Stories by David L. Phillips

Expert Voices

Rushed Syria retreat undermines U.S. interests and betrays allies

Syrian Kurds demonstrating in the northeastern Syriai on December 28, 2018, against threats from Turkey to carry out a fresh offensive following the US decision to withdraw their troops.
Syrian Kurds demonstrating in Qamishli, Syria, on Dec. 28, 2018, against threats from Turkey to carry out a fresh offensive following the U.S. decision to withdraw troops. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

Last month, President Trump announced the immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Then he backtracked, declaring that the U.S. withdrawal is contingent on benchmarks set by national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo: destroying ISIS and security guarantees for the Kurds in Syria. Now, the current course is unclear.

Why it matters: Although U.S. forces cannot stay in Syria forever, withdrawing them too hastily could create a vacuum for ISIS to fill. While Turkey has pledged to fight ISIS, Erdogan's agenda is eradicating Kurds, whom he calls "terrorists." If Turkey attacks, many Kurds would be killed or displaced.

Expert Voices

After Syria strikes, time to renew diplomacy

building rubble in Damascus
Wreckage of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound north of Damascus, a target of the missile strikes. Photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

In response to the recent chlorine bomb attacks in Douma, President Trump ordered missile strikes on three facilities used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to produce and store chemical weapons. Rather than destroy Syria’s extensive chemical weapons infrastructure, Trump sought to demonstrate international resolve and deter future use.

Yes, but: These were limited and surgical strikes at the insistence of cautious Pentagon planners, including Defense Secretary James Mattis. Strikes did not target Assad’s broader war-making capability or seek to advance the goal of regime change. They also avoided Russian and Iranian casualties, which could have escalated the conflict.

Expert Voices

In new incursion, Turkey orchestrates rushed extraditions from Kosovo

Students of Mehmet Akif College demonstrate against the arrest of their teachers in Pristina on March 29, 2018.
Students of Mehmet Akif College protest the Turkish arrest of their teachers in Pristina, Kosovo, on March 29, 2018. Photo: Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty Images

In the latest example of Turkey's brazen expansionism into Kosovo, it secured the extradition of six Turkish teachers it has accused of belonging to the Gulen movement, which President Erdogan blames for the failed 2016 coup. Kosovo's Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has since fired his interior minister and intelligence chief for deporting the Turkish nationals without his knowledge.

Why it matters: Transparency and the rule of law are necessary for Kosovo to gain greater global recognition. But Turkey continues to treat Kosovo like a vassal state, impinging on its sovereignty while expanding its cultural and commercial influence inside its neighbor's borders.

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