December 20, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: Will Trump's Pulling of Troops from Syria Prove to Be a Historic Blunder?

 

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

Against the advice of his entire national security team, President Donald Trump has ordered the full withdrawal of 2,000 US ground troops from Syria.

The decision, as usual, was announced on Twitter. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. But that is a judgment few in his administration actually shared. Only days earlier, Trump’s top military adviser, Gen. Joseph Dunford, declared: “We still have a long way to go.” And Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy to the global coalition against Islamic State, said, “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished,” and that withdrawing now would be “reckless.”

The president apparently had other ideas. He has long wanted to withdraw American troops from Syria (and, indeed, many other places). In March, he first announced that troops would be coming out “very soon,” and he was only reluctantly persuaded to keep them there for a longer period. Now, the president’s patience appears to have been worn out. The troops are coming home.

What seems to have sealed the deal for Trump was a phone call Friday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey…

Please continue reading in the Chicago Tribune.

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How Trump Laundered the US Foreign Policy Elite’s Reputation

Edward Luce / Financial Times

"Washington should thank Donald Trump. Rarely has one man done so much to redeem so many reputations," writes Edward Luce. The foreign policy elite in Washington had a dismal reputation before President Trump came along, he says, thanks to a series of foreign policy blunders—usually war related—perpetrated by the Bush and Obama administrations. But by ignoring their advice and acting abrasively on the world stage, President Trump has united the elites in revulsion and restored their sense of moral self-belief. However, warns Luce, Trump and the elites are "ominously coming around to the same view" on China, which could presage more danger and fumbles like those of the past.

America’s Hidden War in Syria

Liz Sly / The Washington Post

Although overtaken by the president's announcement that the United States will withdraw from Syria, Liz Sly's overview of the hostile powers, intertwined alliances, and civilian stakes in Syria is still worth a read. Years of war have left the US-controlled part of northeastern Syria broken, frustrated, surrounded by hostile powers, and only just beginning the process of rebuilding. Sly presciently quotes a senior in the newly formed Self-Administration of North and East Syria: "Without the presence of US troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away."

How Far Can a Rogue Kremlin Push International Law?

Anders Åslund / Just Security

Russia used to be legalistic, writes Anders Åslund, but now it is ignoring international law. Its acceptance of international law decreased over time, especially as it used "frozen" conflicts to undermine other countries' sovereignty. The formal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Parliament became the first unilateral annexation of another country's territory in Europe since World War II, and the Kerch Strait incident broke a bilateral treaty between Ukraine and Russia. Now that the Kremlin no longer respects laws, Åslund recommends the West punish, sanction, and fight force with force to protect Ukrainian naval ships.

The Nightmare of a No-Deal Brexit Looms and Must Be Prevented

Martin Wolf / Financial Times

"The United Kingdom and the European Union are sleepwalking towards a no-deal Brexit," writes Martin Wolf. Although a number of political routes could prevent it, none of the options "looks better than highly improbable." The costs of no deal would be huge, and the fact that it's likely is "insane," he says, but the 1918 Armistice commemorations remind us that the utterly insane can easily happen if people ignore the dangers. The irresponsibility of Brexiteers is "breathtaking," Wolf writes, and what is going on "defies rational explanation." His solution? Another referendum. "Let the people, wiser now, choose again."

Brexit: The Conservatives and Their Thirty Years’ War over Europe

Robert Shrimsley / Financial Times

At the heart of Brexit is the Conservative party's "European delirium," which has generated a thirty years' war inside its ranks. Every Conservative prime minister—Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron, and now Theresa May—have all fallen victim. Robert Shrimsley traces the seed of this division over European alignment to the 1988 speeches between Thatcher and the then-president of the European Commission, and the inflection point to the 1992 Maastricht treaty. The formation of the UK Independence Party forced Conservatives on a fast track toward Brexit, and the referendum itself spread the division outside the party to consume all of Britain.

Instability and Populist Unrest Is the New World Order

Dan Balz / The Washington Post

"Instability appears to be the order of the day, whether in the United States or in Europe," writes Dan Balz in his outline of popular grievances in Western democracies. The dividing lines in today's world of unrest are driven by "a population that is increasingly upset with how 20, 30, 40 years of globalization have changed the internal dynamics of society." Mistakes by those in power have contributed to the conditions that have sparked this rising populism, and while President Trump has been blamed for contributing to this instability, the world was already headed in this direction before his election. The problem is, as Balz quotes Richard Hass, "there's no sense what we're moving toward."

An Emboldened China No Longer Cares What Its Critics Think

Steven Lee Myers and Chris Buckley / The New York Times

China's increasingly hardline approaches to opposition, including detentions of Canadians, American children, billionaires, and others, suggest that Beijing no longer cares about the risk of international disapproval. Previously, there was enough concern about international blowback that China restrained its behavior. But President Xi Jinping is leading China into a new era, one in which its political calculus has shifted. The Chinese Communist Party has determined that the pros of strong actions against perceived external threats, and a strengthened ability to police its own society, outweigh the cons of foreign opprobrium.

Huawei Spat Comes as China Races Ahead in 5G

Nic Fildes and Louise Lucas / Financial Times

New 5G network technology will bring higher speeds, lower lag times, more capacity for carrying data, and massive device connectivity. These features will underpin future self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and machine-to-machine communications everywhere from hospitals to factories. China has a huge lead in this area, specifically through Huawei's equipment, and the United States is concerned this will create a security and strategic risk for Western countries using Huawei and other Chinese companies to implement their 5G networks. The United States wants allies to ban Huawei from building their 5G networks, and hopes its tech companies can regain the 5G edge.

Looking for Elvis

Garrett M. Graff / Esquire

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein went into hiding. What followed was one of the largest-scale manhunts the United States ever pursued. Fifteen years ago this month, he was apprehended. In this captivating narrative, Esquire tells the harrowing story of Hussein's capture through the compelling, detailed, and authentic first-person accounts of the soldiers, diplomats, and strategists who pulled it off.

Cities Prepare to Face New Disasters

John Schwartz / The New York Times

Climate change has moved the goalposts of what can be considered a safe and structurally sound city, and protecting cities will only be harder and costlier as climate change continues to exacerbate disaster events. Today's city leaders are convening to figure out how to brace for the grim scenarios in their short-term futures, which include increased flooding (not only in coastal cities subject to rising sea levels but also in inland cites due to increased storms ferocity), heat waves, climate refugees, and disease propagation.

Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Michael H. Keller, and Aaron Krolik / The New York Times

Investigative reporting and a lush interactive from the New York Times reveal how companies use smartphone location services to track individuals and help advertisers target them. Tracking companies say their tools are anonymous, but the data shows how someone can be tracked within a few yards of their location throughout the day, at work, home, the gym, a store, and even their ex boyfriend's apartment. The new location data economy has opened a new frontier in information, privacy, and communication regulation.

 

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