Paul: Mark Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Welcome back, Mark. Nice to see you again.
Mark: Thank you, Paul.
Paul: So the President called it an amazing outcome, everybody’s happy, how do you see it?
Mark: Well Paul, I wish it was true, but I don’t think that’s correct. I mean, first of all, I don’t think the Kurds are happy. I think the United States has, once again, abandoned them to potential slaughter. I think that it’s true the Russians, the Iranians, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria are happy because they are now going to extend their control over the country. But I think for the U.S. allies and for U.S. partners around the world, I think the United States has reinforced a warning from Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s Kuds force leader, that America always abandons its friends.
Paul: Well, let’s talk about the cease fire specifically because this is now said to have created at least a space for the Kurds to be able to get out of that zone where the Turks are shelling and then give some time to negotiate a larger agreement that will protect that Kurds and also protect the Turkish interest interests. Is there a chance that that happens?
Mark: Well I just think it’s a lot more difficult, Paul, now to do that than it was a couple of weeks ago. I mean, a couple of weeks ago we had U.S. special forces on the ground working closely with the Kurds, we had U.S. air power there, we were controlling a part of Syria with most of Syria’s oil reserves, so that gave us leverage in any of the negotiations we were going to have with the Russians and with the Assad regime, and we were in a position of, I think, U.S. influence. Now we’ve withdrawn those U.S special forces, the Kurds are withdrawn, they’re on the run, and Assad and the Russians are moving into that territory. So, unfortunately, I think we’re in a worse position right now with less leverage to negotiate any kind of agreement or settlement on this issue.
Paul: Now the President said that Erdogan, the president of Turkey, made this concession on the suspension of hostilities for five days because of the potential damage from the economic sanctions and other sanctions that the president announced. I guess, is that true? And why did Erdogan give this five-day reprieve, if that’s what it is?
Mark: Well I think Erdogan actually realized that he’s getting everything he wants. I think he was also facing significant resistance from the Kurds and probably realized that he wasn’t able to push further south given the Kurdish military forces there. So instead, he took the five day pause which is really not a cease-fire, it’s an opportunity for him to consolidate his gains. And let’s also face it, the sanctions that the president had imposed on Turkey and on Erdogan were not very effective. They had very little impact. In fact, he president has been resisting tough sanctions that congress has put in place over the years.
Paul: So Erdogan did this as a kind of, if he’s getting what he wants, is what you argue with, and the president and the United States isn’t getting all that much. What about the sanctions that are being developed in the Senate? There was a huge bipartisan vote, as you know, in the house, it’s a non-binding resolution, but still. Republicans, two-to-one joined Democrats to condemn the President’s withdrawal. In the senate there are some really stiff sanctions. Lindsay Graham’s bill with Chris Van Hollen and several democrats being put together that would target Erdogan specifically, do you think Erdogan is a little worried about that?
Mark: well, they are definitely tough sanctions, you’re right there. I don’t think he’s worried because I think he thinks the president will do what he’s done in the past, which is stonewall any congressional sanctions. You’ve got to remember, there were sanctions passed a number of years ago that would impose top sanctions on turkey if it bought the S-400, the Russian air defense system. Turkey went ahead, bought the S-400 and President trump has blocked those sanctions from being imposed. So, I think Erdogan assumes he’s got the presidents number, he rolled them once, hell roll them again, and the president will stand in the way of any congressional efforts.
Paul: you might be right, Erdogan might be right, but I don’t know this time. You know, I talked to one senator this week who said there may be 80 votes in the senate for this kind of action. Now this is obviously before the president would lean on some republicans, but I don’t know, this might be a little different.
Mark: yeah, Paul, the only problem is, I mean you can pass a veto-proof majority bill and you can have sanctions that are in place, but at the end of the day, the president may have national interest waivers, you can waive sanctions, he also can instruct the state department, treasury department not to enforce those sanctions. So they may be tough sanctions that end up sitting in a drawer collecting dust.
Paul: okay, so where do we go from here? Is this kind of just consolidation now, mopping up operations by Erdogan and the Kurds are going to have to cut a deal with Assad and there’s no way to retrieve this situation?
Mark: look, I think we’re going to try to mitigate the damage. I think vice president pence and secretary Pompeo and the military are doing everything they can to mitigate the damage, but the president has put them in a really tough predicament and unfortunately, it’s his decision-making process. I mean, instead of actually going through a methodical process having everything in place, having the pentagon with contingency plans, consulting with our allies, explaining this decision to the American people, he went ahead on a phone call and a tweet and once again made a very impulsive decision. Now everybody is scrambling to try and minimize the consequences.
Paul: very briefly, mark, what do you think of the president’s invitation to Erdogan to come to the white house?
Mark: well, it think it’s the wrong invitation at the wrong time and I would invite the leaders of the Kurds and the leaders of the Syria democratic forces to the white house to thank them for losing 11,000 men and women in the fight against ISIS to save American lives and protect the homeland.
Paul: All right, Mark Dubowitz, thanks for coming in.