By Robert A. Vella
There’s a longstanding aphorism in politics, derived from a quote attributed to Aristotle, which states that power abhors a vacuum. It declares that wherever a lack of social control exists, powerful interests will move in to assert its authority. Throughout human history, no other maxim has been truer. It’s why the libertarian ideal of society without government is fallacious, at least on any significant scale.
When President Trump withdrew U.S. forces from northern Syria and exposed the stateless Kurdish people to attack from Turkey, he created an unstable void in the Middle East; and, it didn’t take long for regional powers to fill the vacuum. Facing the loss of their hopes for an autonomous homeland and even possible extermination, the Kurds did the only practical thing they could do – find the protection of another ally even if it meant aligning with a former enemy. So, they turned to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria who is supported by Iran and Russia in his efforts to stop incursions into Syrian territory by Turkey and the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL). But, Assad’s benefactors have other geopolitical interests beyond Syria. As we shall see in today’s news developments, Vladimir Putin of Russia is quickly seizing the opportunity given to him by an American president whose narcissism and naiveté are all-consuming.
We’ll also cover some important stories regarding the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives and election results from around the world.
The geopolitical fallout of Trump’s withdrawal from Syria
For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict.
On Sunday, after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach, American leverage appeared all but gone. That threatened to give President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers a free hand. It also jeopardized hard-won gains against the Islamic State — and potentially opened the door for its return.
The Kurds’ deal with Damascus paved the way for government forces to return to the country’s northeast for the first time in years to try to repel a Turkish invasion launched after the Trump administration pulled American troops out of the way. The pullout has already unleashed chaos and bloodletting.
The announcement of the deal Sunday evening capped a day of whipsaw developments marked by rapid advances by Turkish-backed forces and the escape of hundreds of women and children linked to the Islamic State from a detention camp. As American troops were redeployed, two American officials said the United States had failed to transfer five dozen “high value” Islamic State detainees out of the country.
(Bloomberg) — Syrian government forces began fanning out in the northeast after striking a deal with Kurdish fighters abandoned by their U.S. allies to a Turkish military offensive — a major shift that could see President Bashar al-Assad cement his impending victory in the country’s long war.
Syria’s army deployed in Al Tabqa airbase and Ain Issa and was now stationed six kilometers away from the border with Turkey, according to Syria’s Al Ekhbariyah TV, which showed footage of soldiers carrying Syrian flags being welcomed by local residents.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan played down the threat of an immediate escalation between his army and Assad’s forces due to Russian mediation over the future of two key border towns — Manbij and Kobani.
MOSCOW (AP) — From Syria to Ukraine, new fault lines and tensions are offering the Kremlin fresh opportunities to expand its clout and advance its interests.
The U.S. military withdrawal from northern Syria before a Turkish offensive leaves Russia as the ultimate power broker, allowing it to help negotiate a potential agreement between Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Kurds who were abandoned by Washington.
And in Ukraine, where the new president saw his image dented by a U.S. impeachment inquiry, Russia may use the volatility to push for a deal that would secure its leverage over its western neighbor.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia on Monday, where he is set to seal oil agreements as well as use his influence to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf.
The meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman comes following attacks on Saudi oil installations that Riyadh and the US have blamed on Iran, an ally of Moscow.
Oil will be “the main topic of discussion” between the leaders, Russian political analyst Fydor Lukyanov said, as a deal between the 24 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is due to expire next spring.
The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis and John Hudson reported that a person close to Sondland says the ambassador will tell Congress in a deposition this week that there was some kind of a quid pro quo, “but not a corrupt one.”
Sondland will also indicate that he was merely relaying Trump’s defense, which he had discussed with the president on a phone call before the text message:
Sondland plans to tell lawmakers he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth at that moment. “It’s only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth,” said the person familiar with Sondland’s planned testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.
Sondland is expected to say that for months before the Sept. 9 message, he worked at the direction of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to secure what he would call in another text message the “deliverable” sought by Trump: a public statement from Ukraine that it would investigate corruption, including mentioning Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, by name. In exchange for the statement, the president would grant Ukraine’s new president a coveted White House audience.
This is remarkable stuff, especially considering that Sondland, unlike the two diplomats he was conversing with in those text messages, was a big-time Trump donor. He was also the only one of the three who hadn’t suggested there was a quid pro quo. (Volker suggested it involved a meeting with Zelensky, while the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, suggested it involved hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that was being withheld.)
Congress is set to continue closed-door depositions this week regarding the growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, and now Fiona Hill, a former top national security adviser on Russia who left the administration just before the president’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine, plans to meet with lawmakers on Monday.
A copy of the request for documents and testimony lawmakers issued to Hill last week, obtained by ABC News, reveals a wide spectrum of issues the Democrat-led committees hope she can shed light on. The request includes information about the efforts by any current or former Trump administration officials — as well as the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and newly indicted Soviet-born Florida-based businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Furman — to investigate matters related to Burisma Holdings, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Hunter and Joe Biden, the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch.
A photograph of President Donald Trump posing with a recently indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani was posted online in April 2014, two years prior to what had been their first known interaction.
In the photo, Trump and Lev Parnas stand shoulder to shoulder, smiling at the camera at what appears to be an outdoor nighttime event. Trump wears a white, Trump-branded cap and white shirt under a jacket. Parnas wears a royal blue collared shirt. The circumstances of the meeting captured in the photograph remain unclear.
The White House Correspondents’ Association on Sunday night condemned “a video reportedly shown” at a pro-Trump event held at a Trump resort in Miami that depicted graphic violence against journalists and various political figures.
“The WHCA is horrified by a video reportedly shown over the weekend at a political conference organized by the President’s supporters at the Trump National Doral in Miami,“ said the statement, issued in the name of WHCA president Jonathan Karl.
“All Americans should condemn this depiction of violence directed toward journalists and the President’s political opponents. We have previously told the President his rhetoric could incite violence. Now we call on him and everybody associated with this conference to denounce this video and affirm that violence has no place in our society.”
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative governing Law and Justice party won the most votes in Sunday’s election in the deeply divided nation and appeared, according to an exit poll, to have secured a comfortable majority in parliament to govern for four more years.
The exit poll, conducted by the research firm Ipsos, projected that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. That would translate into 239 seats, a majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.
The poll said a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, would come in second with 27.4%. The biggest party in the coalition is Civic Platform, which governed Poland in 2007-2015.
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A conservative, Islamist-backed law professor looked set to assume Tunisia’s presidency after polling agencies suggested he overwhelmingly won Sunday’s runoff election in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings.
Kais Saied’s supporters exploded with joy, celebrating on the main boulevard of Tunis, and Saied thanked his supporters and announced plans to travel to neighboring Libya and Algeria and to champion the Palestinian cause.
Official results of the topsy-turvy election — in which Saied’s rival, Nabil Karoui, spent most of the campaign behind bars — weren’t expected until Tuesday.
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s dominant right-wing Fidesz party suffered large losses in Sunday’s local elections in Hungary.
Opposition candidates won the mayoral race in Budapest, the capital, and were also projected to win in 10 of the country’s 23 largest cities. In 2014, the opposition won just three of those races.
Fidesz, which had won every major election since 2010, kept up its dominance in smaller cities and towns and, especially, in rural areas.
The region’s former vice-president Oriol Junqueras was convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds by Spain’s supreme court, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was also banned from holding public office for 13 years.
The former Catalan foreign minister Raül Romeva was convicted of the same offence and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment and handed a 12-year ban on holding office, as were the former regional government spokesman Jordi Turull and the former labour minister Dolors Bassa.
Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, was sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison, while the former Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn and former territorial minister Josep Rull got 10 and a half years each.
Two influential pro-independence grassroots activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, were found guilty of sedition and given nine-year sentences.
Three other independence leaders were found guilty of disobedience and handed fines and bans on holding office.
The shooting early Saturday of Atatiana Jefferson comes less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean, a black man fatally shot in 2018 as he ate ice cream in his apartment.
Police released almost two minutes of body camera video of the Fort Worth shooting that shows officers, armed with guns and flashlights, circling the home. The video ends with an officer shouting, “Put your hands up, show me your hands” before the sound of one gunshot.
Jefferson, 28, was shot through a window. The officer who shot her was identified by police only as a white man who has been on the force for about 18 months.