13 October 2019   Leave a comment

In the rapidly changing strategic situation in Syria, the US has decided to pull all its troops out of northeast Syria. The decision comes as the US forces became entangled in a messy situation with ISIS prisoners being freed, Turkish troops on the move, and Syrian government troops moving into the region. There are no front lines and no defensible positions in the chaos. There are reports that the Kurds have requested Syrian troops to defend them in the absence of US troops, but it is not yet clear whether those Syrian troops will engage the Turkish troops. If those reports are correct, then it is highly likely that Russian forces will provide support for the Syrian troops, boosting the leverage that Russia already has in the region. It is extraordinary how quickly Russia has been able to fill the power vacuum created by the US withdrawal. The Washington Post quotes a Kurdish woman on the strategic shift:

“‘For the regime to intervene and deploy its forces on the Turkish border is a comforting thought,’ said the woman, who gave her name as Nowruz. ‘If a deal with the regime is what it takes to stop these massacres, then so be it. At the end of the day, we are all Syrians, and the regime is Syrian, too.’

“’The Americans betrayed us. We do not trust them anymore,’ she added.”

The strategic loss to the US, however, pales in comparison to the losses that the civilian populations in the region have suffered. The humanitarian crisis is profound. There are also about 90,000 people who were associated with ISIS–fighters and families–who will likely escape detention because their Kurdish guards have left the detention centers to defend their people. In a statement of breathtaking cynicism, President Trump brushed off the threat posed by the escaped detainees, noting that they will likely “return to Europe.”

The US and China have agreed upon a temporary truce in their trade war (or, as President Trump calls it, “Phase I of the Talks“). It is hard to figure out what was actually decided although the US announced that it will not impose the $250 billion of tariffs scheduled to go into effect and China announced that it would buy $50 billion of US agricultural products. The agreement was only verbal so there is no way to determine whether progress has been made on the most nettlesome issues, such a the protection of intellectual property. The pressure on both sides to reach an agreement was intense as both countries fear an economic slowdown:

“Concerns about economic slowdowns pushed both countries toward a deal. The September ISM Manufacturing Report on Business in the U.S. declined to the lowest level in 10 years, with capital spending and exports also treading lower than a year earlier. 

“China is facing the prospect of a growth rate below 6% for July through September. Both countries were eager to avoid further damage to their economies.”

The agreement is hardly a breakthrough, but we should hope that the concessions made by both sides indicate a willingness to reach a broader agreement. The two sides will meet again at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile in November.

Posted October 13, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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