For a lot of reasons, HERE & THERE rarely features breaking news. We have neither the resources nor the speed to match the world’s news-breaking organizations.
What we try to do is catch you up on what’s been happening, but in the context of past events, so you can understand the story in some depth.
A good example of that is this week’s Tuesday program with Mica Rosenberg of Reuters who broke the story of the magnitude of the consequences for immigrant families of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Using long-term data leaked to her by “a senior official” at the Department of Homeland Security, and combining it with recent testimony before Congress by a representative of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), she showed that the rise in family separations and child detentions has risen, over the past 6 weeks by more than 1000%, from 100 a month from October 2016 through February 2018 to 320 a week at least since the beginning of May.
Both detention facilities and the courts have been completely overwhelmed, which by the way, Attorney General Sessions says he expected when he put “zero tolerance” into motion. Please understand the moral implications of that. LISTEN HERE
But Monday’s conversation with the great Pulitzer-prize winning foreign correspondent Roy Gutman introduces a new (dare one call it “breaking”) understanding of how Donald Trump’s reckless, almost random policies in Syria have brought the US to the brink of several dangerous humiliations.
For some reason, this perception seems to be something you’ll hear here first. (LISTEN HERE)
From February through early April, the city of Manbij, in northern Syria was the target of several journalistic junkets sponsored by the US military. The point was to show off how well the US and their principal local allies, the Kurdish militia the YPG were working together to pursue the Islamic State and hold off the threat from Turkey.
Several world-class reporters like Rod Nordland of the New York Times and David Ignatius of the Washington Post saw the positions the Kurdish forces were dug into and heard the promises that American troops stationed close by had their backs.
Then things started to change (and, not coincidentally, the invitations to American newspeople to visit Manbij stopped). An invasion of northern Syria west of Manbij, near the city of Afrin by the Turkish Army and its Syrian allies took the town and chased out Kurdish forces that had held it for more than a year. Some of the Turks’ local pals, it should be noted, are among the most radically Islamist militias in the country, including Ahrar al-Sham, usually identified as Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
Once the Turk-led team had “stabilized” their hold on Afrin, their ambitions turned eastward, towards Manbij, and there were direct threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Defense heavyweights that they were ready to attack Manbij, American presence be damned.
Within weeks, the US had capitulated, ordering the Kurds out of Manbij and starting joint “stabilization” patrols of the city with the Turkish Army. In Manbij, it is assumed the Turkish troops will stay long after the Americans have gone, and practical calculations are being based on this.
As Roy Gutman points out, there are good reasons for the American decision. Manbij is an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab town, and the Kurdish troops who had been running it for a year were neither local nor well-liked. Furthermore, the YPG is tied to the PKK, which the US and Turkey have agreed for a decade is a terrorist organization bent on liberating eastern (Kurdish-majority) parts of NATO, which is America’s NATO ally.
But it is also true, the US turned to the YPG to liberate Manbij from the Islamic State because the Turks had refused to get involved.
Meanwhile, President Erdogan is in the middle of a re-election campaign, which despite holding all the advantages a crooked tyrant can muster, he is not fully assured of winning.
Would following through on his threats to use force to take Manbij and risk hitting American soldiers and risk getting in reply, America’s Mideast trademark of devastating air strikes, a good election strategy?
Personally, I don’t think so.
So, at least until Election Day, June 24, the US had good reasons to stand firm, and try to talk Erdogan down from what could have been, for him, a damaging overreach. Instead, the US caved, and handed the Erdogan campaign an important gift boost towards victory.
This would be bad enough in itself, but its apparent consequences are much, much worse.
Having backed Trump down in Manbij, the Turks have now sent an invading force into Iraq, aimed at the Iraqi city of Qandil, believed to be an important headquarters for the PKK. Turkey has done incursions into northwestern Iraq before, but usually quietly. This time they’ve made conspicuous headlines about their invasion, another public demonstration of how the forceful President Erdogan humbles America and its allies.
Meanwhile, at the exact opposite end of Syria, its Southwest, which borders on Jordan and Israel, a mixture of Syrian government, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian troops has stepped up attacks on local anti-government militias, encouraged and protected by their alliance to the United States. The pro-Government offensive suggests Iran, like Turkey, feels emboldened to act militarily against American interests or allies.
This defiance of the US that literally brings the Syrian war closer to the borders of Israel has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying Israel was ready to attack all Iranian bases in Syria, “and not just near our borders.”
Willful disconnection, impatience and astonishing ignorance, the hallmarks of Trump foreign policy are drove events in Manbij.
The White House couldn’t care less about this podunk market town, or now that the last bits of Islamic State-held territory are being blasted to bits, about Syria itself. “We are out of here. Make it happen.”
The Manbij Agreement happened quickly, and only after Turkey had publicly pointed its guns at Americans and threatened to use them. If anyone in Washington even thought of the potential consequences in Qandil, Iraq or Suweida, Syria, it’s too late to prevent them.
Chances of the Trump Administration intervening to head off a war between Israel and Iran? You tell me.