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tv   Former Special Envoy to Defeat ISIS Brett Mc Gurk on National Security ...  CSPAN  October 21, 2019 10:22pm-11:41pm EDT

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hud secretary carson testify on programs. impact hooking at the offensive in cent syria. cgurk is a formal special presidential enjoy. he talks about the impact of the president's decision to withdraw the s from syria and implications for u.n. national security. he served in the president for obama and trump from 2015 to 2018. 1:15.is an >> welcome, everyone. i'm pleased to welcome you to marking the roggio's book.
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you can information find online our latest analysis nd subscribe to receive information on our latest research. this event is hosted by the and politicaltary power which seeks to promote understanding of the military strategies, c policies and capabilities to our threats while advancing american influence. members ur audience nonpolicy ow it's a institute. we're glad to be joined today by distinguished audience of diplomats, representatives from congress, the department of state, the pentagon, active military, and experts from the policy community. of course, the media. we encourage guests both here online to join us in today's conversation on twitter at fdd. way of housekeeping today's event is on the record.
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it's being live streamed and please silence your cell phones now. on a personal note i would like congratulate mike on his terrific new book. for those who have not read it, nationes is a gripping firsthand account of the rise and fall of isis. writing is crisp, clear and often jarring. meet the brave fighters on, read isis head until the end and you will find yourself grinding your teeth as and recounts his brush with i was i was suicide car bomber in the battle to reclaim iraq. you here please grab a copy of the book after today's panel if you've not already done so. i would also like to note while it's not safe to explicit -- say explicitly in the book he confirms much of what we've been saying here about the government turkey. in this book you'll read about he antiquities middle men and traffickers who all helped to facilitate isis activities from
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turkish soil. what we've nfirmed long known about the 565-mile border between turkey and syria. the erdogan government deliberately allowed that border remain porous. in short, the erdogan government in turkey did not exacerbate the crisis. in some ways it created it. this raises troubling questions about the recent decision by president donald trump to stand and allow for the turkish military to invade northern syria. fdr scholars engage in a robust debate about a range of issues. he majority here, although not all of us but the majority believe this was a strategic mistake. myself, i nly for believe the decision was tantamount to a green light for turkish military to engage in a harmful and dangerous peration in northern syria and an abandonment of our kurdish partners and the decision to on them is something that our allies in the middle east
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will not soon forget. that the to argue decision to partner with the pkk affiliated ypg was a mistake in first place. officials from the obama administration, and i suspect mcgurk, who i want to thank for joining us would ikely push back on this assertion. this is a debate i hope we hear more about today but in the reports of war crimes, cease-fire violations, isis prison breaks, israeli assad regime advances one gets a sense that new dangers lurk so in addition points in ng the key mike's book, today's conversation promises to cover a lot of ground. moderating today's event is salama. she's worked as a correspondent countries.an 50 she deserved as the baghdad 2014-2016, in om april she published a children's long journey home about a syrian boy whose family
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the orced to flee when civil war erupted. she currently covers the white house for the "wall street journal." vivian will introduce the rest of the panel. vivian, over to you. you so much. it's great to be here. ncluding with all these distinguished gentlemen. wo of whom i cross with in the middle east. mike and i covered the air spring together and brett and i had the aq and i pleasure of meeting bill today o it will be a great conversation for sure. and, we're here obviously celebrating mike's book but case you haven't heard, it's a bit of a timely newsssion, syria is in the today, and so you don't have a better collection of people to you may have and noticed i was staring at my phone during the introduction my colleague who is literally sitting in the cabinet room right now just alerted trump that he's willing to keep troops in syria
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oil.otect so, you never know what the news ill bring of the day, and so obviously, it's a fast moving story, a lot of moving parts, we really want to ask these gentlemen to kind of take get, you he beginning, know, a brief background on how wegot to this point and then can really dissect what's been happening right now and i'm sure are interested in that. mike, we'll start with you. congrats on the book. you.very happy for maybe just a brief recap of how all the reporters got to syria first place. what had taken place in the more civil war, of the with regard to isis, and maybe some of our allies. allies that we have there. >> so, actually, i had a big writing they editor book because they were saying this is a book about isis, start with isis. insisted on starting with egypt and the arab spring
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because that's really the this.ound for so is the iraq war but if you arab er in 2011, when spring protests started in egypt and syria, the obama winding down was the u.s. engagement in iraq and the protests were supposed to be this new way forwarder for america to engage in the middle were nd the protestors chanting american ideals, they were getting political support from the u.s. government and organizing on the tools of american, new american capitalism, so facebook, google, twitter, an droiz and iphones, and there was this moment that when we d i covered actually first met in 2011 in protestors on the street felt connected with americans, not just watching the protests on social media, on tv them, so engaging with liking the tweets, sharing facebook posts and it captured first term mindset that we can all just kind of sit
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andur computers and laptops like our way to a better world. obviously that wasn't the case, ended up ason that we in syria, to answer the question is because that's where the arab ended, and there were years of failed u.s. policy where, in he point 2014, syria was the worst civil possible of the ar, and you had an extremist group, new a news perspective and government focused erspective, we all tried to turn away and what happened was obviously, i'm sure the people in this room all know, the of al qaeda in iraq, old u.s. enemy during the iraq border come across the into syria and had used that reconstitute of and gain strength, and then they ad this horrible boomerang
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effect where they went back across the iraqi border in 2014 city of mosul aq which was a world changing event. > brett, you obviously were working for the government at the time. what was the response at the on the ground here when all of these events were this roundnd you saw of extremism spilling over the of iraq and syria? >> so i kind of got into this 2013. of it in when i was handling the iraq i was deeply concerned by the increasing numbers of assassinations, murders, suicide bombers, suicide bombers going from like al qaeda and iraq then migrated to syria and became isis, five a month or so 20, 30, 40, 50 a month, and when you have that going on nd that was happening in 2013 it just reps apart any fabric of
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society, particularly a very fragile one. i was concerned in 2013, we did not have the intelligence overhead. we did not have society, the information. testified about this in congress in the fall. and all these guys, suicide bombers, most of them were jihadists who were coming from all around the world and as ng into syria, jonathan said they were coming through turkey. spent a lot of time in turkey in 2013. look, i love the country of turkey. turkey.great erdogan is the leader of turkey but he's not going to be there turkey has a think brighter future but let me tell you about these conversations in 2013. why was i in turkey a lot in 2013? reasons, one of which was iraqi oil revenue from iraqi kurd stan was going into the halt a k, and that might be concern for u.s. officials. we used to discuss that quit a
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bit with the turks. look, all of these jihadists are coming in through are you goingwhat to do about this? the answer was that's the second war. of assad and then those guys. my response was it sounds to me ike you're raising baby crocodiles in your basement. eventually you're going to have a lot of big crocodiles. in any event this kept on going, and mike's document is awesome, should read it, this war against isis was a vicious, brutal street by street war. and no one should be mistaken by that. 2014, fallujah falls to isis. fall of until the mosul and i was in iraq at the just and again, it was hard to know what was going on. i was walking into a meeting one night, nt obama in which i got an urgent call iraqi security official
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that baghdad was falling and it was hard to tell. event, in the summer of 2014 is where it was decided we concerted e a very effort to push back and that's hen we developed a campaign, which i think we'll discuss. but, that was kind of the sweep it, just starting where i came into it. >> i remember that time when about iraq worried falling, baghdad falling, because i was in baghdad getting calls saying baghdad has fallen from my editors in new york. forally, i think we're okay now but there was the fear of it because they were on the edge of a very and it was dangerous situation. us about how isis how it becamegth, this powerful so-called caliphate from just an extremist group? >> sure. the islamic state or isis, it
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emerge in a vacuum. it was the remnants of al qaeda obviously the iraq war. the surge.nducted by 2009 it was driven out of territories in central, and western iraq, that it controlled and it was perceived that al qaeda in iraq, which was also called the islamic state, making it more was defeated. but they weren't. underground. they hustled their forces, they of ered, organized, tens thousands of fighters from that conflict escaped, and then you had an iraqi government that was corrupt. letting people out of prisons. things of that nature. but was feeding from that i remember watching a video and i want to say it was late 2011, al qaeda in iraq, convoy, and arge ake over the town in anbar
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rovince, a town between ramadi and fallujah. i remember thinking this is extremely disturbing. this happen three years later. out of a c state came dispute between al qaeda, between al qaeda central and -- just basically a turf war etween baghdad, the -- now the head of the islamic state and al al qaeda forces in syria, qaeda wanted there to be separate entities, one in iraq syria. in baghdady said no, we should be fighting together. kind of looktates, at them this might be overly implistic but they are the hardliners of the jihadists. to them it's their way or the highway. islamic state, if you don't -- you're an apostate to them. al qaeda, they kept this, let's work with other
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groups. with elementswork of the syrian insurgency, and it's a more subversive way. hooks in and wind up converting individuals to their cause. the t the end of the day islamic state came from the ailure to defeat al qaeda in iraq, when the u.s. with drew 2011. by december the islamic -- al qaeda in iraq and lready reorganizing starting to conduct small scale ttacks by 2012, you had assassinations. you had prison breaks which expand elped the group kadri its experienced back in. hen they started -- the syrian civil war was a major -- they were able to reorganize inside syria. ecause remember, we actually killed, it was one of the few special forces raid, killed a i think it was in 2007, u.s. conducted a special forces
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syria.n so al qaeda in iraq, didn't just say, let's cross the border. had an active network there as well and with the syrian ivil war breaking out, that really, that was just the match that lit the fire and you couple withdrawal and the u.s. leaving, abandoning, look, there is a lot of talk today we abandoned the kurds, this isn't the first abandonment. from he u.s. with drew iraq they abandoned kurdish allies in the north. succumb to the pre additions of the iraqi government and the popular militia ion forces, backed militias. -- but we lost this intelligence. >> it was a slower -- >> sure. by tweet 't policy with the trump administration. a obama administration had more clever and deliberate withdrawal but it was a
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ithdrawal and abandonment nonetheless. these were ally that is we built up. we say 11 kurds died. hundreds of thousands of iraqis alunteered to fight theis -- qaeda in iraq, and died during these fights. others to address that point as well, but before we get into that, maybe, mike, a little bit about the other parties. we keep hearing about the kurds allies on the ground right now but obviously there are a lot of fighting forces this re allied to in us fight in both iraq and syria. if you could just give us a walk through of that. >> as john mentioned in his introduction, you know, one half focused on isis and how it worked and why people were.d it and who they and how it was able to fund and support itself. is other part of the book based on years of different forces coming together as the effortforce for the u.s. against isis. so we had the kurds in syria,
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to remember they lso fight with arab bat battalions, so, you know, turkey has problems particularly with kurds but that was a multiethnic force in the end, we had the iraq, kurdish -- i was really alarmed actually, a tweet that trump last week that showed he didn't understand the difference between the kurds in northern iraq and syria. nuance, derstand that if you're a regular news consumer, fine, but if you're the commander-in-chief and directing this policy i think that's extremely alarming, ecause the difference is actually vast. >> so the tweet, i assume the tweet you're talking about was iraqhe made a reference to going after the kurds in syria. the numberon plating of different groups and also a number of different incidents. impressive, is so thought the end stages of the
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war against isis was how many ifferent forces had come together. we had the kurds in northern iraq, and you also had the iraqi military, and in particular, the protagonists are the iraqi operations forces and their elite bat battalion into elsewhere and these guys have been fighting with the americans since 2005. they are the troops that do the u.s. special operations forces and special of es, and do the work rolling out isis networks. ome of the guys i was in humvees with in mosul, had been alongside the americans since 2005. nonstop war.lmost and the -- i remember, just there is a sense now, it was always going to be a disaster. t's something i always kind of feel emanating out of d.c., the obama administration used this line of reasoning to argue that could not have done better in syria.
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it was always going to be a mess people look at problems with them and say it was all going to be a mess anyway. the lly don't think that's case. i remember, just like a little antidote to show how unique it it did come together, i was with iraqi special forces convoy to get to the battle from mosul and we passed through checkpoint and i got chills down my neck because to imagine which had two sides been enemies in the past, were somehow cooperating and the i was with, they were using very bad kurdish to officers, this warm agreeing, like welcome to our territory to fight isis was ctually really a special moment. and i think we should understand hat to kind of grasp the loss of the policy now. >> i want brett to kind of walk bill's gh, addressing point about the withdrawal in versus what we've seen today, can you take us back to
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withdrawal that took place versus maybe today you can kind of get us started on the present. -- is ld you compare here a comparison, and, yes, or, no can you explain. in syria tastasized into the calderon civil war. speaking ople like -- to 60 million muslims once a week saying it's your religious pour into syria. i think, where bill and i would agree is the united states needs to be very careful. the presidents need to be very set nationale they security objectives. assad n you say in 2011, must go, that changes everyone's it created like a fever in the region. nd the amount of foreign jihadists and foreign fighters pouring into syria, the amount else pons and everything led to a lot of this. and i just don't think we can
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that.nt when that policy was set, the eath toll in syria was less than 2,000 which was tragic but nothing like what we've seen since. think you can compare in any way the syria withdrawal to what we're seeing now. it's completely different. as i private citizen. brought back late in the summer to try to salvage an extension of the sofa. could have done an exchange of notes which i at the time. wouldor political faction stand up. robust postwithdrawal iraq policy which i don't think fully panned out. getting to where we are now because i think it's important to put it on the table with the we got involved with the syrian kurds. documents this in his book. if anyone here has been involved
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army, and raising coalitions to go fight a brutal it's really hard work. nd what we wanted to do, iraq was one thing, iraq was a little easier, extremely difficult but and aworking with an army government and we had extensive relationships, what we wanted to take elements of the syrian opposition and work with turkey and others to build that would fight isis. nd we invested hundreds of millions of dollars and mike was leading this effort, mike and you would hear, i have 5,000 men and we're ready to fight. great 5,000, get them to our base on this date and it would turn out there would be like 20. happened over and over again, or the forces that we wanted to work with were so extremists that our military repeatedly said there
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is no way we can work with these people. repeatedly.d we delayed the counterisis over a for probably year. the rocket battle, because we reading ry, i've been about all of these roads we traveled, we traveled all these to nowhere.re roads so the way we met the syrian -- s was in the battle of cobani. the entire border to turkey was isis.lled by if you take a look at a map in it was all black. it's surrounded by thousands of to take ters about town. i'll remember this in the fall of 2014. it's going to fall. assessment, it's going to fall. we have own fell, nothing, no traction in syria nd we would still have a caliphate today. it was our relationships with the iraqi kurds who called us some ofcalled me up and our military people up and said, we know some of the fighters who
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in cobani. out there aren't many left. they are surrounded, about to we're in touch with them, would you like to be in touch with them? eah, you're damn right because we want to try to defeat isis. the fighters in cabani told us drop of some air weapons and they needed some air support and they still didn't think they could hold out but we organized this through northern iraq, we did the air drop of weapons, which had to go all the to president obama, and it was most interesting about this is general allen and i kind of the cabani effort in at the time, the broader pkk turkey conflict was the at the turks call solution process. it was in a process of talks, of knew the kind wpg. wpg, the political mbrella -- i think mike was in turkey, we supplied the battle through turkey. so there is a lot of history
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after the cabani ittle that lasted 4-5 months was a turning point against isis. the death toll for isis, i don't ant to get into but it was devastating in that battle. okay, n then, we said, you guys stay in cabani, we're to try to work with the syrian opposition and it didn't work. > you have these guys saying they are all bad news. >> this is the fact of the matter. turkey s an election in in 2015 in which the largely an umbrella t's party, hdp, did better than erdogan expected and he canceled those elections and the pkk war -- 2015 when it got complicated. much of this has to do with six.gan's poll what we did with turkey, we'll
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do everything with you to rotect your border, we can do joint operations, all sorts of things to protect your border. antidote e one more because after the battle of cabani, there is a town to the are now ch the turks attacking, these are towns no one has heard of. the main supplier for isis. it's on a highway that goes right to raqqa. flatbed trucks, fighters, weapons, munitions, the board documentspen and mike this. he was there. that board crossing had to be shut if we were going to defeat siaia -- isis.s >> we went to obama, you guys border take care of this crossing. nothing was done. you have the mexican border, you it.t fully control you can't control this board. of e built a coalition syrian arabs and kurds to take
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it was a crossing and significant steppingstone to caliphate.the isis as soon as they took that the turks sealed the border with a wall. history is a lot of here that i think has to be gotten right. isis ld not have defeated had we not taken these steps. and even after that, we told we're uys, stay there, going to work with the fsa and try and go that route and simply here was no traction, nothing there to work with. >> i see mike wants to say something. about the d distinction between the kurds. diverse.s in syria are but the kurdish political party at militia that controls the areas that the u.s. was working in syria, are a branch of the pkk in turkey. is a k in turkey separatist group that's labeled a terrorist organization by the and d states government they have had on and off insurgency in southeastern turkey since the 1980s which is that the the fact kurds in turkey like in syria,
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iraq, and iran have been repressed.ly so that's the root of all of this that the u.s. will have to eal with when they start working in the region. i actually met the kurdish in late 2013.yria this is before anybody was fighting isis except them. -- i got a call, you know, civil war is like fading headlines, in the u.s., spring a, and the arab is dead. we just had the massacre in cairo and the counterrevolution, assad had just launched his first known chemicals weapons obama had refused to enforce the red line he had laid out. sort of period, the fighting in extremist group that would eventually call itself isis, so isis ere already fighting by the time the u.s. got interested. this is before mosul. to meet i went out
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them, it was clear that they are pkk franchise and something distinct. every time you go into a wpg larger ters you see a than life-size photo of the leader of the pkk, who was in an coast of son off the turkey. i asked one of the founding him, s of the ypg, i told every time i go to washington, i get question, what is the ypg andnship between the pkk? hat should i tell 2 the nextster who asks me? i spent 15 years on -- in iraq leadership is based and when the war in syria started i came to syria and i wpg.ted the a simple thing for him but at the same time, the ypg during met, like rank i and file members of the ypg and farmers, who had literally enlist add many or two previously. had never held a weapon before. so you had this kind of difficult relationship with turkey from the beginning but also the fact that it wasn't pkk either. that's the contradiction in the policy, that was tough to iron
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out. and just to kind of add to brett's point about turkey, so i'm seeing now in the debate about what's appening in trump's move this conflict between the turks and the wpg because of the pkk inevitable.was it's really important to remember that, until the 2015 june 2015, i lived there for five years this election was obscure, it was a for me for all the turks that i know. it's the moment that turkey it's really quick slide to -- what happened was, erdogan pkk government had been in talk with the pkk. there was an openness with the turkey and they were hosting ypg leadership to discuss, maybe they could be alliance or have an understanding in syria again. he kurdish led political party in turkey won more than erdogan expected in that election and they denied him an absolute and he saw this in his way of seeing the world as some
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offense, or like grave nsult and from a political calculation he understood if they continued to get that share of votes in elections, that he be in big trouble because he does not command a majority of the population. he's never gotten in elections more than 50% of the vote, or not in recent years anyway. of the launch pads for turkey, all of a sudden, restarting the war in the pkktern turkey with and then these relationships deteriorating. we just need to keep in mind so much of this is rooted into toward own slide dictatorship. there was a point when erdogan was willing to work with these could have been with more u.s. efforts from the top level, you know, a way for them again.rk with erdogan, the government shot down a russian fighter jet, i in 2015 or 2016. now they are seen as allies. ability to come to term with groups that they have been opposed to before.
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>> that last point, that's what didn't calculate. we look at 2015 and say, prior to 2012, the, can you were with them, talking to them now, there was no settlement so there was really this could on that change on a dime. we have to remember about the marxist a radical group. a friend of mine basically maoists. them to oppress women and children into military service. we aren't talking about the kurds, the kurds that are our real allies. we're talking about something not every german soldier was a nazi yet they fought for the germ government to keep that, individual soldiers and their fighting hen they are for a group that's pushing an ideology, we have to keep that well.ntext as >> do you think our alliance, mike, please jump in, do you upsetour alliance somehow the chemistry, because you're
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aying, that turkey obviously views the pkk, they see them as an existential threat to their country. they had -- >> somehow disrupt the chemistry of the region. >> yeah, i think so. i think that you know, again, that we had to make that calculation, nothing was settled. so they could always turn, and, that e point i do think turkey started looking at the .s. alliance with the wpg/pkk as a threat to it. i mean, we've seep relations between the u.s. and turkey over the last several years. and it's become more of a partnership a nato at this point. erdogan and his definitely view the u.s. arming, support and political wpg as a n of the significant threat to its national interests. both to comment because i want to get to the present, too. >> i just have a quick point.
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the nazi comparison saying anyone fighting for just point out, i really want to be clear, a in syria, f the pkk they do have different aims so wpg in fighting for the syria is fighting to get isis out of their territory and they level ofg to find some autonomy. they are not exactly fighting in turkey although there is some cross pollination of the groups as i mentioned. yes, respond to that, absolutely. i think one of our mistakes was effort, or none that as visible to get the ypg to denounce -- to reject the ideology, to become more palatable to the turkish government. individuals who aren't just -- not all of the fighters rabid pkk followers, but when they push them in that
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direction, you she is have to someone joins the military, we saw this with al qaeda in iraq, they were very doing this. the taliban -- once you get people in your ranks they work indoctrination so that farmer who comes in today may just be fighting for freedom and to get rid of the islamic state but they are also sitting there listening to, sermons, to the whatever you want to call it, indoctrination by the pkk, you handlers as well. >> so the forces here grew to 60,000 syrians. that doesn't just happen. if these are just a bunch of people, it sts wouldn't just happen. we've had multiple u.s. personnel rotate through syria, the same ome out with story. nd even the distinction was drawn by a senior turkish official, they are syrian, when conflict turkey pkk was going on in southeast syria, fighting isis going south. they weren't crossing the board.
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the facts really matter here, cross border attacks. we've had no evidence at all of any weapons provided to these making their way into syria. in fact, we didn't provide them ny weapons until the trump administration came in and let me just, one thing, when we had a transition to the trump they came ion, when in, we had a very professional transition. -- t with mike flynn during before the inauguration, we laid everything out. kilometers t 30 north of raqqa. are we estion was how going to do raqqa? and we paused. nd president obama passed that decision over to trump. because there were three ways -- four ways to do it. russians do it. we could do it on our own, which is going to be very costly. could arm the ypg, a decision that had not been made yet, or develop a plan with turkey which had been developed in the obama administration, which would have require tens of thousands of american troops and a hodgepodge of opposition
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so ps and turkish military we looked at that whole thing and paused for almost 4 1/2 massive d did a strategic review and we sent our best military planners to turkey the operation with the turks. we literally, 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. 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 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.
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would 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 campaigned on the fact that he was going to withdraw u.s. troops not just from syria, but all the wars. he says he doesn't like endless wars. those of you just tuning into syria news may not realize that it's withdrawal 2.0 because he
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tried to december. that's when defense secretary mattis resigned. brett followed him out because they did not agree with decision. 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 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
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launch operations from iraq. but that all could change tomorrow. he could pull troops out of iraq within the next 6 months. i can't predict where u.s. in syria isaq or going to go forward or afghanistan or any other place. 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 a 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 he is taking on the mantra of in the endless wars which years ago was a hard left or it was a statement made by obama, obama administration officials. we are looking, i think he's to -- he's true to that. i think he wants to withdraw. i i think he's doing it, he's
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encountering a lot of opposition within his own administration. they don't want to carry out the policies that he 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] >> i don't think anybody thought that u.s. troops should remain indefinitely in syria, but i do think there is a sense that they need to remain long enough to stabilize parts of iraq and
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syria where 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, stuff 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 there was up to 18,000 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 in cells in the long term. as understand your special operation forces and green berets were in effort with ypg counterterrorism units to train
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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 e, we're seeing a really chaotic worst-case scenario withdrawing chaos. >> right. >> 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 go into all the time.
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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. if you go to the history that's exactly what happened. 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
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something about oil and is not possible for us to exploit those oil resources unless we want to be oil smugglers and that's the something the united states i think it is into. i'm not sure what he has in mind. i've seen this movie before. it's like the second version of the movie, it is worse than the we were not keep a small price first. and some with abandon host of our positions. 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 town, 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.
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i think it is shameful. i think it will get worse, and just finally i know i'm over 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
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the mics. i think they are going around in the back. can you introduce yourself and then ask your question? i am a reporter from 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., saudi arabia, and turkey on natural alliance and now we're turning to the natural pattern of it seems very different from the cold war but would any of you want to elaborate or respond to his claims? >> yes.
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i debated mike on this in new 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 talked 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 -- declaring 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 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 are the maps he has shown for
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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 needed 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 very more rickety influence. the worst and yet processes, whether ricky have say -- i
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don't think you'll see a putin style annexation of territory thing 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 trump any other priorities? was oil something that was raised? was he 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 out. 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
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which i think is a very critical interest. i've never heard donald trump to anything like that. in fact, he precipices the russians or anyone else can do 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. when it 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
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think he has much of a significant concern for the oil thing. it's a complex matter. i worked on this with 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 inside 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 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 they coming under further pressure?
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and's the future with them rdogan? is there 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 would not see them conducting a merger with the pkk. i'll leave the first question to mike. just in terms of the pressure that the kurds in northeastern syria are coming under erdogan, is it in help of any kind of settlement between them? >> great question. i would just note, i think the real scenario now we're watching
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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 and iranian allies and maybe even being at their 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 -- is 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 the subject of crackdowns otherwise. assad alliance a 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. they had an understanding
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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 best case scenario given the chaos. that seems have most potential to spare these areas some turkish mom bartman. -- 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 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
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that we make clear we have nothing to do with the safe zone, and erdogan is meeting putin tomorrow. this is what it gets very conflicted 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 couple more questions. the washington times. brett, you mentioned this situation is going to get much 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
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about 200,000 displaced people. you have isis escaping from prison. i think the ability of the united states to hold the sdf intact, 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 on iraq. let me say this, just in the middle east. i think iraq will come under tremendous pressure. the iranians are facing another nuclear deadline. this can spiral into a broader regional conflict because the iranians under tremendous pressure.
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i also think they feel an edge on the united states right now as the world sees americans basically ushered out of syria. i think, look for iran to try to poke a little bit. that's expected in the region, if and how we respond will be an open question. the fact that isis caliphate is defeated, we forget what's happening, that's why everybody should read mike's book. mike sees the number of foreign terrorist fighters in the area but also the seams in singe are and the enslavement of women and 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 -- trump during his election
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mongered about isis and refugees and muslims and played off the fears of terrorist attacks as part of his political campaign and he played some role in him getting elected so the idea that trump 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.
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>> we're a little over but one last question right here from my colleague, michael cornyn. hi, 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 do this and presumably, the concept is to export it to the krg because there's nowhere else can it can go. you said you look at this with secretary tillerson. what are the impediments to doing this, what are the technical obstacles in doing this? why do you think this is not a feasible approach? >> again, i was working this with tillerson. i will let him speak to it. 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
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like it or not by the syrian state. that doesn't mean sdf can't help exploit it and make some revenue off of it 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 development once the civil war concluded. that was possible. the russians weren't really open to that and i think they would be even less so now. but again, maybe their new lawyers but it was just illegal for an american company to go and seize and exploit these assets. this is the problem of not having a national security process.
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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 is going to exploit it, that raises serious legal implications and 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 are now 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 events in syria. that influence has 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. this is not deliberate policy. these are spasms and i don't think they have seriously considered the implications of this. and as we are leaving syria and giving up all this space and territory, to announce that stay in an going to
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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 the tapestry that had been working pretty well starting last year. >> i'm informed we have a little bit more time so there are more questions to take. yes p.m. may: -- yes? name? your and 2017, you campaigned for -- to hold -- you said we now so the money was in the -- so what made you change now to
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partner with donald trump ? one more thing. you know what bothered me since october 16, 2017. you said you're going to watch into ca-- to roll and that was bad. >> i never said such a thing. but let me -- thank you 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. >> to be clear, the referendum in iraq. >> yes. understanding the kurdish and all the different kurdish parties. and a lead up to that referendum , first as u.s. policy you
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considered 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 going to come in to save the day. that -- save the day. that was the concern and if
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anything i think the story and what we're seeing right now demonstrates that was right. back in those days, this is the thing about president trump. he's like an empty vessel that everybody 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 i was representing u.s. policy. 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. "the new york times" reported trump had zero interest in
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keeping us troops in afghanistan -- keeping u.s. troops in afghanistan area i'm sorry, in iraq back in 2011. 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 in 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. >> do you think that any of that had 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
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-- no love lost. there was very little political push to actually come to some type of agreement to keep a 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 the military wanted to keep in there was several thousand around 8 to 10,000 troops. to be able to combat the islamic state, to train iraqi forces, to provide surveillance, intelligence, things of that nature. >> i think we have time for, i keep on saying this.
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we have a little bit of time left. rory gottman for mike, first . congratulations on the book which 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 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 -- helped isis. i don't know i'll ever use that word because i don't know 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 europe, use the turkish
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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 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 than the fight with the kurds became their priority. when erdogan was saying last 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 across the border that allow
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transit and the fighters and also the black market economy that sort of fueled isis to years thrive. you i have not been to the turkish-syria 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. out,dent trump tweets to take care of isis. it's not necessarily isis is -- isis he's talking about. i wonder if it's missing medication because trump seemed to be touting turkish talking points last week where he said pkk is a greater threat. so please check my memory but i think it was something along those lines. i think there's an extent to
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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 and not challenged internally by an independent 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 who has been very kind, help me out. deb, do you want to screen. this young lady has not asked the question yet. i have three questions so you can answer whatever one you want. the first one is nato and the as-400.
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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 direction going to be coming up? and on trump, do you think that trump got anything out of this other than just being able to go to the voters and say i'm pulling out troops even though he hasn't? is there anything specific that you think he got from erdogan and is there anything trump can do now to make things better? >> so four questions, two men. you have one minute, 30 seconds. want. -- it is lightning round at this point. take whatever ones you want. 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 fight a counter- insurgency by just being a nice guy. the russians have proven it in
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the caucus area i think proven volatile can being 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 . so this goes back to a policy issue as well. brett mentioned that the goal originally was to oust 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. we had to expect
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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 affairs you 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 dig a hole even deeper. >> a grim point and on what a great discussion. thank you all for coming. so you know mike is going to stick around to sign copies of his book for those of you who
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purchased them and thank you for joining us. [applause] ♪ ," livehington journal everyday with the news and policy issues that impact you. coming up tuesday morning, florida republican congressman ted yoho joins us to talk about the trump impeachment inquiry in syria. then the latest on the house mpeachment efforts, and a discussion of how u.s. troops are being used in syria and saudi arabia with defense news arun mehta. be sure to watch c-span's "washington journal." join the discussion. ♪ facebook ceo and cofounder mark zuckerberg wednesday on his cryptocurrency project at a house financial services committee hearing. that is live at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span three, online
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at c-span.org or listen live with the free c-span radio app. >> democratic presidential buttigieg,mayor pete is interviewed by president obama's chief of staff. [applause] [cheers] thank you.gieg: mayor, welcome back. you were here in february before you actually became an official candidate. i see you are playing bigger rooms now. mayor buttigieg: seems that way. >> do you ever stop and say to yourself, how did this happen? mayor buttigieg: a little bit. >>

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