US-Chinese trade deal (Phase 1)

A three year trade war between the US and China, initiated by Donald Trump, created disruptions and uncertainties around the world, and cost the US billions of dollars, ‘phase 1’ of an agreement has been signed.

It’s hard to know whether the gains have been worth the pains.

Fox News:  US, China sign historic phase one trade deal

President Trump signed a landmark trade agreement with China, heralding a period of detente in a trade war between the world’s two largest economies fueled by decades of complaints that Beijing was manipulating its currency and stealing trade secrets from American firms.

The pact, detailed in a 94-page document, is only the initial phase of a broader deal that Trump has said may come in as many as three sections.

During two years of negotiation, there were occasional setbacks because “on some issues, we don’t see eye to eye,” noted Liu He, the Chinese vice premier who represented President Xi Jinping at the signing, but “our economic teams didn’t give up.”

The document specifies that both China and the U.S. “shall ensure fair and equitable market access” for businesses that depend on the safety of trade secrets. Specific measures that will protect pharmaceutical firms’ intellectual property, govern patents, block counterfeiting on e-commerce platforms and prevent exports of brand-name knockoffs are detailed.

The agreement, which was first reported on Dec. 12, includes commitments from Beijing to halt intellectual property theft, refrain from currency manipulation, cooperate in financial services and purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. products over the next two years.

The purchases will include up to $50 billion of U.S. agriculture, according to Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, $40 billion of which has been confirmed by Chinese sources. China will also buy $40 billion in services, $50 billion in energy and $75 billion to $80 billion worth of manufacturing, the sources said.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Winners and losers

Winner: Donald Trump

Some critics say there is little substance, but the signing offers an opportunity for US President Donald Trump to put the trade war behind him and claim an achievement heading into the 2020 presidential election.

Winner: President Xi Jinping

China appears set to emerge from the signing having agreed to terms it offered early in the process, including loosening market access to US financial and car firms. In many cases, companies from other countries are already benefiting from the changes.

Winners: Taiwan/Vietnam/Mexico

Globally, economists estimate that the trade war will shave more than 0.5% off of growth. But some countries have benefited from the fight, which redirected an estimated $165bn in trade.

Analysts at Nomura identified Vietnam as the country that would gain the most, while the UN found that Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam saw US orders ramp up last year.

Loser: American companies and consumers

The new deal halves tariff rates on $120bn worth of goods, but most of the higher duties – which affect another $360bn of Chinese goods and more than $100bn worth of US exports – remain in place. And that’s bad news for the American public.

Economists have found that the costs – more than $40bn so far – are being borne entirely by US companies and consumers. And that figure does not even try to measure lost business due to retaliation.

Loser: Farmers and manufacturers

The new deal commits China to boost purchases in manufacturing, services, agriculture and energy from 2017 levels by $200bn over two years.

Mr Trump has said that could include as $50bn worth of agricultural goods a year.

But the official figures are lower, analysts are sceptical those are attainable and China has said the purchases will depend on market demand. So far, the primary effect on business has been pain.

Farmers, who have been targeted by China’s tariffs, have seen bankruptcies soar, prompting a $28bn federal bailout.

Among manufacturers, the Federal Reserve has found employment losses, stemming from the higher import costs and China’s retaliation.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Five things that aren’t in it

The US and China have finally – after almost two years of hostilities – signed a “phase one” deal. But it only covers the easier aspects of their difficult relationship, and only removes some of the tariffs.

The biggest hurdles are still to come, and could stand in the way of a second phase agreement – one that would in theory remove all of the tariffs, bringing some much needed relief for the global economy, which is in the interests of all of us.

So what didn’t make it into the agreement?

1. Industrial subsidies and ‘Made in China 2025’

The deal doesn’t address Beijing’s ambitious ‘Made in China 2025’ programme, which is designed to help Chinese companies excel and become world-class leaders in emerging technologies. It also doesn’t address the subsidies that China gives its state-owned enterprises, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group.

2. Huawei

The trade deal won’t reduce US pressure on Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that has been caught in the crossfire of the trade war, with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying the company isn’t a “chess piece” in the negotiations.

3. Access for foreign financial services firms

While the agreement does talk about opening up market access for financial services firms, some analysts have said it doesn’t go far enough to ensure they have equal market access.

4. Enforcement and interpretation

The deal has a dispute resolution mechanism in place, which basically requires China – once a complaint has been made – to begin consultations with the US, with the onus on Beijing to resolve it.

But what the deal leaves out is “how the US is going to monitor enforcement,” says Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute.

5. Further reductions in tariffs

The deal doesn’t include a definitive timeline on when the tariffs that are still in place will go down.

According to research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, average tariffs on both sides are still up about 20% from pre-trade war levels – six times higher than when the dispute began. That means companies and consumers are still paying more.

So a lot of the pain remains.

Also from BBC:

Bloomberg/Japan Times (opinion): Round one to Trump in U.S.-China trade war

It is too early to give a final assessment of the U.S.-China trade deal, the details of which have just been published, but it’s not too soon for a provisional opinion: China is badly shaken, and American credibility has been greatly enhanced.

In general, I am suspicious of detailed agreements when one of the parties claims the other does not respect the terms of their deals, as the United States does with China. If the U.S. holds up its end of the bargain and China doesn’t, you have to wonder what all the trouble was about.

So what about the potential benefits for the U.S.? Most of them concern credibility.

The U.S. has established its seriousness as a counterweight to China, something lacking since it largely overlooked China’s various territorial encroachments in the 2010s. Whether in economics or foreign policy, China now can expect the U.S. to push back — a very different calculus. At a time when there is tension in North Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, that is potentially a significant gain.

Credibility is difficult to measure, as is the political effects of of trade issues.

The U.S. still is keeping $360 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, hardly a propitious sign that China made a great bargain. There is even speculation that China will not report the full deal to its citizens.

That isn’t a great bargain for American businesses and consumers who have to pay the tariffs.

It is too soon to judge the current trade deal a success from an American point of view. Nevertheless, its potential benefits remain underappreciated, and there is a good chance they will pay off.

Some of the agreement will no doubt be beneficial to the US, but there’s definite downsides as well.

Politico (opinion): The U.S.-China Trade Deal Was Not Even a Modest Win

It’s generous to even call it a deal.

The deal simply restores the U.S.-China relationship to where it was pre-President Donald Trump, declares victory in areas that don’t matter as much as they did and has cost the U.S. billions in the meantime.

The A1 article in the Wall Street Journal was measured but said that the deal “contains wins for the U.S.” The New Yorker dubbed the deal “an uneasy truce.” On CNBC, the garrulous Jim Cramer heralded it as a win for Trump and America, saying “tariffs worked.” In general, while few outside the White House saw the agreement as transformative, the reception to it has been amicably positive, if only because it appears to arrest the destructive slide to more and more confrontation, higher tariffs and greater disruption and uncertainty.

Halting the onward march toward an all-out economic Cold War with China is a good thing. But given that the march began with impulse and barely any strategy on the part of the Trump administration and given as well that an even better pseudo-deal, with more agricultural purchases, could have been struck this spring without more escalation of tariffs, the agreement inked this week should be seen as an almost complete failure.

Here’s why. When Trump became president, he immediately latched onto the trade deficit in goods, which showed the United States importing hundreds of billions more goods than it exported to China. Many also assailed China for years of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers and for restricting market access to U.S. financial companies. Those issues were at the heart of the decision to begin using tariffs to coerce China into changing its behavior.

At best, the Phase I agreement modestly revises the status quo before Trump came into office.

At a substantial cost in the meantime.

Politically much will depend on whether Trump can get any voters who aren’t already supporters to buy his “momentous” and “remarkable” and “righting the wrongs of the past” sales pitch.

The reality seems to be that this steadies things back to approximately where they were, with the addition of substantial new tariffs remaining in place. Success or otherwise is likely to be determined in the future, by what both the US and China actually do, and what they agree on in future phases of trade agreements.

 

Trump impeachment trial begins

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in the Senate on Thursday (US time).

The lead up to this has been highly partisan, with Democrats promoting the trial and Republicans publicly judging in advance – with a majority they seem likely to acquit the president.

Before the trial began McConnell makes case for Trump acquittal ahead of trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday ripped House Democrats and made the case for the upper chamber acquitting President Trump as he waits for the articles of impeachment to be transmitted.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, did not directly call for senators to vote to acquit Trump but argued that senators cannot follow the House’s lead and agree that the president deserves to be impeached and ultimately removed from office.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road.

Others claim that Trump is leading the US down a dangerous road.

If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile more has been happening – White House hold on Ukraine aid violated federal law, congressional watchdog says

The White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year, according to a decision by a congressional watchdog released on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

Not surprisingly:

The White House quickly rebutted the charge, criticizing the agency’s decision as an “overreach” and an attempt to insert itself into the “media’s controversy of the day.”

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

Lev Parnas: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night the president was fully aware of what he and associate Igor Fruman were doing in Ukraine. Parnas made the comments during an interview with Rachel Maddow, in which he also leveled allegations against Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

He also stated that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “He lied,” Parnas said.

In the interview, Parnas alleged that he was given specific instructions by Giuliani to inform Ukrainian government officials that the United States would withhold aid unless the Ukrainian government announced it was opening an investigation into the the Bidens.

“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas said. He also claimed that Giuliani told Ukrainian officials that Parnas was there as a representative of both himself and Mr. Trump, and that Ukrainian officials understood he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Giuliani denied that claim while the interview was airing.

Parnas and Fruman are accused of helping Giuliani in his attempts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Fruman, originally from Belarus, were arrested on campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport in October.

Ukraine has announced a criminal investigation – but not into Joe Biden: Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

As part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s allies were trying to have Ms. Yovanovitch, who was seen as an impediment, removed from her post. Mr. Trump recalled her last spring.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” one message from Mr. Hyde read.

Mr. Parnas said in a televised interview on Wednesday that he had not taken Mr. Hyde’s offer seriously.

Mr. Hyde told the Sinclair Broadcasting host Eric Bolling in a television interview on Wednesday that he was “absolutely not” monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. He said he was under the influence of alcohol when he sent his messages to Mr. Parnas.

“It was just colorful, we were playing — I thought we were playing,” Mr. Hyde said.

An odd sort of thing to be ‘playing’ about.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released on Thursday that the country “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings,” the statement read.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

There may have been a lot of bravado and fake conversation going on, but the holding back of aid wasn’t fake.

It’s hard to see anything good or definitive coming out of the trial. Both sides will probably try to claim some sort of victory.

US claims Iranian missile accidentally downed Ukrainian jet

According to the US it wasn’t an unfortunate coincidence that a jet crashed in Iran just after a missile attack on US bases in Iraq. They claim a Iranian missile accidentally brought the Ukrainian plane down, killing 176 people.

But a news post making the claim may have been taken down.

RNZ:  Iran ‘mistakenly shot down Ukraine jet’ – US media

US officials say they believe the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was hit by a missile, CBS says.

Ukraine earlier said it was examining whether a missile strike brought down the aircraft – but Iran ruled this out.

The crash came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

CBS News quoting US intelligence said a satellite detected infrared “blips” of two missile launches, followed by another blip of an explosion.

More to come…

CBS News – Special Report: U.S. officials believe Iran shot down Ukrainian passenger jet

The page cannot be found

The page may have been removed, had its name changed, or is just temporarily unavailable.

More will no doubt be reported during our day.

If the report is accurate (it sounds feasible) it demonstrates that in war zones accidental and civilian deaths are unfortunately a real risk. I think that flying anywhere near Iran or Iraq is best avoided, especially right now.

Meanwhile U.S., Iran ease conflict fears but threats keep crisis rolling

Iran spurned the U.S. president’s call for a new nuclear pact and its commanders threatened more attacks as the Middle East remained on edge following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and Tehran’s retaliatory missile strikes.

Concern the war-scarred region was primed for a wider conflict eased after U.S President Donald Trump refrained from ordering more military action and Iran’s foreign minister diplomat said missile strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response.

But each side’s next move in their protracted shadow war was uncertain. Iranian generals resumed their habitual barrage of warnings to Washington and Trump said new sanctions were being imposed, as his Democratic rivals criticized his handling of the crisis.

Also:

  • Trump says he has approved increased U.S. sanctions on Iran
    “It’s already been done. We’ve increased them. They were very severe, but now it’s increased substantially,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I just approved it a little while ago with Treasury.

  • Pelosi does not believe Soleimani strike made the U.S. safer
    “I do not believe in terms of what is in the public domain that they have made the country safer by what they did,” she said at her weekly news conference, hours before the House is due to vote on a war powers resolution intended to prevent Trump from waging war against Iran without congressional approval.

 

US versus Iran continues

Donald trump may be trying to defuse the escalating situation between the US and Iran in Iraq.

Reuters: Trump says U.S. does not have to use military against Iran

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States did not necessarily have to use its military power against Iran, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis over the American killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

The crash of a Ukranian airliner in Iran has added to the tensions.

No survivors after Ukrainian Boeing plane with 176 aboard crashes in Iran

A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board.

Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

It was the Kiev-based carrier’s first fatal crash, and it said it was doing everything possible to establish the cause.

Ukraine will send a team of experts to Iran later on Wednesday to investigate the crash, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in the Ukrainian capital.

“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” he said.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev whether the plane could have been hit by a missile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

Safety experts say airliner accidents rarely have a single cause and that it typically takes months of investigation to understand all the factors behind them.

In Paris, the maker of the plane’s engines, French-U.S. firm CFM – co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran – said speculation regarding the cause was premature.

U.S. calls for complete cooperation with any probe into cause of Iran crash

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran.

In a statement, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.

The plane crashed hours after Iran launched missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, and officials have cautioned that speculation about what happened was premature.

There have been wider effects of the tot for tat attacks.

Airlines re-route or cancel flights around Iraq, Iran after missile strike on U.S. troops

Major airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights on Wednesday and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace, following an Iranian missile strike on United States-led forces in Iraq.

On the Iranian missile attacks:

Trump says no U.S. casualties, Iran appears to be standing down

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday there were no American casualties in the Iranian strikes on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and that Tehran appeared to be standing down.

“No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” Trump said in a White House address. “Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down.”

Iran believed to have deliberately missed U.S. forces in Iraq strikes: sources

Iran is believed to have deliberately avoided U.S. military casualties during retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, according to U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments.

USA Today: US knew Iranian missiles were coming ahead of strike

The U.S. military had advance warning of Iran’s missile assault on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces, attacks that prompted new economic sanctions Wednesday from President Donald Trump.

The missiles targeted al Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and another base in Erbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The extent of damage to the bases was not immediately clear, but early-warning defense systems gave U.S. forces advance knowledge that missiles had been launched, according to a U.S. official speaking to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.

The advance warning explains no casualties. I would expect the US to be monitoring and detecting missiles, but they can’t have known in advance what the exact targets would be.

CNN, citing an Arab diplomatic source, reported that Iran notified Iraq in advance and that Iraqi officials then tipped U.S. troops before the attack began. A U.S. defense official also told CNN that Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.

The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they also received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.

It sounds like it was a symbolic counter attack.

Trump has given a national address on the situation. Highlights from Reuters: Trump addresses Iran situation

ATTACK ON MILITARY BASES

“I’m pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.

“Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

U.S. STRENGTH

“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles. The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

SANCTIONS

“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”

There have been US imposed sanctions on Iran for years.

CREATING A NEW IRAN DEAL

“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

Trying appeasement after assassinating a foreign leader in another country.

Wanting to scrap one deal and make another deal is typical Trump.

Iraq wants to expel US troops

US troops were allowed into Iraq four years ago in an agreement to help fight against the ‘Islamic State’. The Iraqi government now wants to expel the troops after the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – but remarkably, under the agreement they are required to give one year notice.

There are fears that there will be a resurgence of ISIS if the US leaves Iraq, and that Iran will increase it’s influence in Iraq.

More of an immediate concern is that both the US and Iran have threatened each other of further aggression over the ‘act of war’ committed by the US.

Stuff (AAP): Iraq’s Parliament calls for expulsion of US troops

Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of US troops from the country Sunday (Monday NZT) in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general, raising the prospect of a withdrawal that could allow a resurgence by Islamic State extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. Even then, cancelling the US-Iraq agreement requires giving the Americans a one-year notice for withdrawal.

Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it is putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases.

A pullout of the estimated 5200 US troops could cripple the fight against Isis and allow it to make a comeback. It could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is “a bit concerning”.

“The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq’s political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran,” he said.

“The killing of Soleimani was a political assassination,” outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Parliament, adding that the Iranian general was scheduled to meet him the next morning about relations with Saudi Arabia.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia and provided them with arms. It is a complex situation in the Middle East.

 

  • President Trump Says 52 Targets Already Lined Up If Iran Retaliates AP News

    President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior administration official said. U.S. law required notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.

  • Iran Official: ‘The Response for a Military Action Is Military Action USA Today

    Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday “the response for a military action is military action,” as fears grew that a U.S. airstrike that killed the head of Tehran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its security and intelligence strategy will draw Washington and the Middle East region into a broader military conflict.

    Iran has already vowed an unspecified harsh retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani near the Iraqi capital’s international airport on Thursday. President Donald Trump said he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict with Iran because Soleimani was plotting attacks that endangered American troops and officials.

    No evidence was provided.

  • No, Attacking Iran Won’t Help Trump Get Reelected Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine

    Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

    Trump’s allies have framed the issue as being about Qasem Soleimani’s moral culpability, or Iran’s responsibility for escalating the conflict. And it is certainly true that Iran is a nasty, aggressive, murderous regime. But none of this refutes the fact that Trump’s Iran policy is failing on its own terms. Having violated a diplomatic agreement on the premise that doing so would not lead to war, they are now blaming Iran for the war they insisted would never happen.

  • The Soleimani Strike Defied the U.S. Constitution Oona Hathaway, The Atlantic

    The drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raises many legal issues, but one of the most significant—at least to the American constitutional order—is that President Donald Trump ordered the strike without so much as informing Democratic leadership in Congress, disregarding Congress’s essential role in initiating war. If Congress fails to respond effectively, the constitutional order will be broken beyond repair, and the president will be left with the unmitigated power to take the country to war on his own—anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

  • Iran, Not the U.S., Is in a Dilemma Victor Davis Hanson, National Review
    For all the current furor over the death of Qasem Soleimani, it is Iran, not the U.S. and the Trump administration, that is in a dilemma. Given the death and destruction wrought by Soleimani, and his agendas to come, he will not be missed.

    Tehran has misjudged the U.S. administration’s doctrine of strategic realism rather than vice versa. The theocracy apparently calculated that prior U.S. patience and restraint in the face of its aggression was proof of an unwillingness or inability to respond. More likely, the administration was earlier prepping for a possible more dramatic, deadly, and politically justifiable response when and if Iran soon overreached.

It seems rather simplistic and naive to think that the current situation doesn’t pose problems if not a dilemma for the US. Iran will have known that ongoing provocations would eventually result in a reaction from the US, and that was more likely in the US election year.

 

Trump via Twitter:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.

He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years.

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

I think the only certainty in this situation is that this isn’t the end of USA versus Iran, nor the problems in the Middle East.

US House of Representatives to file impeachment charges

Fox News: Pelosi calls for articles of impeachment against Trump: ‘No choice but to act’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that Democrats will proceed with articles of impeachment against President Trump, declaring that the president’s conduct “leaves us no choice but to act.”

The announcement comes after a heated House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday featuring four law professors — most of them Democrat-invited witnesses who presented arguments for impeachment. Pelosi claimed the facts are now “uncontested” that Trump “abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security” by allegedly using aid as leverage to seek an investigation of the Bidens from Ukraine.

“Today, I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi stated during her brief address, referring to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

“The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said. Claiming America’s democracy is at stake, she said: “The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

The White House swiftly hit back, with Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeting the Democrats “should be ashamed.”

Trump “has done nothing but lead our country – resulting in a booming economy, more jobs & a stronger military, to name just a few of his major accomplishments. We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate,” she tweeted.

Of course Trump has had a say as well.

Trump himself accused Pelosi’s party of trying to impeach him over “NOTHING” and warned that it could set a dangerous precedent.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents. That is not what our Founders had in mind,” he tweeted.

That’s ridiculous, but ridiculous is normal from Trump.

Fox News: Trump threatens to call Bidens, Schiff, Pelosi to testify as speaker moves ahead with impeachment

President Trump on Thursday challenged House Democrats to impeach him “fast” and ship the process over to the Senate, where he threatened to seek testimony from top Democrats including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The president’s tweets followed an hourslong hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in what set the stage for the next phase of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry, with majority-invited law professors making the case that the president did abuse the office of the presidency by asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens while withholding aid. But the sole witness called by Republicans argued the contrary — he said the legal case to impeach Trump was “woefully inadequate” and even “dangerous.”

Funny Trump insisting who should testify when he has told members of his administration not to comply with subpoenas.

Fox News: Judge Nap: Ignoring congressional subpoena is obstruction and an impeachable offense

Following George Washington University law scholar Jonathan Turley’s testimony at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano disagreed with his stated argument that President Trump had the authority to disregard a subpoena issued by Congress.

“He can’t. That’s what Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were charged with. … You don’t have to comply with it, you have to challenge it or comply with it. Ignoring it is obstruction of Congress,” Napolitano told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, refuting Turley’s point that Trump was justified in commanding members of the administration not to comply.

Napolitano went on to say, “Congress doesn’t need the court’s permission to serve a subpoena and it doesn’t need the courts’ help in enforcing the subpoena. The courts have nothing to do with it, Congress makes the determination. We gave you the subpoena, you’re resisting us, that’s an impeachable offense. The House has voted that three times.”

Republicans and Democrats sparred as a panel of constitutional scholars kicked off a sharply partisan debate over whether to recommend President Trump’s impeachment.

With the decision to impeach to be made by the Democrat led House of representatives, and the trial to be held in the Republican led Senate, this can’t avoid being highly politicised.

And this is being played out in front of an increasingly polarised public. Many people think that Trump is the pits as a president, while others think either he is the best president ever (including Trump himself), or at least better than Clinton (not a great claim), or he should be excused all his faults and appalling behaviour because he is getting things done. Every president gets some things done, but they are as much judged on the damage they do as the good they do.

Trump consistently remains one of the least approved of presidents in recent decades, currently 41.8% approve, 53.3% disapprove on https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ (which also shows comparisons to past presidents).

There is a closer margin on impeachment, currently on 47.8% support, 44% don’t support. Theoretically something as serious as impeachment shouldn’t be a popularity contest, but it is very political, and with elections coming up next year what the public (voters) think may play an important part in the proceedings.

It is seen to be a political risk for Democrats to push forward with impeachment, but it also keeps some of Trump’s significant negative traits in the spotlight.

If polls are bad demand a new pollster

Donald Trump made the news a month ago (I can’t remember where) – his approval polls were better than Barack Obama’s at the same time in their terms. But that was brief as Obama’s polling recovered and Trump’s dipped.

While polling for past presidents has fluctuated Trump’s approval/disapproval polling has been more consistent – and worse than Obama, GW Bush and Bill Clinton just bout all the time.  See FiveThirtyEight How Trump compares with past presidents

Lately even the Rasmussen polls, which usually tend to favour Trump, have him -11% , and the aggregate is currently 55% disapprove, 41.1% approve.

There have been shows of public disapproval recently – here is the second:

A poll from one of Trump’s favoured media has been described by him as ‘lousy’.

USA Today: ‘I have the real polls’: Trump calls Fox News polls ‘lousy’ after survey finds 49% support impeachment

Trump’s ‘real poll’ has him on 100% approval – it has a sample size of 1 and a margin of error of 0%, according to him.

President Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed polls that have found growing support for his impeachment as a new Fox News poll found that 49% of registered voters think he should be removed from office.

“You’re reading the wrong polls,” Trump told reporters when asked about the surveys outside the White House. “I have the real polls. The CNN polls are fake. The Fox polls have always been lousy I tell them they ought to get themselves a new pollster.”

Keep changing the pollster until you get the results you want? Funny how he says that CNN polls are fake, but Fox polls are just lousy.

Trump said “the real polls” that came out that same morning showed that “people don’t want anything to do with impeachment.” But the president did not explain what polls he was referring to.

He may have made that up. probably. He is well known for making things up. Lying.

Trump is currently facing an impeachment inquiry for allegedly using military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating potential interference in the U.S. 2016 election and allegations involving former Vice President Joe Biden.

Despite several witnesses who have appeared to corroborate the allegations against Trump, the 49% who said they want the president removed from office actually represented a two-point drop from the previous Fox News poll in early October.

When asked if there was a chance that new evidence could sway their opinion on impeachment, 57% of those who opposed it said there was nothing that could get them to change their minds.

There is a significant minority of Trump supporters who re unlikely to change their minds no matter what he says or does. But another significant portion of voters are the key to his re-election chances, if he lasts in the job long enough to stand again.

Thirty-four percent said new evidence could make them support impeachment.

Sixty percent of voters said they thought Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and 52% believed he held up military aid to add pressure for Ukraine to do it and 46% said the affair had worsened their opinion of Trump.

Trump and his Republican defenders have dismissed the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated “witch hunt” but a majority (52%) of voters said it was legitimate. Thirty-nine percent said it was a “bogus attempt to undermine Trump’s presidency.”

The US political circus continues.

Of course there’s a chance that Trump will survive impeachment, and win the presidential election next year. If he does that will have more to do with the lack of decent Democrat candidates than his own achievements and behaviour.

Sure Trump has achieved some positive things. All presidents do. But one of Trump’s biggest achievements  is how much he has degraded the position of president of the United States. On that he is well ahead of anyone else.

With the help of his family:

 

US House condemn Trump over Syria, Pence in Turkey

MSN: House condemns Trump’s Syria withdrawal

In a stinging bipartisan rebuke, the House on Wednesday condemned President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Voting 354 to 60, lawmakers approved a non-binding resolution opposing the move, which set the stage for Turkey’s military assault against Kurdish forces in Syria that the U.S. partnered with to beat back Islamic State terrorists.

“What kind of message does this send to the world? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners?” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) asked on the House floor. “Congress must speak out against this disgrace.”

The top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he understood Trump’s “legitimate concerns” about committing troops overseas, but said the president’s Syria pullout had damaged U.S. interests in the region.

“I, too, want to wind down our overseas conflicts and bring our troops home,” McCaul said. “But leaving [northeast] Syria now does not resolve the problem that brought us there in the first place. It only creates more.”

“We need a residual force in place,” he added. “The consequences of this decision have already unfolded before our very eyes.”

The resolution is non-binding and doesn’t condemn Trump by name. It calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to halt Turkey’s military campaign in Syria and urges humanitarian support to displaced Syrian Kurds and calls on the U.S. to ensure Turkey “acts with restraint and respects existing agreements related to Syria.”

The resolution also urges the Trump administration to outline “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Reuters: Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will urge Turkey on Thursday to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, a day after President Donald Trump threatened heavy sanctions over the operation.

Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump defended his move on Wednesday and called it “strategically brilliant”.

Trump is one of very few who have praised how he has handled this.

Pence will meet Erdogan around 1130 GMT, while Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts. A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey’s position.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a “successful meeting”, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise. Kalin said that Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.

Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists.

Trump’s decision to withhold protection from Syrian Kurds upended five years of U.S. policy.

It has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale. In a rare criticism of Turkish policy on Syria, Moscow said Turkish troops had the right to temporarily go up to a maximum of 10 km into Syria, under a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.

Syrian troops, accompanied by Russian forces, have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.

The White House tried to talk tough (-ish):

The White House, fighting the domestic political damage and perhaps trying to demonstrate the president’s efforts to stop the offensive, released a Trump letter to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!”

But Erdogan is acting unmoved.

Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk, quoting sources, said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict, saying the letter was “thrown in the trash”.

Think: Trump’s letter to Turkey’s Erdogan shows the U.S. is struggling to keep up with Ankara

President Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him not to go after an enemy Kurdish military group in neighboring Syria as U.S. troops depart the war-torn country, indicates that the U.S. president wants to corner his Turkish counterpart. But Erdogan, who has run Turkey for nearly two decades, may well be smarter than to let himself be trapped.

So far, the Turkish president shows no sign of stopping his relentless advance despite the threat of American sanctions Trump delivered in his missive, made public Wednesday but penned last week. Erdogan has calculated that even if the sanctions come, they won’t be sufficient to disrupt the Turkish military strategy; he figures that what Trump wants most is to bring U.S. troops home, and he won’t do much more to prevent the offensive against the Kurds.

The BBC is just reporting: Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, US says

Turkey agrees to pause operation in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw – US Vice-President Mike Pence

Law School statement on free speech

Free speech has been topical issue in New Zealand, with controversies at Massey and Auckland universities in past months. lso internationally.

From a statement on free speech from the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, USA ahead of a speaking engagement by William Barr, Attorney General of the United States:

Freedom of speech matters. As Frederick Douglass once said, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker”.

Just as speakers are free to speech, protesters are free to protest. They must do so in a place and manner that respects the rights of speakers to speak and listeners to listen…

Notre Dame Law School will neither endorse nor condemn invited speakers. An institution of higher education must be place where controversial ideas and points of view are expressed, heard and discussed.

This is such a place.

The full announcement:

But where politics (and political appointees) are involved it provoked the ‘only free speech that I like’ brigade. Tweets in response condemned both Barr and Notre Dame Law School. Like:

Winston Smith @2plus2isSTILL4

The invitation brings shame to your institution. It is a statement that you do actually accord respect to a man who has disgraced himself and his office.

Tessa Sainz  @tessasainz

So being a traitor to this country and party to unprecedented corruption is a “controversial point of view” the University deems worthy of discussion? Does @NotreDame gain anything from Barr’s corruption? I’m guessing there’s a lot of financial reasons behind this decision

KB851  @KB8511 (Lawyer and College Faculty)

So now Notre Dame joins Florida in completely screwing this up People are smart They get there is a difference between a conservative voice and allowing trump jr or Barr to do NOTHING but lie You are dead wrong ND as are you, my alma mater, Florida

I am ashamed

Megan Schweppenheiser  @schweppenheiser

There is still time to boycott. Who would want to listen to that liar and gadlighter who is complicit in bringing down our democracy? Don’t go. Non-violent protest. Bring whistles. Stand up for the rule of law and ethics! Don’t give him a platform!

There were more bitter political opponents.

But there were also a smattering of supportive tweets:

Mary Miskimon  @MaryEM106

The only reason Bill Barr is controversial is because students disagree with his boss. That’s not controversial; that’s diverse thought, and it’s what we do here in America. It’s sad that ND has to explain to the students it admitted (presumably bright).

Joseph Rio  @josephwrio

It’s utterly amazing that Dean Cole has to issue such a common-sense statement. But judging by the replies on this thread by people who evidently believe they have been blessed with revealed truth, it was absolutely necessary. Difference of opinion is not evil.

Politically and on free speech issues the USA is a badly divided country.


American Conservative on Barr’s speech at Notre Dame – Bill Barr: Religious Liberty Warrior

Last week, US Attorney General William Barr gave an extraordinary speech about religious liberty at Notre Dame Law School. I have not been able to locate a transcript, and only found time to watch it this morning. Here’s a video of the entire thing. The speech itself begins at about the four-minute mark.

The AG begins by talking about the capacity for self-government, meaning not the form of administration of a liberal democracy, but the ability of individuals to master their own passions, and subject them to reason. Can we handle freedom? That, says Barr, is a question that preoccupied the Founders.

No society can exist without the capacity to restrain vice, he goes on to say. If you depend only on the government to do this, you get tyranny. (This, by the way, is what’s happening in China; many Chinese actually support the tyrannical Social Credit System, because communism destroyed civil society and social trust.) But, says Barr, licentiousness is another form of tyranny. People enslaved by their own appetites make community life impossible. (This, I would say, is what we are more endangered by in America today … and it will ultimately call forth tyranny, Chinese-style.)

Barr offers this quotation from Edmund Burke:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

Why is religion a public good? Because, says Barr, it “trains people to want what is good.” It helps to frame a society’s moral culture, and instills moral discipline. No secular creed has emerged that can do what religion does, he says. And by casting religion out, we are dismantling the foundation of our public morality.

“What we call ‘values’ today are nothing more than mere sentimentality, drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity,” says the AG.

Barr took the gloves off, saying that religion is not jumping to its death; it’s being pushed.

“This is not decay,” he said. “This is organized destruction.”

He named secularists in academia, media, and elsewhere as figures who are not neutral at all, but have rather inculcated a kind of religiosity in their own project of destroying religion. They conduct their own inquisitions and excommunications for heresy.

Here’s a link to AG Barr’s entire speech. 

Turkey, Syria, Kurds and Trump threats

The complicated political situation in Syrian is far from over, with Turkey wanting to keep Syrian Kurds away from their border, Trump allowing them to make a move into Syria but warning them not to go too far.

Reuters – U.S. expects Turkey to take over IS fighters if Kurdish militia forced to withdraw: official

The United States expects Turkey to take responsibility of captive Islamic State fighters, a senior State Department official said on Monday, if Ankara’s planned incursion into northeast Syria seizes areas where the detained militants are held.

The official said as of now, U.S. allied Kurdish militia was still going to be in control of the detention facilities. “If they (Turks) come into an area with obvious prisons and the SDF withdraws from those security positions around those prisons, we expect the Turks to take them over,” he said in a briefing.

That sounds a bit vague, and is a mixed signal given a threat from Trump.

Fox News; Trump pulls back troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkish assault, Pentagon officials ‘blindsided’

The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey will soon move forward with a planned military operation in northeast Syria, as U.S. troops who have been deployed and operating with Kurdish-led forces in the area began pulling back from their positions.

The decision sent shockwaves through the region and Washington, with U.S. officials telling Fox News that top Pentagon officials were “completely blindsided” and “shocked” by the order to pull back hundreds of U.S. troops, a move that effectively green-lights the Turkey operation. President Trump spoke with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by telephone.

Some officials see the move as a betrayal of the Kurds, whom the U.S. supported against ISIS for years.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called it an “impulsive decision” by Trump that would undo U.S. gains in the region and give ISIS fighters a “second lease on life.”

Reuters: Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan

President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far even though the U.S. leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to carry out an incursion against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating next door in Turkey.

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.

But:

Trump said he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off-limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull out U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.

Trump’s stern words seemed to be an attempt to placate critics, even from within his own Republican Party, who complain he was abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces.

Trump tweeted:

This doesn’t seem too be a great or wise approach by the vain Trump. Under pressure with a possible impeachment hovering over him in Washington, Trump has been increasingly agitated and shrill, even by his standards.

He sounds to me like an increasingly unhinged megalomaniac, with emphasis on the maniac (or at least manic).

That was before Trump’s threat tweet.

Fox News: Turkey’s Syria incursion may allow ISIS to attempt mass prison break amid US withdrawal, Kurdish fighters warn

ISIS fighters and other terrorists comprising the more than 10,000 Islamic militants jailed in northeast Syria could launch a mass prison break as U.S. troops withdraw from the region in response to Turkey’s impending incursion, Syrian Kurdish fighters warned Monday.

Reuters Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more

A looming Turkish incursion into northern Syria is set to reshape the map of the Syrian conflict once again, dealing a blow to Kurdish-led forces that have battled Islamic State while widening Turkey’s territorial control at the border.

This would be Turkey’s third such incursion since 2016. Motivated largely by the aim of containing Syrian Kurdish power, Turkey already has troops on the ground across an arc of northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of anti-Damascus rebels.

Turkey has two main goals in northeast Syria: to drive the Kurdish YPG militia which it deems a security threat away from its border, and to create a space inside Syria where 2 million Syria refugees currently hosted in Turkey can be settled.

It had been pushing the United States to jointly establish a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into Syrian territory, but repeatedly warned it could take unilateral military action after accusing Washington of dragging its feet.

President Tayyip Erdogan has recently talked about pushing even deeper into Syria, beyond the proposed “safe zone” region to the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, in order to allow still more refugees to return to Syria.

HOW WILL THE KURDS BE AFFECTED?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have spent years expanding its control across northern and eastern Syria, helped by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

A rare case of a winner in the Syrian war, the Kurds and their allies have set up their own governing bodies while always insisting their aim is autonomy, not independence.

All of this could unravel in the event of a major Turkish invasion that would plunge the area into warfare. The SDF-affiliated Syrian Democratic Council said an attack would trigger a new wave of mass displacement.

DO RUSSIA AND IRAN BACK TURKEY’S MOVE?

Russia and Iran, the other two major foreign powers in Syria, strongly support President Bashar al-Assad – unlike Turkey and the United States which both called for him to stand down and supported rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Russia has said that Turkey has the right to defend itself, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved and that all foreign military forces “with illegal presence” should leave Syria.

So the situation remains quite complex, and not helped with the apparent impetuousness and unpredictability of Trump .