in his own party, and of course ignored Democrats, who all said pulling out of Syria and leaving it to Iran and Russia was an impending disaster.

And then Benjamin Netanyahu said something, and now Trump has done a 180.

President Trump’s national security adviser sought to reassure allies Sunday that the United States would be methodical about withdrawing troops from Syria, promising that the pullout would not occur until the Islamic State was fully eradicated from the country and Turkey could guarantee the safety of Kurdish fighters who have fought alongside American personnel.

John Bolton’s comments, reported by the Associated Press, contradict Trump’s mid-December promise to bring troops home from Syria “now,” an announcement that surprised allies and advisers, sparked an outcry from lawmakers, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It is also the clearest statement yet from any of the president’s surrogates about how they plan to slow the implementation of his pullout plans.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton said while speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, on a trip intended to allay Israeli leaders’ concerns about Trump’s announcement. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
Trump touched off global confusion and panic when he announced via Twitter on Dec. 19 that he would order the withdrawal of the 2,000 troops stationed in Syria to help fight the Islamic State. “Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back and they’re coming back now. We won,” Trump said at thet time.

Days later, while visiting U.S. troops in Iraq after Christmas, Trump told reporters traveling with him that he would deny any request from the military to extend the mission in Syria. “They said again, recently, ‘Can we have more time?’ ” Trump said of U.S. generals. “I said: ‘Nope. You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time.’ We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”

But in statements since then, including remarks to reporters at the White House Sunday, the president has suggested that the pullout would not be completed so quickly, adding to the uncertainty about the timing of his plans.

Both allies and critics of the president warned that a hasty pullout of American forces could upset the balance of power in the Middle East, emboldening Russia and Iran, and threaten what tenuous stability U.S.-aligned forces had been able to achieve in Syria.

Bolton’s comments come amid reports that Trump had agreed to extend his initial 30-day deadline for withdrawal to four months. When asked whether Bolton’s comments would affect that timeline, a senior administration official said that “there is no specific timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, and reports to the contrary are false.”

Nonetheless, the plans and assurances the national security adviser offered in Israel were confirmation that withdrawal plans are on hold until conditions on the ground match the president’s stated assessment of the situation in Syria. As part of his announcement, Trump said the United States had “defeated ISIS” there — a claim that his advisers and political allies have disputed. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State

Russia wanted the US gone, so Trump said withdraw.  Then Israel said no, and we're back to "staying until ISIS is defeated".  At least in this instance, Israel's control of the US is stronger than Russia's.

But what really prompted this move?  Remember that Trump believes he is America's greatest leader, and he wants an historic legacy, to do what Clinton, Bush, and Obama could not.  Trump wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and the sudden pullout in Syria prompted Bibi to pick up his ball and go home.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Sunday that the Trump administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan - the "deal of the century" - will be presented "within the next several months."

The comments came during National Security Advisor John Bolton's visit to Israel this week. Bolton arrived on Saturday evening, and is scheduled to meet Netanyahu Sunday night. He was last in Israel in August, and this will be his second visit to the country since taking over as National Security Advisor in April. He will travel from Israel to Turkey for talks there expected as well to focus on the situation in Syria.

"It is not clear in which century Trump intends to announce his 'deal of the century,'" Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said in response to Friedman's announcement Sunday." But we do not need to wait for anyone in order to begin the most important thing for the future of the State of Israel: a peace accord with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has already been negligent for a decade while not starting negotiations, and it is sad that Trump's way to help him in the elections is to delay announcing his plan, instead of accelerating it."

Trump's long-awaited plan has been delayed time after time. With Israel heading toward elections on April 9, a further delay was likely.

On one hand, Trump’s peace team says it cannot be responsible for embarrassing the country, the president or the administration by publishing a plan that falls flat on its face out of the gate. Yet it also refuses to give up, insisting that circumstances will serendipitously change just enough for the world to take the plan seriously.

Trump’s team – led by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; Jason Greenblatt, his special assistant and envoy to the process; and David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel – have floated trial balloons on some of their proposals. Some have flown and some have not. But no one knows precisely what their initiative entails – many in Washington doubt a full draft actually exists – and so it is fair to say that its contents might still surprise the region and reframe discussion around the peace process in more productive terms.

Bibi has his own issues, facing imminent indictment for bribery and corruption charges, he dissolved the Knesset and called for new elections for April.  Of course that means Jared Kushner's pet project will have to be delayed as well, and that finally got Trump's attention.

So suddenly we're back in Syria for the foreseeable future.  Surprise!

Shutdown Meltdown, Con't

The Trump regime is about to come to a head over the shutdown, and we're headed for a very dark and dangerous place.

President Donald Trump is inclined to declare a national emergency to secure military funding for his long-promised southern border wall if talks between administration officials and top lawmakers from both parties continue to stall, a White House official told CNN on Saturday. 
While not the administration's preferred plan, the use of emergency powers to fund the wall "provides a way out" amid a series of contentious meetings and disagreements among Department of Homeland Security officials and Democratic lawmakers over basic facts related to border security, the official said. 
"We can only stay like this for so long," said the official, who attended both meetings with congressional officials at the White House led by Trump this week, explaining that factual disputes have hung up discussions. 
As the partial government shutdown enters a third week over the funding dispute, Trump has publicly said he would reject any plan that includes less than $5.6 billion for a border wall. The President acknowledged the possibility of using emergency powers to fund the wall during remarks in the Rose Garden on Friday, saying "we can call a national emergency because of the security of our country." 
"I haven't done it. I may do it," Trump said. "We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly."

Three observations, first, in the context of the shutdown itself, this is a bare naked threat.  Every time we ask "Wow, Trump won't really go there, will he?" he does. Especially if the subject is immigration or self-aggrandizement, he absolutely does, so a Great Wall of Trump to keep out those people would be something Trump has to have, and have on his terms.  He's in trouble without it.

Second, history tells us no leader of a country ever declares a national emergency for political reasons, assumes new emergency powers, and then voluntarily gives that power back. And yes, again, I believe Trump will do exactly what he's threatening to do because this is the kind of thing that people resign over when they don't agree with it, and we're already seeing resignations.

Kevin Sweeney has resigned as Pentagon chief of staff after serving the defense secretary for two years. 
"I've decided the time is right to return to the private sector. It has been an honor to serve again alongside the men and women of the Department of Defense," Sweeney said in a short statement posted on the Department of Defense website late Saturday night. 
A knowledgeable source told CNN's Jake Tapper that the White House forced Sweeney out. The source did not provide further information about the reason.

I absolutely guarantee you that the reason Adm. Sweeney resigned involves Trump's national emergency declaration, and to use the military as his own personal ICE force. Trump has always had the goal of not just ending "illegal immigration" and not just even ending all immigration, but in fact to begin mass deportations of refugees and foreign nationals as a signal to his white supremacist base.

Third, Trump believes if the government is shut down, Mueller and the Democrats can't investigate, indict, or impeach him.  He's more than happy to not sign anything right now, wall or not.  He's wrong, of course, but he's terrified.  He also figures that the national emergency would mean he'd be safe from any consequences of the Mueller probe too (also wrong).

Still, that means that there's a method to this madness.  Trump wants to militarize the border, and militarize mass deportations, under a "national emergency" and use that power to block Mueller.

Now I could very well be wrong. Steve M. thinks a national emergency could be a face-saver for Trump and that he'll back off after.

Maybe that's how this stalemate will end: Trump issues his declaration, then signs the bills to reopen the government. The declaration is approved in the Senate on a party-line vote, but it's tied up in the courts for the rest of the year and then into 2020. Trump gets a symbolic victory. Democrats get one too: They approve no wall funding. The wall can is kicked down the road the way the Dreamer can has been kicked down the road by the courts since the last battle over the wall. I don't think will ever give in, so this might be one of the less bad options.
Maybe that's how it shakes out, a national emergency that gets tied up in the courts, especially if it was tied up well past the 2020 election, would let Trump off the hook with his base, he could then campaign on getting a third SCOTUS pick.

I don't think that would be the case because of the immigration and Mueller angles though.

The darkest, bloodiest chapters in world history tell us how it ends from there.

Sunday Long Read: Mueller's First Big Case

Thirty years ago, well before Robert Mueller was Special Counsel investigating the most corrupt individual to ever enter the Oval Office, well before he was FBI Director or even before he was Deputy Attorney General, he was a federal prosecutor assigned to what was at the time the most shocking terror attack in American history: the December 1989 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland

TEN YEARS AGO last Friday, then FBI director Robert Mueller bundled himself in his tan trench coat against the cold December air in Washington, his scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. Sitting on a small stage at Arlington National Cemetery, he scanned the faces arrayed before him—the victims he’d come to know over years, relatives and friends of husbands and wives who would never grow old, college students who would never graduate, business travelers and flight attendants who would never come home.

Burned into Mueller’s memory were the small items those victims had left behind, items that he’d seen on the shelves of a small wooden warehouse outside Lockerbie, Scotland, a visit he would never forget: A teenager’s single white sneaker, an unworn Syracuse University sweatshirt, the wrapped Christmas gifts that would never be opened, a lonely teddy bear.

A decade before the attacks of 9/11—attacks that came during Mueller’s second week as FBI director, and that awoke the rest of America to the threats of terrorism—the bombing of Pan Am 103 had impressed upon Mueller a new global threat.

It had taught him the complexity of responding to international terror attacks, how unprepared the government was to respond to the needs of victims’ families, and how on the global stage justice would always be intertwined with geopolitics. In the intervening years, he had never lost sight of the Lockerbie bombing—known to the FBI by the codename Scotbom—and he had watched the orphaned children from the bombing grow up over the years.

Nearby in the cemetery stood a memorial cairn made of pink sandstone—a single brick representing each of the victims, the stone mined from a Scottish quarry that the doomed flight passed over just seconds before the bomb ripped its baggage hold apart. The crowd that day had gathered near the cairn in the cold to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

For a man with an affinity for speaking in prose, not poetry, a man whose staff was accustomed to orders given in crisp sentences as if they were Marines on the battlefield or under cross-examination from a prosecutor in a courtroom, Mueller’s remarks that day soared in a way unlike almost any other speech he’d deliver.

“There are those who say that time heals all wounds. But you know that not to be true. At its best, time may dull the deepest wounds; it cannot make them disappear,” Mueller told the assembled mourners. “Yet out of the darkness of this day comes a ray of light. The light of unity, of friendship, and of comfort from those who once were strangers and who are now bonded together by a terrible moment in time. The light of shared memories that bring smiles instead of sadness. And the light of hope for better days to come.”

He talked of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and of inspiration drawn from Lockerbie’s town crest, with its simple motto, “Forward.” He spoke of what was then a two-decade-long quest for justice, of how on windswept Scottish mores and frigid lochs a generation of FBI agents, investigators, and prosecutors had redoubled their dedication to fighting terrorism.

Mueller closed with a promise: “Today, as we stand here together on this, the darkest of days, we renew that bond. We remember the light these individuals brought to each of you here today. We renew our efforts to bring justice down on those who seek to harm us. We renew our efforts to keep our people safe, and to rid the world of terrorism. We will continue to move forward. But we will never forget.”

Hand bells tolled for each of the victims as their names were read aloud, 270 names, 270 sets of bells.

The investigation, though, was not yet closed. Mueller, although he didn’t know it then, wasn’t done with Pan Am 103. Just months after that speech, the case would test his innate sense of justice and morality in a way that few other cases in his career ever have.

The Lockerbie case defined Mueller's career as a prosecutor, only for politics to see justice denied and the man he helped to convict sent back to Libya by Scotland as a peace offering to the Qaddafi regime.

The Lockerbie bombers got away after doing tremendous damage.  Robert Mueller knows full well the cost of politics in justice.

And he will not let Trump get away.
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