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Trump’s Latest Hedge on US Withdrawal from Syria is Only Postponing the Inevitable

While the US refuses to cooperate with the Syrian Army and Russia in fighting ISIS the holy warriors will always have somewhere to hide.

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Via 21st Century Wire:


Trump’s ultra-hawkish National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is touring the Middle East apparently setting new conditions for the withdrawal with every stop he makes. We are currently told that U.S. troops will not leave until the remnants of ISIS are mopped up, until there is certainty they cannot re-merge, until Erdogan promises not to slaughter the Kurds, and until Israel’s security is absolutely assured.

It is certainly true that crushing those ISIS remnants could take some time, and as for ensuring that ISIS can never re-form that is a recipe for a never-ending US presence. The US allies, the Kurdish-dominated SDF, are currently retreating from parts of Eastern Deir Ez Zor because they are meeting hostility from Arab villagers, who resent the abduction of their young men and even children into the ranks of the SDF. While the departure of the sprinkling of 2000 US troops will hardly leave a vacuum as far as the fight against ISIS is concerned the departure of the SDF from certain areas certainly will. Only the government’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) could enter these Arab areas, and that is precisely what some clan leaders are calling for (calls ignored of course by our media).

Extracting assurances from Erdogan is also likely to prove difficult, especially if (like Bolton, no doubt) you will perhaps not strain every sinew to extract them. Erdogan however has already said that he will have no need to invade if the Syrian Army interposes itself in a 40 mile deep buffer zone. To guard against this possibility of receiving yes for an answer Ambassador James Jeffrey, presidential envoy for Syria, is being despatched to talk to the Kurds and deter them from pacting with Assad and the Russians.

The following video clip from this week features US President Donald Trump in Washington DC, before departing for Camp David, talking to the press on his planned withdrawal of American troops from Syria. ‘We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone,’ said the President. Watch:

The irony here is that it is the very presence of the US (and UK) forces which prevents the US conditions for withdrawal being met. While the US refuses to cooperate with the Syrian Army and Russia in fighting ISIS the holy warriors will always have somewhere to hide. And while the US keeps promising protection to the Kurds, and the Kurds believe them, then the YPG will go on infuriating the Turks and the Turkish threat will not go away.

But will the Kurds believe Jeffrey? Will they put their entire existence at the mercy of Trump’s whims and a frayed US tripwire? It seems not, at least to judge by reports that Kurdish negotiations with Damascus and the Russians are well advanced.

In this game for the prize of Kurdish affections Damascus holds most of the cards. To begin with the Kurds have never fought or wanted to fight the SAA and never wanted independence. They do want a measure of autonomy which they would like to see guaranteed in a new federal constitution. Damascus will have difficulty swallowing that, not least because other restive areas like the South might also want autonomy. Assad will probably reckon that he can clinch a deal with a few concessions rather than a federal constitution: use of Kurdish language in schools, incorporation of the peshmerga into the SAA. He can afford to sit on his hands indefinitely: the small US presence in the remote Syrian Far East is no existential strategic threat to him, while the endless lingering will be a constant embarrassment to Trump. Most crucially of all, the Kurds know now, if they hadn’t realised it before, that one day the US tripwire will indeed be removed and they will get no deal at all from Damascus if they do not strike one now.

We can expect to see bluster, smoke screens, reversals and and posturing on all sides in the coming days but ultimately it must be considered likely that at some point the Kurds, when they judge that no more concessions can be extracted from Assad, could ask the US to leave. Ah! That would upend everything. Actually they won’t even need to ask. All they have to do is conclude a deal. Then it will be game, set and match to Assad and the Russians. The real issue may soon become how to save American face and here we can expect to see some adroit Russian diplomacy. There is already talk of drafting UAE and Egyptian forces into Manbij, the key town under Turkish threat.

Before we reach that point however we must address two loose ends. Firstly Trump’s statement, when he was under fire and needed an excuse, that the Turks were going to deal with ISIS. This idea is a total nonsense but Bolton on the Turkey leg of his tour must go through the motions of exploring it with Erdogan. He will be told that for Turkish troops to cross over a hundred miles of hostile Kurdish territory to deal with ISIS in Deir Ez Zor Turkey would need the support of more US resources than are in the area already. Turkish generals are horrified at the idea. It will be quietly dropped. Anyway the preferred plan is for the US forces with the SDF to use all this new time at their disposal to do the necessary (except that, as mentioned, the SDF is something of a broken reed).

Secondly, and this is even more absurd, Bolton says the US is not going to withdraw its ‘a couple hundred’ troops from the ‘key’ Al Tanf enclave which straddles the Syrian/Jordanian/Iraqi borders, because of its strategic position blocking completion of the fabled ‘land bridge’ which we are told links Iran with Syria and Lebanon. It is quite simply grotesque that anyone with pretentions to being a strategist can appear seriously to believe this and that the media dutifully regurgitate the US talking points on it without question. While it is true that Al Tanf has been an important crossing point, all we are talking about here is bit of inconvenience. There are other crossing points a few miles to the North East. Anyway Iran airlifts most of its supplies to Damascus and Beirut and wouldn’t dream of ferrying sensitive equipment through Iraqi territory, pullulating with US troops and agents. Don’t they have maps in the Pentagon? It can perhaps be most charitably assumed that the Al Tanf gambit is part of the face-saving which has to be done, this time to be able to claim that the US has ensured that Iran will not become more ‘entrenched’ (what does this much bandied about word mean? They never tell us) and Israel’s concerns are not being overlooked.

Assad will not care less if the US wants to stay on in Al Tanf. The only settlement is the Ar Rukban encampment housing about 60,000 displaced persons, many of them ISIS and their families who fled from Raqqa. The US troops do not dare enter this encampment. Assad will be perfectly happy for the US to keep holding this tar baby and can lambast the US for blatant breach of international law, because after ISIS is gone the last vestige of any legal excuse for the US presence will also be gone. (Bolton tells us that the US constitution is basis enough, so now we know.)

Syria comes in from the cold

Meanwhile Syria’s rapprochement with much of the Arab world has proceeded apace. The President of Sudan visited. The UAE reopened its embassy. Bahrain says it will follow. Flights to Tunisia have resumed. It seems likely that Assad will be invited to the Arab Summit in March in Beirut and Syria will be readmitted to the Arab League. Italy is said to be close to reopening its embassy. The British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has sourly accepted that Assad is going to remain President ‘for a while’. Although reports that the British Embassy are being refurbished may turn out to be a false dawn, the day can surely not be far off when the UK informs Damascus that it proposes to reopen. However the issue will not be what concessions Syria must make to receive this favour but rather what concessions the UK must make if it is not be even more totally excluded from the diplomacy around the Syrian question than it is already. The Syrians would be remiss not to require a lifting of sanctions as a minimum.

The economic war

The most important aspect of these rapprochements is the economic one. Syria’s immense battle ahead is economic recovery. The gains on the battlefield may be eroded if the government fails to get the country on its feet again. The problems seem never ending. One small example: 84,000 children are fatherless, the offspring resulting from rapes and forced temporary marriages by jihadis.

The Western media gleefully reckons that Syria needs $400 billion for reconstruction. The Western powers currently set their faces against contributing anything to this and indeed seek to push Syria deeper into the mire with punitive sanctions. A surer way of creating the conditions for a resurgence of ISIS could hardly be imagined.

Hence the importance of rapprochement with the Gulf countries. While Trump’s claim that Saudi would pay for recovery was probably another of Trump’s mis-statements, it is not fanciful to imagine the big Gulf development funds – the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Arab Development Funds, and some of the UAE funds – providing enough to make a good start. Syria in any case could not absorb huge amounts to begin with. Not least it would generate massive inflation.

Idlib

The Idlib issue, presently on hold, gets worse rather than better. Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham (HTS), the group everyone (except Qatar) considers terrorists, have fought and displaced other armed groups from a string of towns, some in the buffer zone which the Turks were supposed to have cleansed of the most radical groups. The groups in Idlib mount regular forays or artillery attacks into government-controlled areas, attracting air raids in retaliation.

Lest we forget

Within two days of each other John Bolton and Jeremy Hunt publicly reminded Syria that it must not run away with the idea that it could get away with more chemical attacks now that it seems to be in the ascendant. This seems to be the last lingering hope of all those who can never have too much Western military intervention in Syria, that an incident can be manufactured to justify heavy bombing. Unfortunately for them, the Syrians and Russians appear to be a step ahead: only the Russians seem to be doing any bombing. While a compliant media would dutifully echo possible Pentagon claims that any planes or helicopters were Syrian rather than Russian, or that black is white, this tactic does make that a tad more difficult.

Author Peter Ford is the former British Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) and Bahrain (1999-2002).

A previous version of this article was originally published at Tim Hayward’s blog.

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CudwieserShaun RameweRegulaTerry Recent comment authors
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Terry
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Terry

Excellent article from a real authority on Syria.

Regula
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Regula

Yes, Bolton’s new conditions for withdrawal of US troops is a cover for no pullout. The cover to leave was victory over ISIS – Trump correctly realized that this is the last chance to leave “victorious” rather than in defeat. But the neocons still dream of regime change. Just look at the first item on the Repub agenda: a prohibition against boycotting Israel with civilian means. Does Rubio want to jail Naom Chomsky if he refuses again to participate in an Israeli symposium? Expect the rest of the Repub agenda to be equally pro Israel and anti-America. And ousting Assad… Read more »

Shaun Ramewe
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Shaun Ramewe

Neither the dirty sneaky lying illegal-invading terrorist-abetting ZioYank war criminals or their fellow false-flagging civilian-murdering resource-thieving sickos the two-faced Turks can be trusted – ever.

Cudwieser
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Cudwieser

Just keep moving the troops to the north mr Assad. The less space they have, the less time to think they have and more inclined they’ll be to fight or withdraw.

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Putin’s State of the Nation Part III – Raising Russians

President Putin’s State of the Nation talk began with the most important element of any society – the family.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Parts I and II of this series outline much of Russia’s “face towards the world” in terms of both economic / trade and military matters. Part III actually comprises the great majority of what President Putin addressed in the Russian State of the Nation Address on Wednesday, 20 February. As he pledged upon his re-election to his fourth presidential term, the 66-year old leader focused primarily on domestic affairs within the Russian Federation.

The whole speech is available at Kremlin.ru, and by following this hyperlink.

We have selected excerpts along the reasoning of illuminating those parts of domestic policy in Russia that reveal why the globalist and secularist elíte in the West are so determined to block Russia’s success as a nation, even to isolate it and destroy it if possible. We will emphasize and comment on various points from the speech.

One of the biggest differences in Russia from the US is the centrality of traditional families, with children. Children are wanted and needed in the Russian Federation, and President Putin started his speech by addressing the matter of raising new Russians:

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, citizens of Russia,

Today’s Address is primarily devoted to matters of domestic social and economic development. I would like to focus on the objectives set forth in the May 2018 Executive Order and detailed in the national projects. Their content and the targets they set are a reflection of the demands and expectations of Russia’s citizens. People are at the core of the national projects, which are designed to bring about a new quality of life for all generations. This can only be achieved by generating momentum in Russia’s development…

Therefore, the work of the executive branch at all levels should be coordinated, meaningful and energetic. The Government of Russia must set the tone.

At the same time, I would like to emphasise and repeat: our development projects are not federal and even less so agency-based. They are national. Their results must be visible in each region of the Federation, in every municipality. It is here, on the ground, that the majority of specific tasks is implemented.

Here, President Putin seems to be alluding to the importance of nation. While Russia has a much more openly socialist style government than the US does, it is nonetheless also much more efficient in its work in many ways. Communism failed, but it did teach some lessons about how to do a lot of work with few resources. There is a reason the largest nation on earth does not have to go into huge debt year after year.

Let me now share some specifics on our objectives. I will begin with the key objective of , which means providing all-around support to families.

Family, childbirth, procreation and respect for the elderly have always served as a powerful moral framework for Russia and its multi-ethnic people. We have been doing everything in our power to strengthen family values and are committed to doing so in the future. In fact, our future is at stake. This is a task shared by the state, civil society, religious organisations, political parties and the media.

This, while states in the US are trying to pass radical abortion laws to even be able to kill babies who survive abortions.

Russia has entered an extremely challenging period in terms of demographics. As you know, the birth rate is declining…

We succeeded in overcoming the negative demographic trends in the early 2000s, when our country faced extreme challenges. This seemed to be an impossible challenge at the time. Nevertheless, we succeeded, and I strongly believe that we can do it again by returning to natural population growth by late 2023 – early 2024.

Today, I wanted to talk about a new package of measures that has already been prepared to support families.

First: It is important that having children and bringing them up do not put families at the risk of poverty or undermine their wellbeing. As you know, we have already provided for the payment of subsidies for the first two children until they reach 18 months…

Starting January 1, 2020, I propose raising the bar to two subsistence wages per family member. This is what people have requested and these requests come directly into the Executive Office. This measure will increase the number of families entitled to additional benefits by almost 50 percent. Some 70 percent of families with one or two children will be able to benefit from help from the Government.

Second: At present, carers looking after children with disabilities and people disabled since childhood receive an allowance of only 5,500 rubles. I suggest increasing this to 10,000 rubles, starting July 1. Of course, I understand that it is still a small amount. However, it will be an additional measure of support for families with a child who needs special care.

Third: The income of Russian families must, of course, increase. This is a serious task that requires a comprehensive solution. I will speak about this in greater detail later. But we need direct measures. First of all, the tax burden on families needs to be relieved. The approach should be very simple: the more children there are, the lower the tax. I propose increasing federal tax relief on real estate for families with many children. I also propose lifting taxes on 5 square metres in a flat and 7 square metres in a house per each child…

Fourth: The Government and the Central Bank need to consistently maintain the policy to lower mortgage rates to 9 percent, and then to 8 percent or below, as stipulated in the May 2018 Executive Order. At the same time, special measures of support should be provided for families with children, of course… A family making a decision to buy housing certainly makes plans for a long or at least medium term, a lasting investment. But with this [present] programm, they take out a loan, start paying the installments, and the grace period ends. The interest is actually subsidized only for the first 3 or 5 years. I propose extending the benefit for the entire term of the mortgage loan.

Yes, of course, it will require additional funding, and the cost will be rather high: 7.6 billion rubles in 2019, 21.7 billion rubles in 2020, and 30.6 billion rubles in 2021. But the programme is estimated to reach as many as 600,000 families. We certainly need to find the money. We know where to get it. We have it, and we just need to use it in the areas that are of major importance to us.

And one more direct action solution. Considering the sustainability and stability of the macroeconomic situation in the country and the growth of the state’s revenues, I consider it possible to introduce another measure of support for families having a third and subsequent children. I suggest paying 450,000 rubles directly from the federal budget to cover this sum from their mortgage. Importantly, I propose backdating this payment starting January 1, 2019, recalculating it and allocating relevant sums in this year’s budget.

Let us see what we have. If we add this sum to the maternity capital, which can also be used for mortgage payments, we will get over 900,000 rubles. In many regions, this is a substantial part of the cost of a flat. I would like to draw the attention of the Government and the State Duma to this issue. If need be, the budget will have to be adjusted accordingly. An additional 26.2 billion rubles will be required for this in 2019. The relevant figures for 2020 and 2021 are 28.6 billion rubles and 30.1 billion rubles, respectively. These are huge funds but they should be allocated and used in what I have already described as a very important area.

There is a great deal more detail on the notion of various tax breaks for families with children. It is worth a read, and it is also worth noting the very clear language set forth here. It appears rather refreshing to hear these ideas laid out in such a blunt fashion.

 

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Pressure mounts on Theresa May to agree to 3 month Brexit extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 181.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at how the EU, in coordination with forces inside the British Parliament, are pushing for Theresa May to agree to a three month “Brexit day” extension.

According to a Bloomberg, Theresa May must resign as British prime minister and Conservative leader later this year after delivering Brexit, according to politicians at the highest levels of her own government.  May has promised her party she will stand down before the next general election, slated for 2022, but she’s likely to face pressure to go within the next three months. Once the U.K. is out of the European Union, and local district elections on May 2 are over, the premier will have no reason to stay in office, one senior minister said, speaking privately. Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29.

A person familiar with another minister’s views agreed with the timescale, arguing that the prime minister should leave in the summer, so a new leader can be in place in time for the party’s annual conference in October. A third senior member of May’s administration pointed out that Tories had no way of formally seeking to remove May before December under the party’s internal leadership rules. May will never voluntarily resign, despite her previous pledge, the person said.

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Via Zerohedge

Theresa May once again failed to extract concessions from the EU27 on Wednesday after yet another meeting with Juncker (surprise, surprise) as the Continent refuses to budge on May’s demands for “legally binding changes” to the deal – specifically to the troublesome Irish backstop, which many Brexiteers fear could result in the UK being reduced to a “vassal state” of the EU by becoming interminably trapped in the customs union, with zero say over its rules. Talks between Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU27 chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday were similarly inconclusive.

And with only 36 days left until “Brexit Day”, it’s becoming increasingly clear that May will need to ask her EU colleagues for an extension to the two-year negotiating period, something that would cut against her commitment to take the UK out of the EU “as scheduled”, though she has never explicitly ruled it out. According to Bloombergthe EU expects May to request a 3-month “technical extension,” which would be the first, and hopefully only, delay, (because anything further would ratchet up the pressure for the UK to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections…an unnecessary complication).

Still, without meaningful concessions on the backstop, it’s difficult to see a way forward. Rebellious Tories and the “Independent Group” have so far focused their efforts on securing a legally-binding commitment to take a “no-deal” exit off the table. And with the deadline unlikely to be extended past this point, if a deal isn’t reached during the March 21-22 UK-EU summit, he way forward will appear impossibly vague.

But with dozens of Tories reportedly ready to rebel unless the PM offers concrete reassurances that ‘no deal’ isn’t an option, and that rebellion will likely take the form of support for an amendment tabled by former minister Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Yvette Cooper to give Parliament the power to delay Brexit Day if no deal is reached by mid-March.

Meanwhile, thanks to the latest round of defections, the “Independent Group” has become the fourth-largest party in Parliament.

But all of these threats likely won’t take on real significance until the March summit with the EU, thanks to the Continent’s reputation for holding out until the last minute. Meanwhile, MPs have told the media that a vote on May’s Brexit “Plan B” deal – which had been set for next week – is unlikely.

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Trump’s Syria military pullout, not under John Bolton’s watch (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 89.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at the announcement from the Trump White House that the United States has decided to station a ‘peacekeeping group’ of roughly 200 US soldiers in Syria for a ‘period of time’ after the much hyped withdrawal.

Once again we see that once the US enters a country for a regime change mission, it becomes nearly impossible to fully disengage, ultimately leaving America in the role of invader and occupier, for an indefinite amount of time.

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Via RT…

Despite President Donald Trump’s promises to withdraw American troops out of Syria, the US intends to maintain presence on the ground with a “small peacekeeping group” for an unspecified “period” of time, the White House said.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement without elaborating.

Trump took the world by surprise back in December, when he announced the US withdrawal from Syria without specifying a timetable. The initiative was not well received in the Pentagon, even forcing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign after clashing with Trump, as both the generals and politicians have been claiming that US presence in Syria is vital and that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group would inevitably reemerge if all of some 2,000 Americans leave.

The US withdrawal is being stalled by concerns about potential Turkish incursion into the territories currently controlled by the US-backed Syrian Kurds. On Thursday, Trump had another phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the issue. Washington wants Turkey to agree to a buffer ‘safe zone’ in northeastern Syria and is also contemplating arming the Syrian Kurds, despite Ankara’s strong opposition.

While the US continues its diplomatic maneuvering, some noted the irony, wondering if the White House was using the term ‘peacekeeping’ correctly or was even aware of what it actually means. Others questioned the logic and the motive of maintaining such a contingent on the ground, noting that 200 troops could serve as a human shield, but is unlikely to really sway the outcome of the conflict.

Traditionally, the term peacekeeping has been used to describe the UN Blue Helmets whose missions are strictly mandated by the Security Council. American troops, however, hardly have any legal basis to remain in Syria, as they had never been invited by the official government in Damascus.

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