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Turkey Prepares for Military Operation as US Troops Start Leaving Syria

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  • The Trump administration announced Sunday that it would be stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
  • Many condemned the move and argued that the U.S. was clearly abandoning U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that have been on the frontlines fighting against ISIS alongside U.S. troops in the region.
  • On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that troops in Syria were already being removed following the announcement.

White House Announcement

U.S. troops began withdrawing from Syria on Monday, following a controversial announcement by the White House a day prior that U.S. forces will stand aside as Turkey launches a military offensive in Northern Syria.

The statement, made by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

The statement went on to say that the U.S. has “pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.”

“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it continued. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”

It is unclear from that statement whether or not all of the nearly 1,000 troops in the region will be removed. What is clear is that the announcement comes as a major shift in U.S. policy in the region that many on both sides of the aisle oppose.

U.S. Kurdish Allies

The announcement comes as a clear sign that the U.S. is abandoning its main ally in the fight against ISIS: Kurdish forces near the Syrian border.

U.S. forces on the ground in Syria have recruited and trained the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces for years. Those forces have done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters.

That is also not all they have done. Despite the claim in the White House’s statement that the U.S. is holding captured ISIS fighters at the taxpayer’s expense, it is actually Kurdish forces, and not the U.S., that have kept ISIS fighters and their family members in makeshift camps in Northern Syria.

For a while, Erdogan has been critical of the U.S.’s alliance with the Kurdish forces. Turkey has a separatist movement near its border with Syria made of Kurds, called the PKK. Turkey claims that the YPG and PKK are allied and considers them both terrorists.

The Turkish operation is geared to use military force to clear “terrorists” east of the Euphrates river, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG.

When Turkey says it is going to target terrorists east of the Euphrates River, many believe it is a clear message that they plan to remove Kurdish forces from their borders.

Response

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have also warned that allowing Turkey to go forward with a military operation will send a bad message about U.S. commitment to its allies.

But any bloodshed and damage a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in Syria will bring is not the only concern for the U.S.

Sunday’s announcement reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top U.S. officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.

Military officials have also argued that the U.S. needs the Kurdish forces to fight against an ISIS resurgence, as well as to guard the facilities where ISIS militants and their families are being held.

Those concerns were echoed in a series of tweets from the SDF on Sunday, where the group argued that a Turkish attack would “Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs.”

The SDF also said that the move will lead to “The return of leaders of #ISIS” and that ISIS would break out the nearly 12,000 prisoners held by Kurdish forces.

A great number of prominent lawmakers, including some of Trump’s main allies, also responded to Trump, condemning the move.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote a laundry list of tweets Monday criticizing the move, calling it a “disaster in the making,” and claiming it “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”

“If this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,”  he wrote. “Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.”

“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways,” he later added.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also responded while speaking Fox News.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said. “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”

Speaker of the House Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also spoke out against the president’s efforts.

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” he said in a statement. “American interests are best served by leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”

Trump Defends Himself

Trump still defended his decision on Twitter.

“When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,” he wrote, before going on to say that Europe has refused to take back captured ISIS fighters the U.S. is holding. “As usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”

 “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he continued. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” he added. “They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was a big campaign promise of Trump’s. In December 2018, the president made a sudden announcement that ISIS had been defeated and that he was withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.

That decision received significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as military and foreign policy personnel in the Trump Administration. 

However both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled-down on the claim that ISIS was defeated in the region, even after Islamic State agents took responsibility for a suicide bombing in January, that left 19 people, including four Americans, dead in a U.S.-controlled city in Syria.

Toward the end of February, the Trump administration made a significant reversal and announced that it would leave about 400 troops in the region. In early March, several members of Congress wrote Trump a letter urging him to keep troops in Syria. Trump responded to that letter, writing “I agree 100%” 

Now, the administration’s most recent decision seems to be a definitive shift towards troop removal, and critics of the plan appear to have similar precautions as last time Trump made a similar effort.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States

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Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.


May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio

The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.

Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)

The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation. 

The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.

Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.

However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.

Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.” 

Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.

The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.

Other Major Races This Month

There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.

In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats. 

The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)

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New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map

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The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.


Appeals Court Ruling

The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.

In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.

But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.

In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” 

While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.

Broader Trends

The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.

In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.

Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call

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The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members actions.


Leaked Audio

Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.

They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public. 

One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.

In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.

“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.” 

Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.

Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.” 

“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”

Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.

“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”

McCarthy in Hot Water

The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.

McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.

McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump. 

Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party. 

Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”

Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”

It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.

After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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