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tv   Former Special Envoy to Defeat ISIS Brett Mc Gurk on National Security ...  CSPAN  October 21, 2019 12:01pm-1:21pm EDT

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astorino tragic i know marijuana is legal in i california but is still early. melania trump is not russian. his son is not russian. all this russians death has been completely debunked. i think that says it all. >> host: north carolina, independent. t-bone, good morning. >> caller: good morning. please let me finish. i'm going s to speak some real facts here to this gentleman. we know that trump solicited help from the russians during the last election. he said it on tv. he did the same thing with the ukraine and china here lately, saying if you're listening, then investigate. by doing that he's doing the same thing that was done before. so if we leave them in office these elections are going to be nullified. we will have the same problems
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we had the last time speeded we believe this portion ofat "washington journal." you can watch this and all of our programs online at now with former special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat isis brett mcgurk is expected to talk about some of the ramifications of president trump's decisions withdraw u.s. troops from sears you. this is hosted by the foundation for defense of democracies. live coverage on c-span2. >> this event is hosted by fdd's center on military and political power which seeks to understand of the military and diplomatic strategies, policies and capabilities necessary to defeat threats to the united states and its allies while advancing american influence. many of our audience members no fdd is a nonpartisan policy institute. we take no for an government funding or corporate funding, and we never will. we're glad to be joined by a distinguished audience of
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diplomats, represented from congress, the department of state, the pentagon, active military and experts on the policy community and, of course, the media. we encourage guests both your online to join us in today's conversation on twitter at fdd. by way of housekeeping today's event is on the record. is the life story and reports of police science or cell phones now. on a personal note, i'd like to congratulate mike on his terrific new book prep for those of you who have not read it, "shatter the nations" is gripping first-hand account of the rise and fall of isis. mike's writing is crisp, clear and often jarring. in the course of the book you will meet the brave fighters have faced isis head-on. you will meet the seedy underworld of the isis support network, breach of the and you will find yourself grinding her teeth as mike recounts his brush with an isis suicide car bomber in the battle to reclaim iraq. for all of you who today please grab a copy of the book after days panel if you're not already
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done so. i'd like to note while he does not say so explicitly in the book, mike conference much of what we have been saying here at fdd about the government of turkey. in this book to you read aboute illicit oil traders, antiquities middlemen and human traffickers who will help facilitate isis activities from turkish soil. mike also confirms what we've long known about the 565-mile border between turkey and syria. the erdogan government allowed that border to remain porous as thousands of foreign fighters join the jihad. in short the erdogan government in turkey did not exacerbate the crisis in syria. in some ways it created it. this raises troubling questions about the recent decision by president trump to stand aside and allow for the turkish military to invade northern syria. your fdd are scholars engaged in a robust debate about a range of issues. the majority here although not all of us but the majority
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believe this was a strategic mistake. speaking only for myself i believe the decision was tantamount to a green light for the turkish military to engage in a harmful and dangerous operation in northern syria. it was an abandonment of our kurdish partners and the decision to turn on them is something other american allies and partners in the middle east will not soon forget. of course it's fair to argue the decision to partner with the pkk affiliate ypg was a mistake in the first place. officials from the obama administration, and i suspect brett mcgurk will want to thank for joining us today, would likely push back on this assertion. this is a debate that hope we hear more about today. but in the meantime with reports of war crimes, cease-fire violations, isis prison breaks, israeli jitters and assad regime advances one gets the sense of new dangers lurk. so in addition to addressing the key points in mike's book today, today's conversation promises to cover a lot of ground. moderating today's event is vivian salama. shias worked as a foreign
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correspondent in more than 60 countries with vast expanse in middle east. she served as ap baghdad bureau chief from 2014-2016 -isis blitzkrieg across iraq in syria. in april she published a children's book, the laundry home, but a syrian boy whose family was forced to flee when the civil war erupted. she covers the white house for the "wall street journal." vivian will now introduce the rest of the panel. vivian, over to you. >> it's great to be here, including with all these distinguished gentlemen, telephone i crossed paths with in the middle is, mike and andi covered the herbs bring together and brett and i met in iraq and i the pleasure of meeting deal today. it's going to be a great conversation for sure, and we were here so pretty mike's book but also in case you haven't heard, it's a bit of a timely discussion, syria is in the news
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today and so you don't have a better collection people to talk about it. he may have noticed i was staring at my front during the introduction because my colleges literally sitting in the cabinet room right now just alerted president trump says he's willing to keep troops in syria to protect oil. so you never know what the news is going to bring of the day, so obviously it's a really fast-moving story come a lot of moving parts. we really want to ask these gentlemen to kind of takeout from the beginning, get a brief background on how we got to this point and then we can really dissect what's been happening right now. i'm sure a lot of you are interested in that. mike, we'll start with you. again, congratulations on this book. very happy for you. maybe a brief recap of how the reporters got to see it first place, what has taken place in the more recent years of the
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civil war with regard to isis and maybe some of our allies, the various allies we have there. >> actually had a big fight with my editor writing the book because they were saying this is a book that isis, start with isis. i insisted on sunday with egypt the arab spring. that really is the background for this. so was the iraq war but if remember in 2011 when the arab spring protester in egypt and in syria, the obama administration was winding down u.s. engagement in iraq and they were supposed to become the protests were supposed be this new way forward for america to engage with the middle east. the protesters were chanting american ideals, getting political support for the u.s. government and the organizing on the tools of americans can the new american capitalism, so facebook, google, twitter, and we deny phones. there was this moment vivian and i covered when we were, first met in 2011 in egypt that
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everything felt come protest on the street for connected with american news viewers here who were not just watching the protest on social media but, on tv also engaging the sharing facebook post. it captured this obama first-term mindset that we can all discuss it at a computer laptops and like our way to a better world. that wasn't the case and the reason we all ended up in syria to answer the question, , is because that's what every spring that ended. there were years of i think failed u.s. policy to get to the point where in 2014 syria was the worst version of the civil war and get extremist group rising up in the chaos while from his perspective and i think from a government focused perspective will try to turn away. what happened was, should the people in room all know, al-qaeda and iraq, the old used in metering the iraq war has
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come across the border into syria and that use that chaos to reconstitute and gain strength and they had this horrible boomerang effect we went back across the iraqi border in 2014 and took mosul which is a world change if it. >> brett, you are for the government at the time. what was the response and the sense on the ground here when all of these events were unfolding educative saw this round of extremism spilling over the border iraq and syria? >> so i can of got into this space of it in 2013 when i was handling the iraq file and was deeply concerned by the increasing numbers of assassinations, murders, suicide bombers, suicide bombers going from like -- which became kind of migrating to sea, became isis. 30, 40, 50 month.
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when you're that going on that was happening in 2013, it just rips apart any fabric of society, particularly a very fragile one. i was concerned 2013 we did not have intelligence overhead, did not have information that i testified about this in congress in the fall. all these guys can the suicide bombers bombers, most of them were four in jihadis who are coming from all around the world and coming into syria and as jonathan said every coming through turkey. i spent a lot of time in turkey in 2013. look, i love the country of turkey. it's a great country. erdogan is the lead of turkey but is not going to be there forever. i think turkey has a brighter future but let me tell you about these conversations in 2013. why was i in turkey a lot in 2013? a number of reasons. one of was iraqis oil revenue was going to hold bank.
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we also said the man, all these g hotties are coming into syria for your country. what is going to do about this? the answer in 2013 was, that's the second war. we'll get rid of assad and then get rid of those guys. our it sounds me like you're raising, it's like raising baby crocodiles and your basement. eventually you will have a lot of big crocodiles. this kept on going. mike documents in his book and you all should read, and it accounts for the point this was a war. this was a vicious brutal street by street war and nobody should be mistaken by that. but january 1, 2014, fallujah falls to isis. again this very alone and it wasn't until the fall of mosul and i was on her back at the time, and i get it was just a fog of war hard to know what was going on. i was walking into a meeting
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with president obama winnetka which i got an urgent call from iraqis security official and a political official that baghdad was falling. it was actually very hard to tell. in any event, kind of this thing in the summer of 2014 is where it was decidedly we had to have a concerted effort to push back and that's when we develop the by, with, and through campaign which i think we will discuss. that was kind of the suite of it just starting i came into. >> i remember that time where everyone was worried about iraq falling because by default because i was in baghdad getting calls from my editor back in europe. i think were okay for now but the was the fear because they were right there on the edge of the city and so it was a very dangerous situation. bill, remind us about how isis to its strength, how it became this powerful so-called
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caliphate from just an extremist group. >> the islamic state isis of islamic state just didn't emerge in a vacuum. it was the remits of al-qaeda in iraq from obviously the iraq war. the u.s. conducted the surge. by 2008 was driven out of territories in central, northern and western iraq that a controlled, and it was perceived that al-qaeda and iraq which is also called the islamic state, making it more confusing, was defeated but they weren't. they went underground. they husband their forces. they gathered. the organist. tens of thousands of fighters from the conflict the state the dragnet and then you had an iraqi government that was corrupt, letting people out of prisons, things of that nature. so i remember watching a video i want to say it was late 2011 when i saw al-qaeda in iraq
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organized a large convoy and take over a town in and our province -- anbar province. i've never saying this is extremely disturbing. our preparing these types of operations. and we saw this happen for years later. the islamic state came out of dispute between al-qaeda, between al-qaeda central and -- it was basically a turf war between baghdadi, the head of the islamic state and joe lonnie who is allocating force in syria. the al-qaeda one of the to be separate entities, when iraq in one in syria. baghdadi said no. we should be fighting together. the islamic state kind of look at them as this might be oversimplistic but they are the hardliners of the jihadist. to them it's their way or the highway. the islamic state if you don't
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swear to baghdadi and islamic state, then you're an apostate to the period were as al-qaeda they kept this let's work with other groups. let's try and work with elvis of the city insurgency and they come it's more subversive way and they get the hooks and in the wind of converting individuals to the cause. but at the end of the day the islamic state came from the failure to defeat al-qaeda in iraq when the u.s. withdrew in december 2011, islamic state -- al-qaeda in iraq was already reorganizing and started to conduct small scale attacks by 2012. you had assassinations, prison breaks which really helped the grip expand and experienced cadre back in. then they started, the syrian civil war was just a major balloon. they were able to organize with the remainder of the elements that were inside syria. remember we killed, it was one of the few special forces raid
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killed a guy and i think 2007, u.s. conducted u.s. conducted a special forces raid in syria. al-qaeda in iraq didn't just say hey, let's cross the border. they had an active network there as well. with the syrian civil war breaking out, that was just a match that lit the fire. you couple that with the withdrawal of the u.s. leaving, abandoning, there's a lot of talk today that we abandon the cards, which, this isn't the first abandonment. when the u.s. withdrew from iraq, they abandon kurdish allies in the north. they have succumbed to the iraqi government and the popular mobilization forces, the iranian-backed militias. we abandoned the awakenings who suffered under the predations of the iraqi government. but we lost this intelligence -- >> but it was a slower speedy sure. it wasn't policy by tweet with
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the trump administration the obama administration had a more clever and more delivered withdrawal but it was a withdrawal and abandonment nonetheless. there's a allies we built up. they died -- we say that could the eye, 11,000 card stud. hundreds hundreds of thousands of iraqis volunteered to fight the islamic, or al-qaeda in iraq. and died during these fights. >> i want the others to address that point as well. but before we get into that maybe mike you could talk about the of the parties. we keep hearing about the curtains being our allies on the ground now but there are a lot of fighting forces that were obliged to us in the fight both in iraq and syria. if you could maybe give us a bit of a walk-through that. >> as john mentioned in his introduction, one half of the book is focused on isis and how it worked and why people joined and who they were. and how it was able to find and supported so forgive the part of the book is based on years of the military with a different forces that end up coming
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together as the ground force for the u.s. effort against isis. we had the kurds in syria it they also fight with arab battalions as far as this number l you force your turkey has a problem with the kurds but that was a multiethnic force in the end. and iraq we had the kurdish peshmerga. i was alarmed by tweet trump said i think last week showed he didn't understand the difference between the peshmerga in northern iraq and the kurds in syria. i mean, do not understand that nuance if you're a regular news consumer, fine, if you're the commander-in-chief entered directing the policy that is extremely alarming because the difference is that. >> so the tweet ice in the twitter talk about was when he made a reference to iraq going after the kurds in syria, basically conflating a number of
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different groups and also a number of different incidents. >> and what was so impressive about, i thought the in stage of the war against isis was wholly different forces have come together to give the kurds in northern iraq, the peshmerga, and joe said iraqi military and in particular the protagonist of the book are a iraqi special forces and their elite the time that was the tip of the spear and mosul and a super these guys invited with the americans since 2005. they are the troops that do the rate with your special operations forces and special forces, and do the work of rolling up isis networks. some of the guys i was in the humvees with in mosul, it was then 2016-17 have been fighting alongside the americans since 2005, so 12,005, so 12 years of almost nonstop war. and i remember, just because i think there's a sense now, like was always good to be a disaster. something i always kind of feel
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emanating out of d.c., the obama administration use this line of reasoning to argue they could have done better in syria. i think people look at the problem with the partnership with the kurds in syria and turkey and say it was all going to be a mess anyway. i don't think that's the case. i remember a little anecdote to show how unique it was what did come together. i was with the iraqi special forces in a convoy to get to the battle from mosul and we passed through a peshmerga checkpoint and i got chills down my neck because to imagine if these twoo size which a been enemies in the past were so cooperating and iraqi troops were using very bad kurdish checkpoint officers, a photo like this very warm greeting like welcome to our territory to fight isis, was actually really a special moment. i think we should understand that to kind of grass the loss of the policy now. >> i want brett to walk us through this, addressing the point about the withdrawal and
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2011 versus what we've seen today. can you take us back to 2011 and how that withdrawal took place versus maybe today you can kind of get started on the present? how would you -- is there a comparison? if yes or no, can you explain? >> i mean, isis metastasized in syria in the cauldron of the syrian civil war, and you and people like use of car sell -- religious duty is to pour into syria. where bill and i would agree is the united states should be very careful. the presidents need to be very careful before they set national security objectives. when you say in 2011 assad must go, that changes everyone's calculation. it gridlike a fever in the region. the amount of foreign jihadist and fighters pouring into syria
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and the a lot of weapons, the amount money and everything else led to a lot of this. i just don't think we can discount that. when the policy was set, the death toll in syria was less than 2000 which was tragic but nothing like what we've seen since. i do not think you can compare anyway the syrian withdrawal in 2011 to what we are seeing now. it's just completely different. i was a private citizen. i was brought back late in the summer to try to salvage an extension of the sofa. i think we could've done an and exchange of notes which i supported at the time. no major active political faction would stand up or support our continued presence at the time, and we had a plan for a fairly robust host withdrawal iraq policy which are don't think fully and out. but in any event, just getting to where we are now because i think it's important to put a table with the time, is how we got involved with the syrian
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kurds. mike documents this in his book. if anyone has been involved in raising an army and racing coalitions to go fight a brutal nasty war, it's really hard work. what we wanted to do, iraq was one thing. iraq was easier but extreme difficult but we are working with an arm of the government and we had extensive relationships. what we want to do history was take elements of the syrian opposition and work with turkey and others to build a force that would fight isis. we invested hundreds of millions of dollars, and you would go sit with folks and i sat with them. i have been to the training centers and you hear i have 5000 men, and we are ready to fight. 5000, get into our base base on this date and turnout there would be like 20. this happened over and over again. or the forces that we wanted to
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work with were so riddled with extremists that our military repeatedly said there's no way we can work with these people. this happened repeatedly. we delayed the counter isis campaign for probably over a year because we tried every, i've been reading about all these roads trumpet we traveled all these roads. they are roads to nowhere. so the way we met the kurds was in the battle of khobani. the entire border to turkey was controlled by isis. if you look at the map in the state it's all black. the little teeny dot in khobani and khobani is surrounded by thousands of isis fighters who are about to the town. it's going to fall. every assessment we had it's going to fall. if that town fell we have nothing, no traction in syria and if it it was still be the caliphate today. it was our relationship with the iraqi kurds who called us up and
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one of them called me up and some of our military people up and said hey, we know some of the fighters were holding out in khobani. there's not many of them left. they're surrounded, about to get overrun a we are in touch with you. would you like to be in touch with them? yes, you're damn right because want to try to defeat isis. the fighters in khobani told us they needed and airdrop of some weapons and they needed some air support. they still didn't think they could hold out but we organize this through northern iraq. we did the airdrop of weapons which i to go all the way to president obama, and what's most interesting is general outlook and i organize the khobani effort in turkey. because at the time the broader pkk turkey conflict was in what the turks called a solution process. it was in a process of talks, and the turks kind of knew the ypg. leaders of the ypg, leaders of the political umbrella were in
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talks regularly. we supplied the khobani battle through turkey. there's a lot of history here, and even after the khobani battle we lasted four to five months, it was a turning point against isis. the death toll for isis i do want to get into but it was devastating and that battle. i went into khobani sometime after the battle. but even then we said okay, you guys stay in khobani, record work with the syrian opposition. it just didn't work. >> how did you all distinguish between the kurdish groups? you have the turks think these guys are all bad news, they don't really -- >> that's just the fact of the matter. there was an election in turkey in 2015 in which the largely kurdish but it's an umbrella party, hdp, did better than erdogan expected and canceled the selections and the turkey wars flared up again in the summer 2015. that's when that's when this got complicated a chance to do with domestic politics.
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what we did with turkey was we would do everything as mid-à la to protect your border. will do everything with you to protect your border. we can to joint operation to also to think to protect your border let me get one more antidote to after the battle the banning there's a counter these which is called -- which the turks are now attacking. these accounts nobody has heard of. this town was the main supply route for isis. it's on a highway that right to raqqa. flatbed trucks, fighters, weapons can munitions, the border was wide-open. mike documents this picky was there. that border crossing had to be shipped if we're going to defeat isis. are we to turkey a number of times, by so, general allen, president obama and erdogan multiple levels of years,, you guys have to take your this border crossing. month after month after month. nothing was done. actually we can't. i remember the mexican border, you can't fully control. you just can't control this
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border. we built a coalition of syrian arabs and kurds to take the border crossing and is a significant steppingstone to defeating isis caliphate. as soon as what became the sdf took the border, the turks still the border with the wall. there's a lot of history here that i think has to be gotten right. we would not have defeated isis have not taken the steps. even after that we told these guys stay there, the work with the sfa and try to go that route and simply there was no traction, nothing there to work with. >> something that mike wants to say. >> you asked distinction between the kurds. the kurds in syria are diverse but the kurdish political party militia that controls the as is is working in syria are a branch of the pkk in turkey. the pkk in turkey is a separatist group and have it on off insurgency in southeast
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turkey since the 1980s the 198h is rooted in the fact kurds in turkey like in syria i can iraq, like in iran have been historically oppressed. that's the root of all this that the use has to do with when this are working in the region. i met the ypg, the kurdish militants in syria in late 2013 this was before anyone was fighting isis except them. i've got a call, the civil war is fading from the headlines in the u.s., in syria and the arab spring is that. we just had a massacre in cairo and the counterrevolution, and assad has just launched his first known chemical weapons attack at obama had refused to enforce the red light yet laid out. in this time, the kurds started fighting in extremist group that would eventually call itself isis and they were already fighting isis by the time he is not interested this was before
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mosul. but when i went out to meet them it was clear they are both pkk franchise and something distinct. every time you go into ypg headquarters you see a larger-than-life size photo of the lead of the pkk was in the island prison off the coast of turkey. i asked one of the founding members of the ypg i told of it, the washington i i get the question, what is the relation between the ypg and the pkk? what should i tell the next ambassador who asked me that? i spent 15 years in iraq which is what the pkk is based, , and when the war in syria started i came to stare at the start of the ypg. a simple thing for him. but at the same time the ypg during the same trip i met, like rank-and-file members of the ypg and some of them are just farmers who literally had been enlisted a month or two privacy, at the health of weapon before. you had this kind of difficult
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relationship with turkey from the beginning but also the fact it was exactly the pkk and that's the contradiction in the policy that was tough to ironnet. just to add to the point about turkey. so much of what i'm seeing now in the debate about what's happening in trump's move is this conflict between the turks and the ypg because of the pkk connections was inevitable. it's important to remember until the 2015 election, i lived in istanbul, this election of obscure here. it was a turning point. it is the moment turkey began it's really quick slide to autocracy. what happened was erdogan and the government had been in talks with the pkk. there was an opening with the kurdish population in turkey and they were hosting ypg leadership to discuss maybe they could be some sort of alliance or understand in syria even. they kurdish led political party
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in turkey won more than erdogan expected in that election and they denied him an absolute majority, and he saw this in his way of seeing the world as some sort of offense or like grave insult. and also from a political calculus he understood if they continued to get that the sharf votes in elections that he's going to be in big trouble because he does not mad majority in turkey. he's never got more than 50% of the vote. that was one of the launchpad. >> turkey, all of a sudden restarting the war in southeastern turkey with the pkk and then these relationships without ypg degenerating. so much of it is rooted in turkey's on slide to dictatorship and the was a point where erdogan was going to work with these groups and the could of been with more use effort from the top level some, wafer turkey to to work with them again. the erdogan, shot down a russian fighter jet i think in 2015 or
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16. now they're seen as allies. they have the ability to come to terms to groups that opposed to before. >> the last point, look in 2015 and say, prior to 2012 the turks are working within or talking to know, there was a settlement so, so there was no preparation that this could change on a dime. we have to member about the pkk is a radical marxist group. a friend of my basic comparison to maoists. they press women and children into military service. you're not talking about iraqi kurds here, they tdp and pkk, the kurds that are our real alastair were talking a different -- not every german soldier was a nazi, yet they fought for the german government. you have to keep that individual soldiers and their stories when they're fighting for a group and an ideology, we are to keep that in context. >> do you think our alliance,
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mike, please ship in but you think our alliance on how upset they chemistry as you are saying that turkey obvious he views the pkk -- they see them as an accidental threat to the country. >> i mean, they had speeded somehow disrupt the commissioner of the region? >> i think so. again, we had to make that calculation that nothing was settled, so they could always turn. at some point i do think that turkey started looking at the u.s. allied with the ypg/pkk as a threat to it. we've seen relations between the u.s. and turkey deteriorate over the last several years, and is become more of a rivalry that and nato partnership at this point. i think erdogan and his cadre, definitely view the u.s. arming and support and political recognition of ypg as the
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distinct threat to its national interest. >> why don't you both comment because i want to get to the present. >> you said, he made a nazi comparison saying anyone is fighting for the ypg is fighting for the pkk cause. i want to be clear, as a franchise of the pkk in syria, they do have different aims. someone fighting for the ypg in syria is fighting was initially to get isis out of the territory and now is trying to find some level of autonomy that was a mission after that. they're not exactly fighting the war in turkey although there's some cross polymerization. >> to respond to that, absolutely. and i think what ever mistakes was that we made no effort or none that was visible to get the ypg to denounce, to reject the marxist ideology, to become more palatable to the turkish government. like you said there are individuals -- they are not, all
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of its fighters are not rabid pkk followers of when their push and direction, , remember when some entrance of military with al-qaeda and iraq was very adept at doing this, the taliban is adept. once you get people in the ranks they work hard at the indoctrination. so the farmer who comes in today may be just fighting for freedom and autonomy and to get rid of the islamic state, but they are also sitting there listening to the sermons are what have you want to call it, the indoctrination by the pkk handlers as well. >> this force in syria grew to 60,000. that doesn't just happen. if these are just a bunch of radical maoist radicals that wouldn't happen. we've had multiple use personal rotate to see. they all come out with the same story. even the dissension was drawn by senior turkish official has they are syrian. when the major turkey pkk conficker is going on in
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southeast area, the ypg kept by the ice is going south. there were not crossing the border. over four years, the factually medic with no cross-border attacks. we've had no evidence at all of any weapons provided to these guys making their way into syria. in fact, we didn't provide any weapons until the trump administration came in. one thing, when we had a transition to the trump administration, when the trump administration commenced commea very professional transition. transition period i met with mike flynn for the inauguration. we laid everything out. we were about 30 kilometers north of raqqa. a big question was how are we going to raqqa? we paused and present obama passed that decision over to trump because there were three ways -- four whispered that the russians do it. we could do it on our own which would be very costly. we could arm the ypg, decision that had not been made yet. or we develop a plan with turkey which had been developed in the
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obama administration which would have required tens of thousands of american troops and hodgepodge of opposition groups and turkish military and so we look at the whole thing and we pause for almost four and half months aditi massive strategic review and we said our best military planners to turkey to plan the operation with the turks. we literally, every stone was unturned. at one point a senior military official went to a parade ground we're going to see the turkish opposition force that was going to work with us to take raqqa, and nobody was there. because the cleric that these guys answer to have determined the night before don't work with the americans. our military people did not want to embed with many other groups the turkey wanted us to work with. in may the question what to president trump. this was with mattis. have to take raqqa and we had to take raqqa because of the threats out of syria at the time against as were like super
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blinking red lights. the options were, mr. president, you can let the russians take it. we can arm the ypg. and have the sdf do it which would require very few additional u.s. forces, or we have a plan -- >> a potentially irritate turkey. >> yes. this is some tension with turkey. or we have plans to develop with strict which we are about 15,000 american troops, maybe more. the president made the decision in about two seconds. so again this is been like look at repeatedly. in terms of diversifying the force, diversifying the political structures, i think an awful lot about was tried. the resources were very meager, particularly under president trump we put a full-time ambassador on the grid and we did everything with turkey to make sure their border was protected. >> that's a perfect setup for getting to the present. obviously, president trump campaign on the fact that he was
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going to withdraw u.s. troops not just from syria all the worse. he says he doesn't like endless wars. those of you just tuning into syria news may not realize that its withdrawal 2.0 2.0 becausee tried to december. that's when defense secretary mattis resigned. brett toddled him out because they did not agree with the decision -- followed him out. that was walked back and now we're doing it again. i want you from all of you about just the events of the last few weeks, how has this played out and where do you see this going. we only have five minutes am hoping we can go around before we take questions of course. i'm sure all of you can also jump in because we're going to be talked about this a lot i'm sure in the q&a. if each of you can give us a two-minute answer on how you see this playing out. >> that's a great question. i wish i had the answer to that. dealing with the president who
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does policy by twitter, and he's very mercurial. he seems to make decisions on a whim or a phone call with a foreign leader. now i'm hearing that might keep some u.s. forces. they will launch operations from iraq. but that all could change tomorrow. he could pull troops out of iraq within the next 60 months. i can't predict where u.s. policy and iraq had in syria is going to go forward or afghanistan or any other place. mean, it's a very tumultuous time for foreign policy. i can't imagine what it's like for someone like you working in the white house, or working as reporter at the white house. i do think that trump is, he campaigned on withdrawing troops, u.s. troops from afghanistan and from syria, now is taking on the mantra of in the endless wars which years ago was a hard left or it was a
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statement made by obama, obama administration officials. we are looking, i think he's to do that. i think he wants to withdraw. i think he's doing it, he's encountering a lot of opposition within his own administration. they don't want to carry out the policies that is trying to lay forward, but he is the president of the united states and he is the ultimate say in what's going to happen. so i suspect you're going to see -- i think this is just the beginning. >> mike, how do you see this playing out? >> i don't think anybody here -- [inaudible] >> microphone. [inaudible]
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>> i don't think but he thought use trip to remain indefinitely in syria, but i do think that they need to remain long enough to stabilize parts of iraq and syria were isis had been strong. i reported about a year ago and it's conceded that isis is launching insurgent style attacks across even northern iraq right now. they are assassinating local leaders, sentenced that brett mentioned earlier that preface the isis writes in the first place in 2014. the same situation in syria. "new york times" had reported the said there was to 18,000 180 isis fighters across syria and iraq. the u.s. presence in syria was designed to roll up isis networks to the extent possible and most and poorly local forces and reconstitutes them after the losses of 10,000, they say, in the war against isis to build to
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that job than cells in the long term. as understand your special operation forces and green berets were in effort with ypg counterterrorism units to train them to do this on their own one day. so just pulled the plug on all that before has a chance to succeed, i think is a big mistake here. not planning at all for the withdrawal to the point where you see u.s. troops retreating and turkish backed forces firing on them as they retreat, which i had to read that three temps make sure i was reading it right, is just a picture of chaos. rather than the sort of near to midterm plan of stabilize these areas and is forced isis does not research come we're seeing i really chaotic worst-case scenario withdrawing chaos. >> right. >> was i've been pretty public about this. late last year we had a force posture that was not just arbitrary. it was specific designed to make sure we had control. it was pretty stable, we've to
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go into all the time. when you and us to do what you're going to leave that changes everybody sky commissioner putin and erdogan knows without and you cut the force by 50%. it limits what we can do. when he basically give a green light and i'm sorry i can't read the statement in which we come if you go to the history that's exactly what happened come we pulled off the border and you just do and that assessment. who are in the ranks of the turkish backed opposition forces? we know these guys and we do this would be very bad. the whole pression on the northeast and as the of which are arabs, kurds, the whole night is coming under tremendous pressure. we've given up always positioned on the perimeter and i frankly find it troubling what president trump, i didn't see it as said we're going to stay for oil, you just don't talk like that. a president should talk like that, , i'm sorry. i worked this issue with secretary tillerson who know something about oil and is not possible for us to exploit those
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oil resources unless we want to be oil smugglers and that's the something the united states i think it's into. i'm not sure what he has in mind. i can't i've seen this movie before. it's like the second version of the movie, it is worse than the first. we were not keep a small price and some with abandon host of our positions. with skin them to the russians. we are vomiting as we leave, the population, so different from the iraq war, this population, not just the kurds from its the arabs, across all northeast three, those of most permissive postwar if i met i've ever seen at our special forces military consisting postwar fibrous all over the world that said that repeatedly. they've never seen a more permissive environment than this. city after city, town after ten, future cities, thousands of people all supported our president. that's why we were able to work and that of of it and keep a very light footprint. now we are leaving and tomatoes are being thrown out of vehicles with an american flag on it. i think it is shameful. i think it will get worse, and just finally i know i'm over
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time the op-ed i wrote after i his way to hard truth. trump wants us out of that. we don't accept that if you get the geometry will find yourself in a worse position. second, turkish backed opposition forces and there's a lot of patriotic syrians and the opposition that i know, but in terms of fighting forces and the ranks of which the turks want to use, they're not partners of the united states of america. you can now see that on tv. third, the sdf has to remain intact, otherwise it all unravels and opens a vacuum in which isis reconstitute. we are now seeing that. i do in a scramble to try to figure something out. i have great respect for the diplomats and military officials trying to figure out this maelstrom but it is concerning any think it will get worse. >> food for thought. i have 1 million more questions but i will share and invite you all to ask your question. raise your hands. we have people going around with the mics. i think they are going around in
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the back. not sure -- >> can you introduce yourself and then ask your question. >> was on matthew vatican reporter of the national interest. last week at this think tank that is kind of associate with turkey's ruling party, mike duron was talking about how the u.s. used to support turkey against the pkk, how u.s. come saudi arabia, and turkey on natural alliance and now we're turning to the natural pattern of things. it seems very different from the cold war but would any of you want to elaborate or respond to his claims? >> yes. i debated mike on this in new
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york. mike is an old bush white house colleague of mine. i spent a lot of time in the middle east in the last decade, and the idea of an israel turkey saudi alliance i think is very far-fetched, david talk to the israelis about erdogan, talk to the saudis about erdogan, that would be a very, that like a real square peg round whole problem i just don't think that's realistic. i will leave it there. >> next question. >> i am with the center for security policy. we have all heard president erdogan talking, declining over the the last several years his intent to reconquer lands of the ottoman empire. where would you all expect to see them turn next? >> do you think, do it if you think that erdogan has his sights set in what else besides
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northeastern syria? >> i don't want to hog the stage, but look what is doing in the eastern mediterranean look at the maps of syria that he showed in september, and those of the maps he has shown for some time. in the mosul battle he insisted on being part of the mosul battle. that would've upended the entire battle. we have seen anything like it since the vietnam war or world war ii. we need to put u.s. forces on the road to make sure turkey would not come in the battle. he is national security zone in his might go some aleppo to mosul. this is not just about the ypg. we have to have our eyes wide open, and not to dismiss their concerns. again we have to help protect the border but this is not just about the ypg. >> i would just add, when he says reconquer i would look at the more rickety influence. the worst and yet processes,
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ricky have say -- i don't think you'll see a putin style annexation of territory anything like that. >> dave lawlor from axios. this is a question of record having worked with president trump on this issue on the isis, i'm wondering whether beyond dispute that calicut and get out trumpet any other priorities? was oil something that was raised? was a worried about the future of syria, who's going to control territory? did he worry about upsetting erdogan? what else did he worry about? >> it's a great question, and i used to debate this when i was in the administration because we have very maximalist syria policy we announced late last summer we'll stay in syria until iran is that it's you that's a long time. we will stay in syria until the geneva process concludes. that's like a really long time. we are going stay in syria until the end drink a few devices which i think is a very critical
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interest. i've never heard donald trump to anything like that. in fact, he precipices the russians or anyone else can do with want. when you have the declared u.s. objectives that are never are taken in by the president, you have again and ends ways means mismatch. your means are not jewish and military resources, your soldier fitbit is the political will of the american people and the intent of the president. if the president hasn't fully kannada policy particular comes to war and peace with americans in harm's way, we have a crisis crisis izaak onto anyone's back. that's now happened twice on syria in the last year at a think it's a very serious problem. i've never heard him articulate syria objectives. he talked about defeating isis caliphate. he takes credit for it. but beyond that i really don't think he has much of a significant concern for the oil thing is a complex matter. i get i worked on this with
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tillerson. i think he discussed with the present the problems that arise to rethink we can exploit those resources. >> anyone else? >> charles, los angeles, fdd supported. while the oil into has to be kept from isis using it to finance itself, the optics of keeping u.s. troops guarded and the circumstances of abandonment does inside criticism dash of -- cynicism. brett seems to described the sad irony of the death of the beginning of an american troop birth to air spring, to my question. how much should erdogan's -- [inaudible] and form reliability of his intentions? and second, please comment on abandoning the kurdish ypg pushes them into reconsolidation with the pkk, losing the
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opportunity for alignment with the u.s. to influence the political change? >> so i guess is the ypg under pressure, that these groups need to merge i guess? are the comic under further -- what's the future within and erdogan, is or any hope of things settling down? >> i think the ypg likes things just fine as is. they get the plausible deniability while being a faction of the pkk, it is not directly listed as part of the pkk. that would put them under sanctions with the pkk, listed as a foreign terrorist organization and that would prohibit any support from the united states. i wouldn't see them being in a merger with pkk. and i'll leave the first question to mike. >> just in terms of the pressure
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that the cards in northeastern syria are coming under erdogan,, is it in help of any kind of settlement between the? >> great question i would just note, i think the real scenario now we're watching is with the ypg go to the site not a merger with the pkk but assad and by extension russia and iran. what happens when you of this force at work so close with use military all of a sudden having to cooperate with the regime and its russian at arena a ring ald maybe being at the mercy? that's an interesting question to ask now as well, and also i do think if that were to happen, if the assad government is to retake control of these areas, what you would certainly see us into ypg members who are pkk historically, maybe returning back to turkey or to iraq because just from a survival standpoint they fear they will be subject of crackdowns otherwise. >> is at assad outlines a
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legitimate alliance for the kurds? >> the ypg, the reason the syrian government was able to hold out is because they worked with the ypg. there's already established alliances. >> faith had an understanding since the beginning of the civil war. there are channels and it's like, it's interesting to note we are all from analysis perspective sitting here saying that might be the based case scenario given the chaos. that seems have most potential to spare these areas some turkish bombardment. but with that then comes the return of the state which as we know where the syrian government has occurred elsewhere in syria we have seen that same sort of tactics festered the air spring into first place which is repression, mass arrest, torture, harassment by security forces people of being in these places throughout the war and also any refugees who have come home. >> just real quick. great question. it's in the hand of vladimir
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putin because take the town of khobani of 50,000 people, if the turks go to khobani will have an epic humanitarian catastrophe. we are now out of those areas that we make clear we have nothing to do with the safe zone, the saison, and erdogan is meeting putin tomorrow. this is what it gets very conficker because now that we've up early and out where going to hold onto oilfields, i think the russians might very well say to the kurds, we're not going to stop the turks and going into khobani unless the americans leave. i just above russians play this. i channeled russia for some time, and i think this could be pretty nasty. but khobani, at the turks going to khobani we will see a real nightmare and it's in the hands of the russians, unfortunately there we are not really at the table anymore. >> we have time for for a coupe more questions. >> lord my with washington times. brett, you mentioned this situation is going to get much
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worse. can you elaborate on that prediction a bit more, and for the panel, what is the more imminent threat to israel that this situation poses? >> it's been two weeks, we have about 200,000 displaced people. you have a isis escaping from prison. i think the ability of the united states to hold the sdf in tact which is critical to mitigating the risk of an isis resurgence is draining by the day. i just mentioned khobani at these other areas which will be a deal between turkey and russia that would on any insights into. the pressure will also come under wreck. let me say this, just in the middle east. i think iraq will come under tremendous pressure. where politics can up again in a week. the arenas are facing another nuclear deadline. this can spiral into a broader regional conflict because the
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iranians under tremendous pressure and that's good i also think they feel an edge on the united states right now as the world sees americans basically ushered out of syria. i i think, look for iran to tryo poke a little bit. that's expected in the region, if and how we respond will be an open question. ..
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the fight the fact that isis caliphate is defeated, we forget what's happening, that's why everybody should read mike's book . mike see the number of foreign terrorist fighters in the area but also the seams in singe are and the enslavement of womenand the massacre of men by the thousands . what this organization was doing is just totally beyond the pale and something that america interests and values obligated us to respond to so it's a great question and i think the threats at this stage, there's a very high risk that they will reemerge. i would add while we're considering the politics here, you should remember that trunk during his election campaign fear monitored about isis and refugees and muslims and played off the fears of
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terrorist attacks as part of his political campaign and he played some role in him getting elected so the idea that trunk now is declaring that isis is no longer a threat contrary to the opinion of i think most experts, i think we should just see that in the context of what he was saying in 2015 and 2016 and how he ended up coming into office in the first place >> we're a little over but one last question right here from my colleague , michael cornyn. hello michael. >> for brett and i'll keep it concise. you're clearly skeptical of the idea of developing and exporting the oil under the syrian kurdish control at this point and president trump has talked about bringing in an american company to need to do this and presumably the content planned it to exported to the kr g because there's nowhere else can it can go. you said you look at this with secretary tillerson,
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what are theimpediments to doing this, what are the technical obstacles in doing this . i do you think this is not a feasible approach ? >> i was working this with tillerson, he knows something about the subject . i think his phrase was i don't want to quote him but that's not how oil works and oil is owned like it or not by the syrian state. that doesn't mean stf can't help exploit it and make some revenue off ofit but that's smuggling . we did look at, the only way to possible do this legally would be an escrow arrangement through the russians that would loop in the syrian government. in which you would put the resources in some sort of escrow for development once thecivil war concluded . that was a possible. the russians weren't really open to that and i think they would beeven less so now . but again, maybe their new
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lawyers but it was just illegal for an american company to go and seize and exploit theseassets . this is the problem of not having a national security process. you got have a process before president they things and you would have some deliberation. we don't want that to get in the hands of terrorists and other actors but to say an american company isgoing to exploit it , that raises serious legal implicationsand i would just add michael, you've been to syria a number of times . we've already given up almost the entire perimeter of northeast syria, we're not going to hold up in fort apache with a couple hundred americans . let's not exaggerate that that gives us an influence over the course of defense in syria. we have that influence as evaporated from the moment trump said leave in december to cutting the force in half and now to cutting the force by another whatever it is so this is all just on a
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television show, this is not deliberate policy . these are spasms and i don't think they had seriously considered the implications of this. and as we are leaving syria and getting all this space and territory, to announce that we're just going to say in an oil field, raises all sorts of implications and i think people in the region will read it. so again, don't want these resources to get in the hands of terrorists and others. but maybe trump should have thought about this before he basically made a decision that unraveled that i've been working wellstarting last year . >> i'm informed we have a little bit more time so there are more questions to take . >> my question. i might have misread. >> my name is sherry on it and my question is for sublet. in 2017, you were under an ally with some money to
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recapture her cook and you denied. you said we now so the money was in the. so what made you change now to partner with donald trump? >> one more thing. you know what bothered me since october 16, 2017. you said you're going to watch iraqi tank to roll into cargo. and that was bad, you see. >> i never said such athing. but let me , thankyou for your question . and you're talking about the referendum in october 2017. so it's somebody who has worked with kurds for almost a couple decades now. and. >> to be clear, thereferendum in iraq . >> very much understanding the kurdish and all the
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different kurdish parties. and a lead up to that referendum, first as us policy youconsidered policy at the referendum would be a bad idea . and just explain, this is important. all our information was that if the kurdistan region went forward with that referendum , the consequences would be quite serious. the reaction from turkey, iran, the action from arabs and the action from the iraqi government and our ability to manage all that in the aftermath would be limited. finally as president trump has said, i'm not disclosing anything. he was quite clear he's not going to do anything about it . so in the conversations i had with many kurdish officials and they would confirm this, while we recognize the grievances and aspirations, if you go forward with the referendum, but wow is going to be so severe and the united states government under president trump is not
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going to come in to save the day. that was the concern and if anything i think the story and what we'reseeing right now demonstrates that was right . back in those days, this is the thing about president trump . he's like an empty vessel thateverybody puts their hopes and aspirations into . and they end up being very disappointed but there was a view back then that trump will come in and save the day no matter what happens and that was misplaced hope. so i would, i think if you talk with the kurdish officials during the difficult time , and i haven't a very difficult file at that time as representing uspolicy . i was very honest about the risks and consequences and that the united states of america would be highly unlikely under president trump to come save the day. >> if i may, again. the united states is routinely abandons its allies and i would argue that we abandon the iraqi kurds during the withdrawal.
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the new york times reported trump had zero interest in keeping us troopsin afghanistan area i'm sorry, in iraq . back in2011 . there was very little effort that was the point where he abandoned them as he lost our influence inside of iraq area we lost influence with the government, we could mitigate those issues. then you had the rise of isis, then the rise of the iraqi operation mobilization forces who coincidentally went to her cook and served as the spearhead to oppress the kurdish forces so these problems just getting started with him. i don't want to defend president trump's decision. he is very rash and how he makes them and ultimately they have very bad results but we're looking at a decade of bad policy here. this didn't just occur in a vacuum. >> you think any of that had
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to do with who was running iraq at the time? you have now he was running the country at the time. there was no love lost quite there was very little political push to actually come to some type of agreement to keep a small us force, which ironically the obama administration while the putting back into iraq with the islamic state. that's what they wanted to keep in there. after themilitary wanted to keep in there was several thousand around 8 to 10,000 troops . with, to be able to combat the islamic state, to train iraqiforces, to provide surveillance, intelligence, things of that nature . >> i think we have time for, i keep on saying this. we have a little bit oftime left . >> rory gottman for mike, first congratulations on the bookwhich is terrific . secondly, can you discuss turkey's role in isis's rise. obviously they turned a blind eye to volunteers coming in but did they, knowingly allowed turkey into syria in
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your mind? you mentioned antiquities, mentioned the oil. the turks also allow arms to go in from turkey, where the accusations out there west and mark. >> this also gives me a chance to address something john said in his opening remarks that turkey deliberately helped isis. i don't know i'll ever use that word because i don'tknow if you can say clearly . there's two points, there's the foremost so the before mosul was open season for folks to come from your, use the turkish border and enter syria. and it sounds like turkish officials were playing with american officials about it's happening because first the fight is against aside, then it's against these extremists . after 2014, when isis took mcgurk, they also kidnapped a
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bunch of turkish factions in the city and turkey realized isis is a problem turkey to read but by that point it was almost too late. they had isis cells all over turkey. and you had the same criminal organization networks that were smuggling fighters and also oil and artifacts and always have been even before the civil war, it's just the way the turkey approached the war, whether those networks could become unstoppable at some point. >> i would add the way i think you need to say for sure what you can charge turkey with his gross negligence. . they had to fight with assad as their priority thanthe fight with the kurds became their priority . when erdogan was saying last
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week we are going to syria to destroy terrorism, he's talking about the kurds and the sts, he's not talking about isis and the conflation of that terrorism threat is really a way to show the way turkish policy has been lacking. so either by will or by ability, they have never successfully cracked down on isis networks allow transit and the fighters and also the black market economy that fueled isis to thrive. i haven't been to the border in two years so you have to take this with a grain of salt but i imagine they still exist and would continue to be a problem in this new instability. >> mike, what you say is it's also possibly a big reason for president trump's miscommunications with erdogan because he keeps saying i'm going to go in and take care of isis and trump to erdogan once to take care of isis. it's not necessarily isis is talking about. >> i wonder if it's missing
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medication because trump seemed to be touting turkish talking points last week where he said pkk is a greater please check my memory but i think it was something along those lines. i think there's an extent to which there's confusion in the white house judging by the statements, i'm not recording on white house deliberations but will from a what i see publicly and there's the extent of him being willing to hand this over to erdogan and accept erdogan's frames which are problematic and not challenged by state media in turkey . >> i was in the oval office and he said isis learned from the pkk. i think we can take one more question . i don't know where the mic went. we've got two minutes left for real this time. i have a gentleman in the front was been very kind , help me out. deb, do you want to screen. this young lady hasnot asked the question yet .
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>> i have questions so you can answerwhatever one you want . the first one is nato and the as/400. where there's anything going on with that and with the future of their role in turkey . syria, we haven't talked much about assad. what's his directiongoing to be coming up ? and on trump, do you think that trump anything out of this other than just being able to go to the voters and say i'm pulling out troops even though hehasn't ? is there anything specific that you think he got from erdogan west and mark and is there anything trump can do now to make things better? >> so for questions. two men, you have one minute 30 seconds. it is lightning round at this point. take whatever ones you want.
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>> i'll take the one with assad, he's certainly, the russian and iranian bailout of assad was brilliant and one thing we learned in that is that you don't have to play to counterinsurgency just by being a nice guy. the russians have proven it in the caucus area i think proven in syria that being for tile can also be effective. i'm not teaching that by any means but that's what we've seen. and i think so assad is reconstituting his forces. i expect the russians and iranians and the iraqi militia's have fought inside along with solo money, inside syria, i think we're going to start seeing them retake areas of in the north and northeast as well area and so this goes back to a policy thing. you saw brett mention that the goal originally was to
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out assad, that's not happening now and he's back in ascendancy. and if that was our political goal, we should have seen it through, not we had to expected outcomes such as this. >> lightning round, you want to address assad or what trump said? >> i think the definition is assad retaking control of the country. and with the help of his allies. i don't think there's any other outcome possible in syria. >> i wrote one piece in foreign affairsyou can read after i left . we should narrow our goals in syria to. the resurgence of isis, i think that's now much harder. and a potential threat to israel that did a lot to help with the israelis, other than that our ability to affect the course of events in syria , they're extremely limited and trying to do more, we're going to date a hole even deeper . >> a grim point and on what a great discussion read thank
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you all for coming area so you know mike is going to stick around to signcopies of his book for those of you who purchased them and thank you for joining us . [applause]
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>>. >>. [inaudible] >> the house is working on a number of small business bills today with votes later this evening. the senate will debate whether to allow north macedonia to join nato, a procedural vote to move that tree forward is set for530 eastern . the house is live on c-span, watch the senate you're on cspan2. canada holding national elections today thatwill determine whether justin trudeau will continue as prime minister . we join cdc news coverage and analysis of the results and that'stonight at night eastern .
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>> the house will be in order. >> for 40 years, c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events from washington dc and around the country so you can make up your own mind , created by cable in 1979, c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government . >> congresswoman eddie bernice johnson, a democrat of texas was also chair of the science -based and technology committee and she is a first-time guest on the communicators . madam chair,thanks for being with us . >> thank you for having me. >> before i get into some of the issues, some of the telecommunications and technical issues that your


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