As the impeachment drama kicks off, Jim and Greg nearly injure themselves rolling their eyes as a longtime Republican aide who is pro-impeachment suggests allowing a secret ballot vote in the Senate to improve the odds of President Trump being removed from office. They also slam Trump for warmly welcoming Turkish President Erdogan despite his atrocities towards the Kurds and other antagonism towards the U.S. And they cringe a bit when looking at numbers suggesting Democrats might have a chance at winning Georgia this year, although they do find a deeply satisfying silver lining.
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence announced a cease-fire agreement that will end Turkish aggression against the Kurds in northern Syria for at least five days as a stepping stone to long-term stability.
But while Trump heaps praise on the deal and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, what does the deal actually accomplish? Does it bring at least a brief stretch of stability to the region or or is it a flimsy deal that really sells out the Kurds?
In this podcast, we discuss all these questions with American Foreign Policy Council Senior Vice President Ilan Berman. And we’ll also ask why Trump is so effusive in his admiration for Erdogan and what impact this whole episode will have on U.S. relations with other allies.
David French joins us for a drink today in place of Jim, who will be back on Friday. Today, David and Greg discuss the courage of Enes Kanter, a Turkish player for the Boston Celtics. In the wake of widespread NBA cowardice on China, Kanter continues to defy the repressive Turkish government even though it persecutes his family members and he faces threats against his life. They also wince at President Trump’s Twitter-esque letter urging Turkish President Erdogan to seek a cease-fire with the Kurds and blast Trump for pulling back so suddenly in Syria that our own military is scrambling to get out of there. They work in a much-needed laugh as Beto O’Rourke now admits he would have law enforcement come and take away your AR-15 and any other weapons he would ban.
At the conclusion of today’s episode, they pay tribute to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings and then remark on David’s upcoming departure from National Review to join a new venture known as The Dispatch.
Hey, we finally we have a good martini and it only took us until Thursday! Today, Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America appreciate a bipartisan group of lawmakers blasting the NBA for kowtowing to China. They also slam the Biden campaign for whining that the New York Times is making common cause with Breitbart.com by covering Hunter Biden’s overseas activities. And they hammer President Trump for not worrying if thousands of ISIS prisoners go free because of Turkey’s attack on the Kurds because most would only wind up in Europe again.
The search is still on for a good martini this week. Today, Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to the Turkish military striking Kurdish targets just two days after the U.S. announced it would move forces out of the area so Turkey could attack one of our closest allies in the fight against ISIS. They also shudder at rape allegations against former “Today” show host Matt Lauer and at new revelations about the steps NBC executives took to downplay Lauer’s actions and stop journalist Ronan Farrow from releasing his Harvey Weinstein story that started the #MeToo movement. And they recoil as two NBA fans are removed from an NBA game in the U.S. for bringing signs and voicing support for Hong Kong.
We’ve got nothing but bad martinis today. Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are frustrated by President Trump ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, even as Turkey specifically says it wants us gone so it can attack our Kurdish allies who did more than anyone else in the region to confront ISIS. Jim and Greg also swat away the NBA’s pathetic apology to China after the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted out that people should stand with Hong Kong. And they groan as they see polls for the upcoming legislative races in Virginia looking very rough for Republicans.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump took a good first step in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal but he says the whole thing must be scrapped in order to remove the smokescreen that Iran is an honest player and end the financial windfall for the the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
Bolton is also cheering the collapse of ISIS and commending President Trump for policy changes that expedited that outcome, however he is deeply concerned about the fate of the Kurds as Iranian-backed militias and even the official Iraqi forces look to force Kurdish fidelity to the regime in Baghdad.
And he is also urging Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to get on the same page quickly for the sake of American foreign policy.
On Thursday, Trump announced he was decertifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, negotiated among the Obama administration, Iran, and five other nations in 2015. Decertifying the agreement does not kill it but gives Congress 60 days to act on it. If Congress cannot reach a consensus on how to move forward, Trump could then decide to abandon the deal.
Bolton has long called for a complete withdrawal from the JCPOA, but he is encouraged by Trump’s decision to declare Iran non-compliant.
“It’s certainly much better than recertifying that the deal is in America’s national interest. What he did is to at least serve notice that it’s not. Nobody should be under any illusions that we’re still in the Obama administration,” said Bolton.
But he says it is vital for Trump to kill the deal once and for all in the next couple of months.
“The reason that United States needs to withdraw entirely is to create a new reality, to strip away the camouflage that Iran is provided by this deal, where it gains resources from trade and investment deals from all over the world but basically continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program without adequate inspection or verification,” said Bolton.
And Bolton is confident that Trump will have the chance to kill it because he has no confidence in Congress.
“This basically gives Congress 60 days to see if they can come up with some kind of comprehensive strategy. I have no faith whatever that Congress will be able to do that.
“So at 60 days, it’ll be back to the president. I’m hoping then that having given the supporters of the deal and the people who think the deal can be improved time to play out their option and failing, that he’ll then take the next step and get out of the deal entirely,” said Bolton.
Bolton says “camouflage” of a compliant, responsible Iran is nonsense.
“The argument to stay in the deal is that somehow the deal is constraining them and I believe that it’s not. They gave up temporary, easily reversible concessions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars of trade and investment and assets being unfrozen,” said Bolton.
Furthermore, Bolton says Iran’s supposed transparency is also a farce.
“Every time that the Iranians have made a disclosure about their nuclear program for the last 20 years, it’s only been after U.S. intelligence uncovered it or Iranian opposition groups made it public,” said Bolton.
He says Iran did have one brief moment of honesty that also reveals the futility of the JCPOA.
“Just about two months ago now, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said that if they made the decision themselves to withdraw from the deal, they could get back to pre-deal levels of uranium enrichment in five days.
“Now, you take everything the Iranian leadership says with a big grain of salt but in that case they happen to be right, and it’s an indication of just how minimal their concessions were,” said Bolton.
But if the JCPOA is not an effective nuclear deterrent for Iran, what would be? First, he says it’s time for the U.S. to see Iran and North Korea as part of the same nuclear threat instead of separate challenges. He says the following step is to make sure neither rogue actor has nukes.
“I know people don’t like to hear it but you can’t leave the military option off the table because if you believe, as Trump said in his UN speech just about a months ago, that only way forward with North Korea is denuclearization, and I think the same is true with Iran, that means we can’t leave the current scenario with them still in possession of nuclear weapons.
“Otherwise, they’re available to extort and blackmail the United States as far as the eye can see,” said Bolton.
In neighboring Iraq, the news is better at least for the moment. On Tuesday, U.S.-backed militias said they had routed ISIS in its home base of Raqqa, Syria. U.S. officials indicated there is still work to do but that the vast majority of Raqqa had fallen.
Bolton says the speed of military success against ISIS is a big change from the previous administration.
“The president is right to say that he significantly speeded up the end of the ISIS caliphate. I think we are at the point where there may still be resistance here and there, but functionally the caliphate is over,” he said, while being quick to point out many ISIS figures fled to other hostile nations, so the ISIS threat itself lives on.
However, Bolton is worried that the Iraqi forces and the Shia militias backed by the U.S. and Iran are now taking aim at the Kurdish forces in the north, already wresting control of Kirkuk away from the Kurds who saved the city from ISIS.
Bolton says the Iraqis and militias are now moving on the Kurdish capital of Irbil and they’re doing it with American weapons. He says the Trump administration ought to respond in two ways, help the Kurds now and depose the Iranian government in the long term.
“The safety of the United States depends upon the ayatollahs being overthrown. I’ve believed that ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in 1979.
“In the near term, I think we need to provide the Kurds with the armor and the artillery that, ironically, we’ve provided the forces of the Baghdad Iraqi government and the Shia militias. The Kurds are now being attacked with American weapons,” said Bolton, noting the Kurds have not been given such weapons.
Finally, Bolton says only President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson know the true state of their relationship, but he says it is vital that they get on the same page fast as these two men are at the center of executing American foreign policy.
“It’s not something you can let drift on and paralyze our decision making. It’s just too important of a combination not to have both ends of it working effectively,” said Bolton.
Bolton has some criticism of Trump on the personnel front. Unlike Trump, he believes it is vital for Trump to nominate good people to fill a myriad of vacancies at the assistant and deputy level in the State Department. He says Trump can’t bring about the change in bureaucracy and policy he’s promised without putting the right people in critical positions.
“The bureaucracy is like a big aircraft carrier. The way it was sailing when the president took office on January 20th is the direction it’s going to sail in until somebody says to turn it around. If you don’t have people around, your ability to turn it around is greatly reduced. I think that harms the president, ultimately,” said Bolton.
While ISIS is pushed to the brink of extinction, the Shia militias and Kurdish fighters who drove the purported caliphate out of Iraq are now fighting each other over control of key areas in northern Iraq and a decorated U.S. general says the ones who benefit are the mullahs in Iran.
NBC News reports Monday that Shia militias are launching a “major, multi-pronged attack” aimed at taking away the critically important city of Kirkuk from Kurdish control. The Kurdish peshmerga successfully defended Kirkuk from ISIS three years ago as the Islamists were sweeping through northern and western Iraq and prompting the official Iraqi forces to throw down their weapons and flee from the invaders.
Further complicating matters is the non-binding Kurdish referendum on independence last month. The vote passed easily but was seen by the Iraqi government and other anti-Kurdish elements as inflammatory.
When ISIS was routed out of Mosul earlier this year, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney was sobered by the key role of Shia militias loyal to Iran in that victory. He says the same groups are now turning on the Kurds.
“The people attacking them are primarily Shi’ite organizations that the Iranians set up for the Iraqi military. So I think we’ve got to get our hands on it very quickly and not let it get out of control,” said McInerney.
When asked if any U.S. sympathy for the Kurdish position would drive the Iraqi government even closer to their Shia brethren in Iran, McInerney says that ship has already sailed.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. The Iraqi government is already in the hands of Iran. Whether they can go further or not is another question
“We’re having out own challenge with the Iranian government on the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement. I think you can see this is only going to get worse because of the expansive nature of Iran,” said McInerney.
While acknowledging this is a complicated and delicate diplomatic dance for the U.S., McInerney says the sacrifices of the Kurds over the years need to be recognized.
“This is very complex. My gut feel is clearly that we should be supporting the Kurds. They resurrected Kirkuk when ISIS tries to take it over an d the Iraqi government fled. So they should be given credit for that.
“I’m not sure where our government’s going to go, but I do believe that we ought to make it so that since the Kurds saved Kirkuk from ISIS that they ought to be given credit for that,” said McInerney.
McInerney is quite sympathetic towards the creation of an independent Kurdish nation, known as Kurdistan, but also points out that creating that state is contrary to the interests of several nations in the region, since the Kurdish population centers would lead to a nation carved out of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
While admitting the issue is so thorny that he does not have any specific proposals to solve the sectarian schism that’s now turning deadly, he says decisive U.S. leadership could well play a key role in preventing the escalation of these renewed tensions.
“It’s going to take State Department and Defense working closely together with all parties to create a solution that is satisfactory. But it will take U.S. leadership, strong leadership to do that.
“I’m delighted that we’ve got President Trump who’d be willing to make some of the hard decisions on what transpires over there right now. No clear, easy answer,” said McInerney.
Ultimately, McInerney believes any long term stability will require dealing with the Iranian regime. McInerney says Iran will likely work behind the scenes to kill any agreement that the U.S. finds palatable. He says as long as the mullahs are pulling the strings there and in their own nation, peace will be elusive.
“Iran is on a path that we need a regime change with the mullahs. We ought to admit it and there are so many allies over there that will help us change that regime and create a different calculus over there. We need to be looking at that very seriously,” said McInerney.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to Bowe Bergdahl pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, glad that justice is being done and not being swept under the rug in the case of the soldier who left his unit in Afghanistan and was returned by the Obama administration in exchange for five top level Taliban detainees. They also groan as Iraqi forces are now fighting with the Kurds over territory in northern Iraq when they’re supposed to be finishing off ISIS. And they unload on Newsweek for it’s reckless reporting, including such gems as interviewing pedophile and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert about politics and declaring the Family Research Council a hate group.