Turkey’s Erdogan says John Bolton has made a "serious mistake" in trying to slow down President Trump’s mid-December order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Not only that, but Erdogan tried to pull rank on Bolton in a public address this morning, saying, “Mr. Trump’s views on Syria and his determination to pull out remain our point of reference.”
Erdogan was possibly going to meet with Bolton today in Ankara, a day after Bolton met with Israeli officials and asked that the Turks offer to protect Kurdish troops partnered with the U.S. military in Syria. But the Turkish leader reportedly refused to meet Trump’s national security adviser, and shortly afterward took his anti-Kurd gripes public in a pre-scheduled speech to parliament. (Erdogan also penned an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday pitching unity with Russia as well as offering to build a “stabilization force” for Syria created and vetted by Turkish troops.)
In his own words: “Despite the fact that we reached a clear agreement with Mr. Trump, different voices have been raised from different echelons of the U.S. administration,” Erdogan said in Ankara while Bolton was preparing to leave the country. “Mr. Trump’s views on Syria and his determination to pull out remain our point of reference.”
Reminder of Bolton’s mission: “Before his arrival in Ankara, Bolton said that no U.S. troops would leave northern Syria until Turkey agreed to not attack the Syrian Kurds. The demand, which Bolton said came from Trump, immediately drew criticism from Turkish officials,” NBC News reports from Ankara. Bolton did, however, have a two-hour meeting with Erdogan’s advisor, Ibrahim Kalin, AP writes.
Erdogan didn’t necessarily say anything new to parliament; rather, he reminded them Turkey is fighting “terrorists” who want to kill Turks — terrorists like ISIS, for example. He also said Turkish troops are “to a large extent” ready for their next operation inside Syria.
But more importantly, Erdogan insisted Turkey is still targeting terrorists of the PKK and Kurdish elements, some of which are supported by the U.S. military in the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Find some of Erdogan’s main points preserved in a Twitter thread over at the Turkish Presidency’s account, here.
What this means, at a minimum: a “rift between the NATO allies” is widening, NBC writes, leaving “the Trump administration's plans to withdraw troops from Syria in limbo.”
X-factor: The Dunford effect? Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford is in Turkey today, NBC notes, and will be staying behind “to continue discussions with Turkish officials about a way forward in Syria.” Read on, here.
Trump’s big risk with a Syrian exit: the stakes of 2020. According to unnamed advisers to Trump, if the U.S. pulls out of Syria now, ISIS will be back in one year — which is kind of a key year for Trump’s re-election hopes. Should ISIS return after Trump’s Syrian exit, that could leave Trump vulnerable to a similar argument against America’s withdrawal from Iraq under President Obama. More on those warnings from CNN’s Barbara Starr, here.
From Defense One
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Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! On this day in 2004, Turkey agreed to reopen its Incirlik Air Base to support U.S. airstrikes across post-invasion Iraq.
False statements pile up ahead of Trump's primetime TV appearance this evening. Today is 17 days since President Trump shut down part of the federal government over a wall on the souther border with Mexico.
Trump's goal during this shutdown: induce Congress to provide several billion dollars for new fencing, and he's scheduled to make a speech on all that this evening from the Oval Office.
If past is prologue, the speech will contain false and misleading statements about immigration, terrorist threats, illegal drug flows, and the effectiveness of physical barriers. Just in recent days:
- Trump made several untrue or misleading statements about border walls at a televised cabinet meeting.
- DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen delivered a report about border security that misrepresented key facts.
- Vice President Mike Pence falsely implied that most illegal drugs come across areas of unfenced border.
- White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders falsely implied that “thousands of terrorists” have been stopped at the southern border. (In fact, the CBP database says only six people in a U.S. terrorism database had been stopped there in the first half of 2018.)
For some broader looks at the administration’s misleading case for a wall, Washington Post’s Philip Bump has a roundup.
And former NCTC director Nicholas Rasmussen writes this morning: “There is no wave of terrorist operatives waiting to cross overland into the United States. It simply isn’t true. Anyone in authority using this argument to bolster support for building the wall or any other physical barrier along the southern border is most likely guilty of fear mongering and willfully misleading the American people. Why do I know this? As Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) from December 2014 until December 2017, it was my job to lead the government’s efforts to collect and analyze all available information about terrorist threats to the Homeland.” Read on, here.
FWIW: Trump has mused on Twitter about declaring a national emergency if lawmakers won’t give him what he wants. (Here’s a look at what that would allow him to do.) On Monday HASC Chair Rep. Adam Smith shot back: “There is no national emergency. Declaring one would be wrong and horrible policy. Don’t take 5.6 billion dollars from our troops for a wall we do not need. And remember that the estimated cost for Trump’s wall is $20-30B. $5.6B is just a down payment.”
BTW: “The Department of Homeland Security’s newly-established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has 45 percent of employees furloughed,” reports the security news website Decipher.
For your eyes only: More than 1,000 pages of CBP training documents that “shed light on the Border Patrol's expansive authority,” according to The Intercept. For example, CBP agents can stop a driver when people inside the car “avoid looking at the agent,” or when they “‘are paying undue attention to the agent’s presence.’ And if those don’t apply, they can simply determine that the car is in an area nearby the border and pull it over on that basis alone.” The ACLU acquired the docs after a four-year legal battle. Read on, here.
North Korea’s Kim is traveling to China, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported Monday — as folks on the peninsula eagerly anticipate another Trump-Kim summit in the coming months.
For what it’s worth, “Kim was accompanied by party, government and military officials, including Kim Yong-chol, a key nuclear negotiator with the U.S., and Ri Yong-ho and No Kwang-chol, the country's foreign and defense ministers.” Tiny bit more, here.
China’s annoyed at US FONOP. Beijing “has registered ‘stern complaints’” over Monday’s Paracel Islands voyage by the destroyer McCampbell, “the latest mission intended to challenge China's claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea.” Navy Times, here.
A Lockheed Martin contractor in Iraq was "found in his barracks room with severe head trauma," NBC News reported Monday. So far, investigators are looking into two Marine Raiders and one U.S. Navy Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman and what they know about a possible fight on New Years Eve. More here.
And finally: today in national security podcasts, it’s a new episode of the National Security Law podcast with Steve Vladeck and Bobby Chesney of the University of Texas in Austin.
On the docket for this one:
- Debating (or at least chatting about) the legal merits of Trump’s Border Wall and “national emergency” funding authority;
- The future of the U.S. military in Syria, what’s ahead for the base at al Tanf;
- War power/AUMF arguments;
- All about the U.S. citizen Islamic State detainee we learned about Monday — and a few diversions at the end to talk about “Mean Girls” on Broadway.