A former commander of NATO said allies of the U.S. are asking whether President Trump was blackmailed by Turkey to pull U.S. military forces out of Syria.
In a CNN segment Monday, Wesley Clark, a retired Army general and former Democratic presidential candidate, said there was no apparent strategic logic for the move that critics view as an abdication to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“You have to ask why the decision was made?” Clarke said on Christmas Eve. “People around the world are asking this and some of our friends and allies in the Middle East are asking, did Erdogan blackmail the president? Was there a payoff or something? Why would a guy make a decision like this? Because all the recommendations were against it. And it looked like all the facts were against it, too.”
“We’re not quite finished with we’re not taking a lot of casualties over there,” he added. “The Kurds have been reliable allies. Why do this right now?”
Trump declared last week the U.S. had defeated the Islamic State and announced the rapid withdrawal of all U.S. ground troops from Syria, where they have been assisting local Kurdish and Arab forces to fight the terror group.
With American forces departing, the U.S. will leave 10,000 Kurdish troops open to attack by Turkey. A senior U.S. official told Jennifer Griffin of Fox News that Trump’s announcement Wednesday came after Erdogan told him in a phone call to pull out of Syria because Turkish forces were preparing to assault people tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party, a separatist group the U.S. calls a terrorist organization.
Trump, who made it a campaign promise to wrap up the fight against the Islamic State and bring U.S. troops home said Erdogan assured him Turkey would clean up what was left of the terrorist group.
President Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right ‘next door.’ Our troops are coming home!” Trump tweeted Sunday after another phone call with Erdogan.
Trump’s decision has prompted high-profile exits from top officials in his administration, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the counter-ISIS coalition.
It’s almost surprising that it took this long, but President Donald Trump has finally done it. As critics worried, his general disdain for institutions was bound to reach the Federal Reserve at some point.
And so, it was Trump, in an interview with CNBC, broke with a long-standing tradition of US central bank independence, where presidents do not comment on interest-rate policy lest such decisions become politicized. Trump said he is not happy with the Federal Reserve’s recent drive to move interest rates higher after nearly a decade of rock-bottom borrowing costs.
“Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again,” Trump said in an interview set to air in full Friday. “I don’t really — I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best.”
Except it’s not up to Trump to “let” the Fed do anything. The Fed’s job is to try to balance maximum employment with low, stable prices. Its behavior, in good times, is dictated by the path of the economy, not the whims of politicians.
That’s why Lawrence Summers, former US Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton and advisor to President Barack Obama, took to Twitter to criticize the president in strong terms.
“Attacking central bank is one more step in what seems like a Presidential strategy of turning the United States into a banana republic,” Summers tweeted.
“What’s next?” he asked in a follow up tweet. “Tariffs? Attacks on individual companies? Big tax cuts for friends? Demonization of immigrants? Gaudy decoration of Presidential aircraft? Govt staffed by generals? Politicizing law enforcement? Economic policies to enrich the first family?”
And Trump isn’t the only White House official take opine on the Fed. Just recently, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Business Network he hoped the Fed would raise interest rates “very slowly.”
Summers worries these types of remarks could have the opposite of their intended effect, forcing the Fed to tighten the monetary spigots more quickly to counter the overt political pressure.
The former White House economist is a frequent critic of Trump’s, having previously railed against everything from his infrastructure plan to what Summers saw as an ill-timed and poorly-conceived tax cut plan.
Will the center hold, or will things fall apart and mere anarchy or a blood-dimmed tide be looked upon the world?
Writing about the impending Trump presidency shortly after the election, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith — a former assistant attorney general — gave a cautiously optimistic answer. The various instruments and forces that constrain any American president, he predicted, would spring into action in a “much more robust fashion” than had been the case and help avert danger to the constitutional order.
Goldsmith’s forecast has largely proved accurate. We have witnessed vigorous pushback against President Trump from key institutions of American life. The press is on fire. Civil society has been mobilized. The permanent government has been sprinkling sand into its own gears. The courts have erected roadblocks to dubious Trump policies. Even the Republican-controlled Congress has said no — or been unable to say yes — to most of the president’s agenda.
Even so, nearly a year has elapsed in which key institutions have been subjected to an unremitting assault by the man at the apex of our government. Some have begun to show fissures. In the years that remain in Trump’s presidency, will they succumb to the pressure and crack apart?
The most alarming case is perhaps the most critical: The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI and is charged with ensuring the fair and impartial rule of law that is a cornerstone of our democracy.
During the campaign, Trump and his entourage used the chant of “lock her up” to whip up his followers into a lynch-mob hysteria funneled at Hillary Clinton. As president, Trump has kept up the drumbeat from the White House.
“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,” Trump tweeted in November in one of many such calls for action by an agency over which he himself presides. “What about the deleted emails, Uranium, Podesta, the server, plus, plus. People are angry,” the president continued. “At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!”
After the depredations of Watergate, President Carter fulfilled a campaign promise to insulate the Justice Department from White House political interference. But the rules and procedures Carter put in place have been eroding over time. Under Trump, they are coming completely undone.
“I have (the) absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” says the president. As a matter of law, Trump’s claim of unbridled power is false. As a matter of practice, the department is already visibly bending to the president’s will.
“Lock her up” appears to have been transformed from a campaign slogan into an official order. The bogus Uranium One case, allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton email server — all exhaustively investigated, all closed without criminal charges being brought — are now being exhumed. Just as Trump has demanded, the Justice Department is placing Clinton in the judicial crosshairs.
Unleashing the police on one’s defeated political opponents — calling for them to be locked up and then locking them up — has been the method of despots in banana republics. Now it is becoming a hallmark of America.
Where are House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Where are they as the rule of law is subverted, as ongoing criminal cases are publicly prejudged by the president, as the attorney general is demeaned by the president for following recusal rules, as the FBI is baselessly attacked, as sterling law-enforcement men such as James Comey and Robert Mueller are smeared while Roy Cohn, one of the worst scoundrels ever to pass the bar, is posthumously rehabilitated by the president? Deafening silence from them all.
But the Republican majority in Congress has done worse than turn a blind eye to gross irregularities. Keeping silent about appalling transgressions at the Justice Department, they are voluble about invented ones. The entirely ginned up set of accusations against Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is one case in point. The criminal referral by Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham against Christopher Steele, the author of the “Trump dossier,” is another on a list too lengthy to include here.
Republicans have long claimed to be the party of the Constitution. Their platform says they “respect the rule of law” and reject the ideas of a living Constitution and an “activist judiciary that usurps powers properly reserved to the people through other branches of government.” All worthy principles, which I fully share.
But Republicans have evidently mastered the art of the Faustian deal. If the president gives them what they want, they will support him come what may, ignoring his trespasses on custom, decency and law.
“Donald Trump deserves thunderous acclaim from conservatives for his outstanding record of judicial appointments during his first year as president,” writes Ed Whelan at National Review, without devoting so much as a syllable to the assault on justice being carried out by a president who has dragged his career of grifting into the White House.
We have arrived at a Catch-22. In the name of the rule of law, Republicans are willing to sacrifice the rule of law. Their credibility as advocates for constitutionalism is rapidly being consumed in a bonfire of hypocrisy. It is a pity for the rest of us that the blaze they have ignited is unlikely to stop at their threshold.