Newscoop Footnotes: December 24, 2018

Welcome to Newscoop Footnotes — the weekly review of important news no one’s talking about.

Hi, I’m Zoe Licata.

It’s Christmas, and the world really seems to be falling apart.

Forgive us if we focus on the U.S. this week. But the U.S. Congress and Administration do seem to be creating a lot of the global upheaval.

  • First, we’ve been watching what retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey calls a “rogue presidency.” Philip Rucker, in his December 22nd opinion piece for the Washington Post, described the chaos: “The federal government is shut down. Stock markets are in free fall. Foreign allies are voicing alarm. Hostile powers such as Russia are cheering. And Republican lawmakers once afraid of crossing this president are now openly critical.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called this “the most chaotic week of…the most chaotic presidency ever in the history of the United States.” He added: “The president is making decisions without counsel, without preparation, and even without communication between relevant departments and relevant agencies.”
  • The final straw on the back of what’s been an increasingly disabled camel seems to have been the resignation this week of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Donald Trump announced on December 19th that he was pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, very much against the advice of Secretary Mattis. That prompted Mattis to resign, effective February 28. In his resignation letter, Mattis stated forcefully “that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our… alliances and partnerships,” and that “we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.”

    Trump’s abrupt decision to pull the U.S. out of Syria seemed to have resulted from a single conversation he had with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many are wondering what Erdogan has promised Trump, as Trump’s decision is widely considered a gift to Russia and Iran. It also places our allies — most of all the Syrian Kurds, who have led the fight against ISIS — in the crosshairs of Erdogan, whose foreign minister vowed that the Syrian Kurds “will be buried in their ditches” when U.S. forces pull out. 

    Trump responded to the news coverage around Mattis’ letter by forcing him to resign almost immediately, by January 1st — which will make a seamless and coordinated transition within the Department of Defense all but impossible.

    Secretary Mattis, who supported NATO and also advocated for the U.S. staying in the Iran nuclear deal, was admired by nearly all policymakers in the U.S. and around the world. His shoes will be very hard to fill.

  • Finally, in the wake of Trump’s ill-considered decision to pull out of Syria, I want to bring your attention to two pieces that appeared in the Washington Post this week. These articles are grim reminders of what happens around the world in the absence of American leadership.

    First, Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius interviewed the Kurdish commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces militia, General Mazloum Abdi, about Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of Syria. Mazloum told him: “Right now, we are fighting for ourselves, for our existence.” But he also said he told Kurdish commanders that U.S. soldiers would not do this — that it was politicians who made this agreement with Turkey. “This is something immoral,” he said, “leaving your ally in the battle alone.”

    The second piece in the Post tells us that as the Syrian war draws to a close, the Assad regime has stepped up its systematic elimination of thousands of opposition detainees who have been held in Syrian prisons during the seven years of war. More than 100,000 Syrian detainees are at this point unaccounted for.

This has been the latest edition of Newscoop’s Footnotes – important events getting too little attention.

Our wishes for a good Christmas go out to all who celebrate the holiday. And a peaceful year ahead for all the world.


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