Russian asset and unindicted co-conspirator Donald Trump has given his pal Putin some early Christmas gifts, just what Putin wanted for Christmas.
The “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia was all about lifting sanctions on Russia. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort reported directly to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and close friend of Putin. On Wednesday, Trump lifted sanctions on Oleg Deripaska’s companies (a preview of sanctions relief to come?) Trump admin to lift sanctions on firms owned by Russian oligarch Deripaska:
The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it would lift financial sanctions on Deripaska’s aluminum company, United Co. Rusal, as well as En+ Group plc and JSC EuroSibEnergo in 30 days, after Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership stake in each of the companies to below 50 percent.
“Treasury sanctioned these companies because of their ownership and control by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, not for the conduct of the companies themselves,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“These companies have committed to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control. The companies will be subject to ongoing compliance and will face severe consequences if they fail to comply,” he continued.
The sanctions on Deripaska and his companies were imposed in April under a law passed by Congress to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, in addition to other malign activities.
The sanctions will be lifted in 30 days, according to Treasury, but Congress could still block the move.
In a joint statement later Wednesday, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee noted that the agreement between Treasury and Deripaska “does not change the fact that Mr. Deripaska, his employees, and his companies work at Vladimir Putin’s behest and operate as de facto representatives of the Russian government.”
Congress has 30 days to nix the deal Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has struck with Oleg Deripaska, who currently owns the largest non-Chinese aluminum producing company in the world and two other multibillion-dollar energy companies.
The other aspect of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia was Russian influence in the Middle East, specifically its puppet state of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. This was the Middle East grand bargain with Putin that the Special Counsel will reportedly lay out in court filings early next year.
Putin would like nothing more than for the U.S. to leave Syria to his sphere of influence. This is also true for Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Erdoğan, who would like nothing more than being free to attack the Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq. Erdoğan’s Turkey was Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn’s client.
On Wednesday, Trump declared “mission accomplished” against ISIS in Syria — it is not — and announced the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria over the objections of his advisers, the Pentagon and members of Congress. “Merry Christmas, Vlad!” Trump Withdraws U.S. Forces From Syria, Declaring ‘We Have Won Against ISIS’:
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria, bringing a sudden end to a military campaign that largely vanquished the Islamic State but ceding a strategically vital country to Russia and Iran.
In overruling his generals and civilian advisers, Mr. Trump fulfilled his frequently expressed desire to bring home American forces from a messy foreign entanglement. But his decision, conveyed via Twitter on Wednesday, plunges the administration’s Middle East strategy into disarray, rattling allies like Britain and Israel and forsaking Syria’s ethnic Kurds, who have been faithful partners in fighting the Islamic State.
The abrupt, chaotic nature of the move — and the opposition it immediately provoked on Capitol Hill and beyond — raised questions about how Mr. Trump will follow through with the full withdrawal. Even after the president’s announcement, officials said, the Pentagon and State Department continued to try to talk him out of it.
“We have won against ISIS,” Mr. Trump declared in a video posted Wednesday evening on Twitter, adding, “Our boys, our young women, our men — they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”
“We won, and that’s the way we want it, and that’s the way they want it,” he said, pointing a finger skyward, referring to American troops who had been killed in battle.
In just the past week, senior officials — including the administration’s special envoys to Syria and the counter-Islamic State coalition — had said that defeating the last organized Islamic State pockets, in southern Syria near the Iraqi border, could be months away and that thousands of militants remained underground throughout Syria, waiting to reemerge.
The officials reiterated that the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-dominated group of U.S.-trained and -equipped ground fighters, remained valued American allies who would not be deserted.
More broadly, they repeated in recent speeches and briefings, the ongoing U.S. troop presence was crucial leverage to assist U.N. efforts and to make the Iranians leave.
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On Wednesday, Trump set heads spinning within his own government and around the world by apparently reversing himself, again. His decision was made on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the issue, following a small meeting attended only by senior White House aides and the secretaries of defense and state, most of whom, if not all, sharply disagreed.
ISIS is not defeated and will return if the U.S. pulls out, says America’s Syrian ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces. The SDF noted that the battle against the Islamic State group is not over yet. It said the gains made so far could be reversed if American forces leave.
[Recent] attacks such as the one in eastern Syria reinforces a view that is widely held among U.S. military and intelligence officials, as well as U.S. allies in region: Even as the territory claimed by the Islamic State continues to shrink, the group remains a powerful and deadly force across large swaths of Syria and Iraq. In some regions, the Islamist militants appear to be gaining ground, reconstituting themselves as a brutal insurgency bent on killing local leaders and police officers and terrorizing populations, officials and analysts say.
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For many security experts, the depiction of the Islamic State as “defeated” — as President Trump declared in a Twitter post Wednesday — is not only inaccurate, but is also dangerously misleading. Despite its setbacks, the group maintains a formidable presence in Syria and Iraq, commanding cadres of fanatical, highly trained fighters believed to number in the thousands, including many who went into hiding after the fall of the group’s self-declared caliphate.
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An abrupt departure of U.S. forces from Syria will almost certainly accelerate the group’s resurgence on both sides of the border, officials and security experts say. Without a significant U.S. military presence — which until now has included personnel who collect intelligence and coordinate airstrikes from forward operating bases — the Islamic State could regain its footing in Syria, and from there, direct terrorist operations inside Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere in the region and beyond.
“One of the key drivers behind the rise of ISIS was the group’s freedom of maneuver inside Syria,” said Michael Knights, an expert on Iraqi military affairs at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Syria is the place to get rockets and explosives, things you can’t get as easily in Iraq. If we leave the job unfinished in Syria, you could see this start to happen again.”
Victoria Nuland, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security and a former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, writes In a single tweet, Trump destroys U.S. policy in the Middle East:
With his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria, President Trump hands a huge New Year’s gift to President Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State, the Kremlin and Tehran. He also guarantees the reversal of U.S. military gains there and extinguishes any leverage Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, may have to drive a diplomatic settlement that meets the administration’s own goals of keeping the Islamic State and Iran out. … Trump’s decision virtually ensures that security will disintegrate further, that the Islamic State and Iran will surge again, and that the United States will be compelled to come back into Syria at even greater military cost and in more adverse conditions than if we had stayed.
Conservative columnist Max Boot writes, Trump’s surprise Syria pullout is a giant Christmas gift to our enemies:
We are at the mercy of an ignorant and impetuous president who, as Jeffrey Toobin quipped, “is unfit to run a charity in New York State but fit to control nuclear weapons that could destroy the world several times over.”
At one time, the world hoped that an Axis of Adults could constrain the juvenile in the Oval Office, but such naive expectations have been dashed repeatedly. Syria offers the latest example of the futility of expecting that lower-level officials can consistently save the world from the commander in chief.
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By withdrawing U.S. troops, who were in control of one-third of Syria, he is handing a Christmas present to the mullahs. So much for Trump’s conceit that he is the most pro-Israel president ever. A U.S. withdrawal from Syria will entrench the Islamic Republic of Iran on Israel’s doorstep. That damage vastly outweighs the empty symbolism of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Why would Trump do this now? Who knows? Given that he is acting at odds with his advisers, this is clearly not the result of a normal policy-review process. This is the Trump Doctrine in operation: Trump does whatever he wants. It could be based on what he had for breakfast — or there could be something more sinister going on.
The New York Times quotes “one Defense Department official” who “suggested that Mr. Trump . . . wants to divert attention away from the series of legal challenges confronting him over the recent days: the Russian investigation run by the special counsel as well as the sentencing of his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in a hush-money scandal to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.” When presidents normally “wag the dog,” they start a war. Trump is unique in all sorts of ways, including that he may now be wagging the dog by ending U.S. involvement in a war that remains far from finished.
Trump’s pal Putin was overjoyed with his early Christmas presents. Putin backs Trump’s move to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria (but of course he does):
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, describing the American presence there as illegitimate and the Islamic State as largely defeated on the ground.
Putin told journalists at his annual year-end news conference that the Islamic State has suffered “serious blows” in Syria.
“On this, Donald is right. I agree with him,” Putin said.
“Thank you comrade Trump. It’s just what I wanted!”
The United States and many allies strongly denounced Russia’s military intervention in Syria. But Trump’s withdrawal is seen by many — including some Trump backers — as an indirect boost for Moscow and its status as the main foreign power in Syria.
We have a “Kremlin Candidate” compromised by the Russians for a president. Trump is acting less like a useful idiot than an active agent for Putin’s Russia. He represents a clear and present danger to American national security and must be removed from office post haste.