Posts Tagged ‘Tillerson’

Assad’s Chemical Attack in Syria May Encourge Donald Trump To Keet US Forces on the Ground Longer

April 9, 2018

April 8, 2018

President Trump is butting heads with his military advisers as he attempts to pull back U.S. forces in Syria.

Trump’s instinct is to withdraw entirely, fulfilling his campaign promise to end nation-building and foreign entanglements.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran have nearly retaken Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb where a chemical attack was reported on Saturday.Credit Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But Pentagon officials and top generals have issued dire warnings about the possibility that terrorist groups will surge back in Syria if the United States leaves the country.

A similar debate played out for months over Afghanistan, until Trump agreed to stay the course there indefinitely.

In Syria, Trump has agreed to leave U.S. troops there for now, but gave the military a six-month deadline to finish the nebulously defined job of defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“One useful place to start is the different conceptions of war that Trump and his generals have,” said Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Trump thinks wars should look like World War II. He’s looking for some sort of big dramatic blitzkrieg.

“He thinks that you win a war with some sort of sudden decisive violence, the enemy cries ‘uncle’ and then you have a big victory parade. That hasn’t been the way wars have worked for a long time. That’s kind of a cartoon idea of war.

“Trump’s generals at this point have lived through a generation of very hard experiments that has run this conception out of most of the American military. They think of wars as long, grinding, slow, often-indecisive struggles.”

The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria. Pentagon officials say ISIS has lost about 90 percent of the territory it once held in Syria, but that it still needs to be routed from pockets along the Middle Euphrates River Valley and along the Syria-Iraq border.

Pentagon officials have also said that efforts to retake the last 10 percent of ISIS-held territory have stalled as the United States’s Kurdish partners have left the fight against ISIS to fight a Turkish incursion elsewhere in Syria.

Last week, Trump stunned an audience in a speech about infrastructure with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that the United States will “be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”

On Tuesday, he reiterated, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

Later on Tuesday, Trump met with his national security team. By Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that “the United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”

Still, Sanders said the military mission “is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed.”

The Pentagon on Thursday asserted that plans for Syria haven’t changed, denying that Trump set a six-month timeline during the meeting with his national security team.

“The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that’s a tool that we can use to our effect as we move forward,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said during a briefing. “We’ve always thought that as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria, we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there. So in that sense, nothing actually has changed.”

But before Trump’s proclamation, military and diplomatic officials had spoken for months about the need for a long-term military commitment in Syria.

At virtually the same time Trump was speaking Tuesday, his top commander in the Middle East and his top diplomat overseeing the international anti-ISIS coalition were across town delivering a different message.

“A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said at a United States Institute of Peace event. “And that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that have to be done.”

Before he was fired, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a speech, reportedly approved by Trump, that argued for a long-term military presence to ensure ISIS does not re-emerge, counter Iranian influence and keep the territory stable until a diplomatic process leads to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal.

“I think he’s bumping up against reality,” Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said of Trump. “I understand Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, wants to leave Syria. But under the circumstance that he has described, he can’t leave Syria. Any person who understands how counterterrorism works understands that.”

Trump’s dilemma has shades of former President Obama’s inability to end the United States’s wars.

Obama came into office pledging to end the Iraq War. When ISIS emerged, Obama pledged not to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He eventually left office with 500 ground troops in Syria and 5,000 in Iraq.

After an initial surge in Afghanistan, Obama also pledged to bring U.S. troops home from there. But on the advice of the generals, he left office with about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

“The reasons are very different, but the pattern is very similar,” Biddle said of the parallels between Obama and Trump, adding Obama was driven by a “psychodrama” between not wanting to wage war and following his advisers’ advice, while Trump is driven by “narcissistic, impulsive lashing out.”

Robert Ford, who was a U.S. ambassador to Syria in the Obama administration, said he thinks Obama and Trump are closer in thinking on Syria.

“Obama always viewed Syria as a kind of Shia-Sunni longtime battle in which America really didn’t have a dog in fight,” Ford said. “Obama just wanted to go pound ISIS and then leave. That’s not very different from Donald Trump.”

Trump’s advisers were able to change his mind about Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll successfully change his mind on Syria in the next six months.

As the deadline approaches, Trump and the military could be forced to grapple with the ill-defined nature of what it actually means to defeat ISIS.

“This is one of the problems that the national security team has had, and it predates Trump,” Ford said. “What is their definition of victory? What does defeating ISIS look like? Does it mean local security forces are able to contain ISIS? Is the definition that ISIS is so small that it can’t regenerate? If it’s local forces being able to contain them, which forces?”

The Hill

See also:

As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In



  April 4, 2018

  April 5, 2018




Undoing the Nuclear Deal Could Propel Iranian Race for the Bomb

April 8, 2018

John Bolton’s aggressive push for military confrontation combined with Trump’s vindictive obsession with undoing Obama’s legacy could spell disaster for the Iran nuclear deal, which would drive Iran’s nuclear ambitions and erode trust around the globe, says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council

Image result for Trita Parsi, photos

The appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser to President Donald Trump has everyone worried that he will advise the president to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran. In his article in Foreign Policy, titled “Blame Trump When Iran Races for the Bomb,” Trita Parsi argues that canceling the deal will make the U.S. less trustworthy to North Korea, for example, and that it will make reaching a disarmament agreement with Pyongyang very difficult if Trump will, at a whim, just cancel the agreement. It will also give Iran, Trita argues, that it will give Iran a strong incentive to quickly develop a nuclear weapon. Here is Trump speaking about the Iran nuclear deal.

DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss Bolton in the context of the Iran deal is Trita Parsi. Trita is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. He’s the author of several books, and his most recent is “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.” Thanks for joining me, Trita.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you for having me today.

SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, President Trump sees the Iran nuclear deal as President Obama’s signature deal, and that the deal somehow offended Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Why is it that Trump is so opposed to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and what will Bolton add to this fierce opposition?

TRITA PARSI: Well, Trump has listed several different reasons. But when you scratch the surface this really seems to come down to what you just mentioned, that this is Obama’s deal. And everything that he’s been doing elsewhere, it’s been quite clear that he’s very eager to undo the legacy of Obama, almost a vindictive approach. And this is the most important foreign policy achievement that the Obama administration had. So it seems to be targeted very much as a result of that.John Bolton has a completely different reason.

John Bolton ultimately wants to have the United States enjoying a hegemonic position in the Middle East and be dominant. Iran is a challenge, an obstacle to that objective. So he has a very aggressive posture towards Iran. And any type of a deal that actually resolves problems between the United States and Iran is a problem in the eyes of John Bolton because he wants a war. He has been very, very clear and honest about his desire for a military confrontation. And as a result he doesn’t want the nuclear deal for that reason. I think he’s now joining the administration because he believes that he can manipulate the Trump, Trump himself, towards taking military action that it’s not entirely clear that Trump would prefer to do on his own.

SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, you say an aggressive posture towards Iran. Give us some examples of where he’s done this.

TRITA PARSI: Well, John Bolton has a very lengthy career in which he’s rarely missed any opportunity to be able to call for military or other forms of confrontational measures towards Iran. He had a piece in The New York Times not too long ago saying got to avoid an Iranian bomb you have to bomb Iran. He’s even had the piece in which he has argued for preemptive nuclear strikes against North Korea.So this is not a person who, unlike some of the proponents of war, is trying to hide his desire for war and who is essentially trying to claim that look, we’re looking for a peaceful solution, but in reality they’re pushing things towards military action. John Bolton is very frank and honest about the fact that he wants to have military confrontation. He wants to have regime change in Iraq.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, the article that you referred to in the New York Times, bomb bomb bomb, bomb Iran, the phrase came out of that article that then got repeated by people like Cheney during the Bush administration. Is there any more recent statements that Bolton has said that concerns you?

TRITA PARSI: Every time he talks about the nuclear deal with Iran he says something. And just a couple of months ago he was at the conference of an organization called Iranian Mujahedin, which is a terrorist organization that has been responsible for killing a very large number of Iranians, Iraqis, as well as U.S. personnel.

But John Bolton has been a longtime supporter of this terrorist organization, and mindful of the fact, of the way that they pay American officials to speak on their behalf. It wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that he’s actually a paid spokesperson for them. And at that meeting he made similar claims and then he said that, you know, within a year we’re going to have this conference in Iran, meaning that there would be a regime change that probably will be preceded by a military confrontation.So he’s been very clear about this. Debating his desire for war or not war is very, very different when it comes to other voices who have been a little bit more careful not to give up their end objective.

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses

John Bolton

With Bolton, at least in some ways, perhaps, it’s a little bit easier because he’s very frank about it.

SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, now, at least there is a buffer in terms of this nuclear agreement. It is not a bilateral agreement with the Iranians. It is a multilateral one. There is P5+1. The Europeans have, you know, very clearly articulated their support for it and not wanting to dismantle it. Is that going to have any influence on the Trump-Bolton efforts?

I guess I should get Netanyahu to the picture as well.

TRITA PARSI: I think there is an effort from the Europeans and others to try to prevent Trump in going in this direction. By now I think the likelihood of success is very little. Trump doesn’t listen to a lot of people who are even in his own administration, let alone listening to Europeans or others. And the fact that he’s now surrounding himself with people that share his view and desire to kill the Iran deal such as John Bolton, such as Mike Pompeo, and the ousting of individuals like Tillerson and McMaster who were not supporters of the deal but at least did not want the United States to just walk away from it, it’s changing the internal balance within the administration.

It’s very difficult to see how the Europeans would be able to be more successful than they have been so far under much better circumstances and trying to protect the deal.I think to a certain extent the Europeans missed an opportunity, because had they been much firmer much earlier, and had they pushed and cleared the way for investments, et cetera, to come into Iran, perhaps the deal would have been a little bit better insulated right now than it currently is from the type of attacks that the Trump administration is presenting.

SHARMINI PERIES: In your article in Foreign Policy you take up the issue how North Korea would react to the canceling of the agreement. Give us a better sense of why North Korea would even care, since they’re not party to this agreement.

TRITA PARSI: Well, I think the general view in Washington is that it would be foolish for Trump to kill the Iran deal before he goes to North Korea because why would the North Koreans trust Trump if they’ve seen him actually renege on an existing deal. And I think that’s very logical and makes sense. I just don’t believe that Trump is particularly keen on following that type of logic. I think the logic he sees is that if he actually kills the Iran deal before he goes and talks to the North Koreans he will have signal to them in his mind that he is so tough that he’s actually willing to uproot an existing deal if he doesn’t get what he wants.

The North Koreans should have no illusions that Trump will walk away from the negotiations if they don’t give him what he wants. It’s a much more of a bullying type of logic that I think he follows.So I find it not unlikely that he actually would try to kill the deal not just because he hates the deal, but also because he actually believes that it would strengthen his position within North Koreas.

I think that’s the wrong analysis. I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s perhaps the way that you would deal with subcontractors in a real estate development project in Manhattan, which is the world that Trump perhaps knows a little bit better. But it’s not the way that you can deal with sovereign states, because sovereign states are not subcontractors of the United States.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, Trump seems to be a person who, say, who thinks of himself as the best deal maker there is, and therefore he wants to renegotiate anything that’s in place, including NAFTA, various trade agreements, and so forth. If Trump got his way and he was able to renegotiate the Iran deal on his terms , what would he be asking for, in your assessment?

TRITA PARSI: There is no renegotiation of the Iran deal. He’s never going to be able to get to that point, and I frankly don’t think that that’s actually what he’s looking for. Saying that he wants to renegotiate is just a way of trying to pretend that he’s not killing the deal when in reality he is killing the deal. There is no reason why anyone else would engage in any such negotiations, particularly when the way Trump is approaching this is saying that I want so much more from the Iranians, but I’m not willing to give them anything in return.

The Iranians are not idiots. They’re actually pretty good negotiators. And they’re not going to strike a deal with someone as unreliable as Trump who is offering them less than what Obama offered and demanding more. There’s absolutely no incentives for them to do so. This is just a smokescreen for people to think that he’s actually trying to fix something that isn’t broken, whereas in reality he is actually moving towards a situation in which he’s just looking to find an excuse to kill the deal.

SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, known as MBS, was recently in the United States. And while he was here he made some very derogatory comments about Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, comparing him to Adolf Hitler. And there seems to be this growing opposition to, to Iran, which is very concerning, particularly given that there’s this alliance forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. This triangle is a very dangerous one when it comes to the security and peace in the region. Give us a sense of why the United States is forging this alliance and what it means in the region.

TRITA PARSI: Well, I think the reason why you’re seeing this rather unlikely, at least if you look at the region from an ideological prism, it would be very difficult to envision an openly Zionist state striking a deal with an openly Wahhabi state such as Saudi Arabia. But that’s because at the end of the day ideology and religion is not what is driving what is happening in the region. It’s for geopolitics, and from a geopolitical perspective the Saudis and the Israelis see common interest in the sense that they did not want to see a nuclear deal with Iran, not because of the details of the nuclear deal but because a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran and the other states would put an end to three decades of isolating and containing Iran. It would mean that the United States has accepted that Iran is a major power in the region and it has to be included in the regional decision making political and economic processes.

And that’s the nightmare scenario from them, because they prefer to see their rival contained and isolated and weakened, not by their own power but by the power of the United States. And that’s part of the reason, the main reason I would say, that they’ve been so adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal. And with Trump they’re seeing this opportunity to be able to reverse which Obama did and bring back a geopolitical balance in the region that existed not just before the nuclear deal but before the 2003 war, in which the U.S. was in a hegemonic position, strong hegemony.

Israel and Saudi Arabia enjoyed maximum maneuverability because their regional rivals were all checked and isolated and contained by the United States.Now, you can see why that perhaps would be attractive from a Saudi perspective. Why wouldn’t you want to have the superpower essentially check your regional enemy, which you don’t have the power to do yourself? But from an American perspective no one has been able to actually address how does this make sense from a U.S. national interest perspective? Is the United States just supposed to be essentially a proxy army that is used at the will of the House of Saud or others in the region, or does the U.S. actually have its own interests that should be the primary factor dictating its policies?

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us, and thank you for watching the Real News Network.


(From: Foreign Policy)

Voice For Keeping Iran Nuclear Deal: Dennis Ross — If Trump walks away from the Iran deal, Tehran will win

April 5, 2018

If Trump walks away from the Iran deal, Tehran will win

The Washington Post

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran. (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)
 April 2

Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute, served in senior national security positions in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations.

I was not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal. While it imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, it also legitimized a large Iranian nuclear infrastructure by imposing no real limits on its size or character after 2030. Rather than ending Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, it deferred it. True, the Iranians committed to not acquire or develop nuclear weapons, but they also claimed they had never attempted to do so — despite clear evidence to the contrary.

So the danger in 12 years when some of the deal’s provisions end is real, but that does not mean President Trump should walk away from the deal in May. If he withdraws, he withdraws alone. The Europeans will not join him, especially after having been willing to negotiate with the administration and accept a number of concessions: sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile testing, a joint statement on limiting what Iran should be able to do after 2030 and a readiness to raise the costs to the Iranians of their destabilizing actions in the region. Even if the British, French and Germans are not prepared to go as far as the administration might like, they have acknowledged the Trump administration’s concerns about the deal and been willing to address them at least in part.

Walking away will end that. It will isolate the United States, not the Iranians. Pressure on the Iranians has always been most effective when the United States was joined by others. In fact, it was only when the European Union decided to impose a boycott on Iranian oil that Iran truly felt squeezed, beginning to negotiate after declaring it would never do so as long as it was under sanctions.

Unfortunately, the Europeans won’t simply stick with the deal; they will go to great lengths to keep the Iranians in — and the Iranians know how to play on European fears. Already Tehran is declaring that it could move swiftly to install new and far more effective centrifuges, and not limit their output. That will surely stoke European fears about an increasing risk of war and lead them to offer incentives to the Iranians to stay in the deal.

For those who say the administration can pressure Europe by threatening to impose sanctions on European companies that do business with the Iranians, don’t bet on it. The Europeans have always resisted such secondary sanctions, and given Trump’s unpopularity with European publics, few leaders there will want to appear to give in to American threats.

Of course, some European banks and companies will be chary of potential U.S. sanctions, with a chilling effect on their willingness to invest in Iran. But that fear exists even without our withdrawing from the agreement. Our sanctions on Iran for its support for terrorism and human rights violations remain — a reality that helps to explain why Iran continues to complain that it has not reaped the economic benefits it expected from the deal.

But my concerns about an American walkaway go deeper. It would create the illusion of toughness on Iran without the effect. The danger that Iran poses is its expansion in the region. It is using Shiite militia proxies to gain a stranglehold over governments. It is embedding itself militarily in Syria, even trying to change the demographic balance by importing Shiite militias (and Shiite civilians ) to populate Sunni areas — something designed to prevent refugees from returning to their homes but also something likely to ensure an ongoing insurgency in Syria. Worse, Iran seems increasingly less risk-averse in Syria. It acted out of character when it chose to challenge Israel directly, and not through one of its proxies, when it flew a drone into Israeli airspace.

Israel has made clear that it cannot live with an expanding Iranian military presence in Syria, which the Israelis believe includes plans to fabricate advanced guidance systems in Syria and Lebanon for the more than 120,000 rockets Hezbollah possesses. Israel’s size and relatively small number of critical military and civilian infrastructure targets mean that it does not have the luxury of waiting if Iran makes this move. It is easy to see how a war between the Israelis and Iran/Hezbollah starts but not how it ends.

Containing the spread of the Iranians, their proxies and the development of their military capability in Syria should be the Trump administration’s focal point. But it is not, with Trump making clear that he wants to “let the other people take care of it now.”

Our priority should be to blunt the real Iranian threat there, and that requires mobilizing support for that purpose, not saying it is up to others.

Trump may believe that walking away from the deal makes him look tough on Tehran. It doesn’t. It ignores the real threat and gives the Iranians a win. They will know we are alone and that there will be no meaningful pressure to stop what they are doing in the region. The great irony is that one way to deal with the vulnerabilities created by the agreement and bolster our deterrence is to demonstrate to the Iranians that we will react whenever their behaviors cross the line, starting in the region. The Iran deal bought time on the nuclear issue, and now is surely not the moment to throw it away.

Why Trump is holding off on withdrawing troops from Syria

April 5, 2018


© AFP / by Francesco FONTEMAGGI | Advisers have warned President Donald Trump that withdrawing US troops from Syria too soon could see the resurgence of the Islamic State group

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Despite his eagerness to remove American troops from Syria, US President Donald Trump has given up on doing so immediately for reasons including the war against jihadists and regional politics.- Mission accomplished? –

While Trump used the winding down of the war against the Islamic State group as justification for his desire to quickly withdraw US forces from Syria, allies as well as US officials have pushed back.

“Our mission isn’t over, and we’re going to complete that mission,” said Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the international anti-IS coalition.

And the jihadists are not completely defeated: “We see the return of fighters,” and if the coalition is not careful, there is a real threat that IS could “regain ground,” a European diplomat warned recently.

Trump has now promised that the US mission in Syria would come to a “rapid end,” but did not give a timetable.

– The Assad issue –

In January Rex Tillerson, then secretary of state prior to his dismissal by Trump, said that “the United States will maintain a military presence in Syria.”

He linked the issue with ending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, though this is not an official objective of the mission.

“A total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would restore Assad to continue his brutal treatment against his own people,” Tillerson said, while “the departure of Assad through the UN-led Geneva process will create the conditions for a durable peace within Syria and security along the borders.”

This process, however, is at a standstill. In the meantime, the US administration has also stressed the need to stabilize areas “liberated” from IS rule.

“Of course there is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase,” said General Joseph Votel, the commander of US troops in the Middle East.

– Countering Iran –

Tillerson also warned “US disengagement” from Syria would provide Iran — which is backing Assad — with “the opportunity to further strengthen its own position in Syria.”

This is a major concern for experts, at a time when the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian allies increasingly appear to be on the path to victory in Syria’s brutal seven-year civil war.

Trump has repeatedly taken aim at Iran’s conduct and threatened to withdraw from the international agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, criticizing it as too lax.

“Containing the spread of the Iranians, their proxies and the development of their military capability in Syria should be the Trump administration’s focal point,” former diplomat Dennis Ross wrote in The Washington Post.

“But it is not, with Trump making clear that he wants to ‘let the other people take care of it now,'” Ross said.

– Trouble with Turkey –

Turkey is also a significant source of concern for Washington. Turkey is a western ally that backs Syrian rebels.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined Russia and Iran in a Syria peace process on the margins of the UN-led one.

Mainly, Ankara has launched an offensive in northwest Syria against Kurds allied with the United States against jihadist forces but accused of terrorism by the Turks. Turkey fears the formation of a Kurdish state on its border.

This operation, which the United States has failed to contain, now threatens Manbij, where American troops are based.

For now, the Americans seem inclined to strengthen their positions in the Manbij region.

by Francesco FONTEMAGGI


Decision made on Syria pullout, announcement soon: US intel chief

April 4, 2018


© GETTY/AFP/File | US intelligence chief Daniel Coats says a decision has been made on whether to withdraw toops from Syria

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States has reached a decision on a possible withdrawal of troops from Syria, the top US intelligence official said Wednesday, adding an announcement was imminent.Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said President Donald Trump took part in “a significant discussion” with his national security team on the US commitment in Syria at the White House on Tuesday.

“There will be a statement shortly relative to the decision that was made,” Coats said at a breakfast with defense reporters.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants American troops to “get out” of Syria, even as top US officials stressed the need to stay for the long term.

“Our primary mission in terms of Syria was getting rid of ISIS,” Trump said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

“We’ve almost completed that task. And we’ll be making a decision very quickly in coordination with others in the area as to what we’ll do.”

But at the same time Trump was speaking at a news conference with Baltic leaders, the top commander for the war against IS signaled different views.

General Joe Votel, who leads the military’s Central Command, suggested the US should play a long-term role in Syria in terms of stabilizing the areas freed from IS occupation.

“The hard part I think is in front of us and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long term issues of reconstruction and other things that will have to be done,” Votel said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

“Of course there is a military role in this, certainly in the stabilization phase,” he added.

And Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition against IS, stressed the fight against the jihadists was not over.

Trump recently fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and axed HR McMaster as national security adviser, replacing him with hardline Fox News pundit and former UN ambassador John Bolton.

© 2018 AFP

Trump freezes Syria recovery funds: report

March 31, 2018


© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | Speaking in Ohio on Thursday, Trump indicated that with the war against IS winding down, he wants American involvement in Syria to do likewise

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House has instructed the State Department to freeze over $200 million in funds earmarked for “recovery efforts” in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.The report — which came a day after Trump declared in a speech that the US would be quitting Syria “very soon” — is another indication the president wants to disengage from the country.

Officials told AFP that Trump’s aside in his speech was not a slip, but that for several weeks he had been pushing back against the idea of a long or medium term US commitment to stabilizing eastern Syria.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump called for the spending freeze after reading a news report that said the US had committed the funds for recovery efforts in Syria, which has been wracked by a more than seven-year civil war.

The US has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria as part of international efforts to defeat the Islamic State group, an extremist organization that once controlled swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Speaking in Ohio on Thursday, Trump indicated that with the war against IS winding down, he wants American involvement in Syria to do likewise.

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he promised.

Trump did not say who the others were who might take care of Syria, but Russia and Iran have sizable forces in the country to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

His eagerness to quit the conflict flies in the face of a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson — who has since been sacked.

Tillerson argued that US forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and Al-Qaeda from returning and to deny Iran a chance “to further strengthen its position in Syria.”

In a speech at Stanford University, he also warned that “a total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would restore Assad and continue his brutal treatment against his own people.”

But Tillerson has gone after being dismissed in a tweet. And Trump, who increasingly makes foreign policy announcements without seeking the advice of US generals or diplomats, wants out.

“We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. And you know what we have for it? Nothing,” Trump declared, promising to focus future US spending on building jobs and infrastructure at home.

Donald Trump and John Kelly Reach Truce

March 16, 2018

White House chief of staff had made cryptic comments suggesting he may have been the next senior adviser to step down

White House chief of staff John Kelly, right, has settled tension with President Donald Trump, at least temporarily, as recent departures from the administration increased expectations that Mr. Kelly might step down soon.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, right, has settled tension with President Donald Trump, at least temporarily, as recent departures from the administration increased expectations that Mr. Kelly might step down soon. PHOTO: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly have settled on a truce, at least temporarily, as the latest round of staff tumult continues to ripple through the West Wing, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Jarred by the treatment of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom the president fired by tweet on Tuesday morning, Mr. Kelly suggested to colleagues that he may be the next to be pushed out of the White House. Mr. Kelly’s cryptic comments left several White House staffers with the impression that Mr. Kelly would force the issue with the president, and that they should start looking for new jobs, too.

The internal drama heightened when Mr. Kelly flew with the president to California on Tuesday, but returned alone and was working in his West Wing office on Wednesday morning. Mr. Kelly’s allies in the White House, however, said the chief of staff had always planned on flying the 4,500-mile round-trip between Washington and San Diego in less than a day.

But on Thursday, Messrs. Trump and Kelly had a productive meeting that left both men reassured. Mr. Trump told advisers afterward that Mr. Kelly was “100% safe.” Mr. Kelly told his associates that, at least for the moment, he and the president had patched things up. “I’m in,” Mr. Kelly told staff.

Asked about Mr. Kelly’s comments earlier in the week, and the meeting between the president and his staff chief on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a five-word statement: “Kelly is not going anywhere.”

The back-and-forth between Mr. Trump and the chief of staff suggested that the easing of tensions may be more of a temporary detente than a ironclad peace agreement. The president and Mr. Kelly are well known around the White House for engaging in tense arguments, and Mr. Trump has made repeated public comments that manage to both underscore his satisfaction with Mr. Kelly, while also raising doubts about how long the two will continue to work together.

“He likes what you do better than what he does,” Mr. Trump told a group of Marines in San Diego about Mr. Kelly, a former four-star general in the Marines. “But he’s doing a great job. He misses you.”

The exchange between the retired four-star general and the prime-time TV star-turned president was just one storyline playing out in a particularly tumultuous week. The president has often said he encourages conflict among his staff, and has spoken favorably about the internal skirmishing. “They’re fighting over who loves me the most,” he said about his staff last summer.

The president has also told his team that he wants to replace Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser. But the timing of that departure was unclear, with one official saying it could happen “imminently” and another saying it could be weeks, even months.

Gen. McMaster had told associates earlier in the week that he believed he was safe, and that the president urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November.

Gen. McMaster attended a White House event Thursday evening honoring the Irish prime minister and joked with reporters there, including responding to one question that appeared to touch on his future by asking: “Have you heard anything?”

Write to Michael C. Bender at

General Joseph Votel, top U.S. general in the Middle East seems to support Iran Nuclear Deal, Says Assad has won War in Syria

March 16, 2018


Assad has won, Iran deal should stand and Saudis use American weapons without accountability in Yemen: head of U.S. military’s Central Command’s stunning Congressional testimony

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, arrives to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2018
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, arrives to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2018REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The top U.S. general in the Middle East testified before Congress on Tuesday and dropped several bombshells: from signaled support for the Iran nuclear deal, admitting the U.S. does not know what Saudi Arabia does with its bombs in Yemen and that Assad has won the Syrian Civil War.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel said the Iran agreement, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from, has played an important role in addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

“The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program,” said U.S. Army General Joseph Votel. JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the formal name of the accord reached with Iran in July 2015 in Vienna.

Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the accord between Tehran and six world powers unless Congress and European allies help “fix” it with a follow-up pact. Trump does not like the deal’s limited duration, among other things.

Votel is head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran. He was speaking to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the same day that Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy, including Iran.

Tillerson had joined Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in pressing a skeptical Trump to stick with the agreement with Iran.

“There would be some concern (in the region), I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA. … Right now, I think it is in our interest” to stay in the deal, Votel said.

When a lawmaker asked whether he agreed with Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford’s position on the deal,Votel said: “Yes, I share their position.”

Mattis said late last year that the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven Tehran was not complying or that the agreement was not in the U.S. national interest.

A collapse of the Iran nuclear deal would be a “great loss,” the United Nations atomic watchdog’s chief warned Trump recently, giving a wide-ranging defense of the accord.

Iran has stayed within the deal’s restrictions since Trump took office but has fired diplomatic warning shots at Washington in recent weeks. It said on Monday that it could rapidly enrich uranium to a higher degree of purity if the deal collapsed.


Votel also discussed the situation in Syria at the hearing.

During the Syrian army’s offensive in eastern Ghouta, more than 1,100 civilians have died. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups shelling the capital.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Monday that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the U.N. Security Council failed to act on Syria.

Votel said the best way to deter Russia, which backs Assad, was through political and diplomatic channels.

“Certainly if there are other things that are considered, you know, we will do what we are told. … (But) I don’t recommend that at this particular point,” Votel said, in an apparent to reference to military options.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked whether it was too strong to say that with Russia and Iran’s help, Assad had “won” the civil war in Syria.

“I do not think that is too strong of a statement,” Votel said.

Graham also asked if the United States’ policy on Syria was still to seek the removal of Assad from power.

“I don’t know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS,” Votel said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia

In a stunning exchange with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, Votel admitted that Centcom doesn’t know when U.S. fuel and munitions are used in Yemen.

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

“Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.

The Senator followed up, citing reports that U.S. munitions have been used against civilians in Yemen, she asked, “General Votel, when you receive reports like this from credible media organizations or outside observers, is CENTCOM able to tell if U.S. fuel or U.S. munitions were used in that strike?”

“No, senator, I don’t believe we are,” he replied.

Showing surprise at the general’s response, Warren concluded, “We need to be clear about this: Saudi Arabia’s the one receiving American weapons and American support. And that means we bear some responsibility here. And that means we need to hold our partners and our allies accountable for how those resources are used,” she said.

‘Rex, Eat the Salad:’ Inside the Awkward Relationship Between Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump

March 13, 2018

Cabinet post was a sharp change for a former Exxon Mobil CEO who was used to calling the shots

Rex Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of state brought a globe-trotting executive to Washington to work for the first businessman president. Photo: Bao Dandan/Zuma Press

By Michael C. Bender and Felicia Schwartz
The Wall Street Journal

March 13, 2018 1:22 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—In a private room in China’s Great Hall of the People in November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat with President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials as their hosts delivered plates of wilted Caesar salad.

Mr. Trump, in the midst of a five-country tour of Asia, grew concerned the untouched greens would offend the Chinese, according to people familiar with the matter. So he ordered Mr. Tillerson to start. “Rex,” he said, “eat the salad.”

Mr. Tillerson laughed off the remark, but the moment illustrated the at-times awkward relationship between the secretary of state and his boss that came to an abrupt end Tuesday when Mr. Trump announced in a tweet that he had replaced him.

Initially, Mr. Trump brimmed with enthusiasm about the arrival in his cabinet of a seasoned executive, the chairman and chief executive of oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp.

While he had first considered other candidates—former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—the new president was sold on Mr. Tillerson by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire and GOP donor, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Man, when there was a big find in a country, nobody had a chance when Rex went in to get it—Rex would go in, and it would be over,” Mr. Hamm told the incoming president, said one person familiar with the conversation.

“That’s what we want!” Mr. Trump replied.

Mr. Tillerson’s appointment brought a globe-trotting executive to Washington to work for the first businessman president. But soon Mr. Tillerson found himself in an awkward place: roiling a massive diplomatic bureaucracy with a proposal to slash its $55-billion budget by almost 40%, yet distant from the White House he reported in to.

A spokesman for Mr. Tillerson declined to comment.

Turnover Under Trump A tally of senior officials and aides who have left the administration

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

Early in the administration, Mr. Tillerson tried to bridge Foggy Bottom and Pennsylvania Avenue by seeking to hold occasional meetings of the president’s National Security Council at the State Department, according to a person familiar with the discussion. The request was rejected. And inside the White House, the former chief executive found himself crossing a trio of staffers who hadn’t yet been born when he started his climb at Exxon in 1975.

Mr. Tillerson, 65 years old, clashed on immigration policy in front of the president with Stephen Miller, the president’s 32-year-old policy adviser. After one correction from Mr. Miller, Mr. Tillerson barked so aggressively at the West Wing aide that the president suggested his secretary of state might have crossed the line, according to a person familiar with the exchange.


  • Tillerson Is Out as Secretary of State
  • Frequently at Odds: A Timeline
  • Heard on the Street: Tillerson’s Golden Parachute

Johnny DeStefano, the 38-year-old in charge of White House personnel, helped scuttle several of Mr. Tillerson’s appointments, according to officials. And control over major diplomatic priorities was always muddled, with Jared Kushner, the president’s 37-year-old son-in-law and senior adviser, taking the lead on Middle East peace talks.

A promise from Mr. Trump during the transition that Mr. Tillerson could pick his own staff almost immediately fell through. Nor was Mr. Tillerson a central part of the decision-making process on the White House’s original proposed travel ban or on expanding the so-called “Mexico City policy,” which bars foreign organizations that receive U.S. aid from providing abortion services, officials said.

It was all a sharp change for an executive who was used to calling the shots at Exxon.

“As chief executive, you’re in charge. As an agency head, you’re sort of in charge,” said Steven Goldstein, a former executive at TIAA who was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs until he, too, was ousted Tuesday.

President Trump at a state dinner in China in November. Photo: pe/pool/epa-efe/rex/shutterstock/EPA/Shutterstock

The secretary has also bewildered White House aides with his unwillingness to engage the media.

“I don’t need to talk just to be talking, OK? I’m not a media hog,” Mr. Tillerson said in an October interview with The Wall Street Journal, when asked why he had given relatively few interviews during his first year in office. “I don’t need facial recognition. I don’t need voice recognition. I don’t need a lot of quotes. So, for me, it’s when it’s useful to talk, let’s talk.”

Rumors that Mr. Tillerson wasn’t long for the job have circulated since the summer and intensified over the fall when he was quoted as calling the president a “moron.” The two men’s relationship appeared to improve on the Asia trip in early November. Mr. Trump, however, continued to complain privately about Mr. Tillerson, people familiar with the discussions said.

Despite a rocky tenure, Mr. Tillerson helped carry out Mr. Trump’s campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, raising the issue in many meetings with foreign officials, sometimes as specifically as pointing to certain ships or transactions the U.S. found problematic. More than 20 countries took action, such as closing embassies and kicking out North Korean guest workers during his tenure.

He was also responsible for a warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, which paved the way for the first trip by a Saudi foreign minister to Baghdad in years, officials said.

Mr. Tillerson additionally helped to negotiate a cease-fire zone with Russia and Jordan in southwest Syria, though officials warned earlier this week that the zone might be in danger amid violence there.

Still, the former Exxon Mobil chief executive struggled to appeal to career officials at the State Department, some of whom felt that Mr. Tillerson often ignored their policy advice. Many senior staff have departed and several top positions that require Senate confirmation remain vacant.

About one-third of the 152 key positions at the State Department requiring Senate confirmation have no nominee. Of 28 undersecretary and assistant secretary posts that run much of the building, only 10 are confirmed. The Trump administration hasn’t nominated anyone to fill many of the remaining posts.

As Mr. Tillerson approached the one-year mark last month, aides close to him declared him “the Secretary of Stay,” reflecting their belief that he appeared to have survived the tensions. But as the White House gears up for important diplomatic initiatives, including Mr. Trump’s agreement to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the president decided it was time for a change, according to officials.

White House chief of staff John Kelly awoke Mr. Tillerson late Friday night while he was on a trip to Africa to let him know he would likely soon be fired, officials said. Mr. Tillerson cut the trip short and returned to Washington early Tuesday. Shortly after Mr. Trump tweeted that he had installed CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and thanked Mr. Tillerson for his service, an aide alerted Mr. Tillerson that he had lost his job.

Write to Michael C. Bender at and Felicia Schwartz at

Trump calls report of looming McMaster exit ‘fake news,’ aide says — But Trump and McMaster have seemed anxious to part

March 2, 2018
H.R. McMaster is pictured. | Getty Images


President Donald Trump named H.R. McMaster national security adviser in February 2017. | Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images


The Trump administration batted down a new report on Thursday that national security adviser H.R. McMaster could be on his way out, with President Donald Trump telling a spokesman for the National Security Council that the article was “fake news.”

“I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”

Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, also cast doubt on reports of McMaster’s looming departure, telling pool reporters that the administration often dealt with “rumor and innuendo about senior administration officials.”

“There are no personnel announcements at this time,” Shah added.

NBC News, citing five anonymous sources, reported that the White House was readying itself to replace McMaster as soon as next month. The report says the decision has been “orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.”

Speculation surrounding McMaster’s status has swirled for months, with senior Trump administration officials telling POLITICO last week that Kelly and Trump contemplated in November firing the Army general.

The relationship between Trump and his national security adviser — whom aidessay never quite clicked with the president — was publicly tested last month when the commander in chief took issue with McMaster’s saying that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election was “incontrovertible.”

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” the president tweeted, referring to Hillary Clinton. “Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

Trump named McMaster national security adviser in February 2017, replacing Michael Flynn, who resigned after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with a Russian diplomat regarding U.S. sanctions.

Trump at the time called McMaster “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience” in announcing the move.