Biden’s Syria Policy: We’re Staying

Biden’s Syria Policy: We’re Staying

As the U.S. is pulling troops out of Afghanistan and changing its mission in Iraq, a Biden administration official made it clear in comments to Politico that there are no plans to pull troops out of Syria.

“I don’t anticipate any changes right now to the mission or the footprint in Syria,” the official said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. There are currently about 900 U.S. troops in northeast Syria.

“In Syria, we’re supporting Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS. That’s been quite successful, and that’s something that we’ll continue,” the official said.

While the US claims its presence in Syria is to help fight ISIS, the region where U.S. troops are deployed is where most of the country’s oil fields are. The occupation keeps the vital resource out of the hands of the Syrian government, which is part of Washington’s economic warfare against the country.

The U.S. maintains crushing economic sanctions on Syria. The sanctions specifically target the energy and construction sectors, making it difficult for the country to rebuild after 11 years of war and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, the number of Syrians that are close to starvation is at 12.4 million, or 60 percent of the population.

On Monday, President Biden announced the U.S. “combat” mission in Iraq would be coming to an end, but U.S. troops will remain in the country. There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, and it’s not clear if any will be removed as Washington changes its mission to a strictly advisory one. Multiple media reports cited anonymous U.S. officials who said changes to troop levels in Iraq would be minimal. One reason the U.S. wants to hold on to its bases in Iraq is that they support the occupation forces in Syria.

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U.S. Ends ‘Combat Mission’ In Iraq, Continues Occupation

U.S. Ends ‘Combat Mission’ In Iraq, Continues Occupation

On Monday, President Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi agreed that the U.S. “combat” mission in Iraq will be over by the end of the year, but US troops will remain in the country in an advisory role.

“I think things are going well. Our role in Iraq will be…to be available to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with ISIS—as it arrives. But we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters alongside Kadhimi.

There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq under the umbrella of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition. It’s not clear if any troops will be pulled out of the country when the U.S. formally switches roles. A drawdown is possible, but the announcement is being interpreted as a symbolic one by most US media outlets.

The U.S. plan to formally change its role in Iraq was first reported last week. On Saturday, a report from The New York Times cited unnamed Pentagon officials who said the U.S. will remove a “small but unspecified number of the 2,500 American forces currently stationed in Iraq.”

Kadhimi has been under intense domestic pressure to get U.S. forces to leave Iraq since he came into office in May 2020. Earlier that year, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel U.S. troops after Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

More pressure has been on Kadhimi since Biden bombed Iraqi militias in Syria and Iraq last month. The U.S. carried out similar airstrikes in Syria in February. Considering the U.S. has been bombing Iraq for 30 years, there are many elements in the country that want U.S. troops to leave, and it is unlikely that changing the label of the occupation will placate them.

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President of Israel Labels Ben & Jerry’s ‘Economic Terrorists’

President of Israel Labels Ben & Jerry’s ‘Economic Terrorists’

On Wednesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog called boycotts against Israel a “new kind of terrorism” after Ben & Jerry’s announced it will stop selling ice cream in occupied Palestinian territories at the end of 2022.

Israeli officials are outraged at the American company’s decision, and Herzog railed against the Boycott, Divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) that promotes boycotts to hold Israel accountable for its occupation and war crimes against Palestinians.

“The boycott against Israel is a new type of terrorism — economic terrorism. Terrorism that seeks to harm Israeli citizens and the Israeli economy. We must oppose this boycott and terrorism of any kind,” Herzog said. “The BDS campaign does not pursue peace and seeks to undermine the very existence of the State of Israel. It is aiming its arrows at the Israeli economy.”

The Palestinian Authority, which welcomed Ben & Jerry’s decision, fired back at Herzog’s comments. “The occupation is terrorism itself. It is the worst kind of terrorism,” the PA Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked slammed Ben & Jerry’s decision in a visit to the ice cream makers factory in Israel. “Ben & Jerry’s International chose to suck up to terrorist and antisemitic organizations instead of being faithful to its Israeli licensee,” she said.

Shaked said Israel will enlist pro-Israel groups in the U.S. to boycott the ice cream company. Over 30 U.S. states have passed anti-BDS laws, and Israeli officials are calling on those states to enforce them against Ben & Jerry’s.

The reaction by Israeli officials to the decision by Ben & Jerry’s makes it clear that Israel is threatened by the boycott movement. The view of Israel is changing in the U.S., and more momentum is behind BDS than ever before. A recent poll found that 25 percent of Jewish American voters consider Israel to be an apartheid state.

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U.S. State Department Searching for Ways to ‘Support’ Cuban Protestors

U.S. State Department Searching for Ways to ‘Support’ Cuban Protestors

The State Department said Tuesday that the U.S. is looking at ways to “support” the Cuban people after anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of Cuba on Sunday.

In comments to reporters, State Department spokesman Ned Price downplayed the impact of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. “We are always considering options available to us that would allow us to support the Cuban people, to support their humanitarian needs, which are indeed profound. And they are profound because of not anything the United States has done, but from the actions and inactions, mismanagement, corruption of the Cuban regime,” he said.

President Biden has not moved to ease the sanctions on Cuba reimposed by the Trump administration. Included in those measures are restrictions on remittances, making it difficult for Cuban-Americans to send money home to their families. Companies like Western Union ended their money-sending service to Cuba due to the sanctions last November.

Price said the administration was still conducting a “review” of its Cuba policy when asked about the possibility of easing sanctions. When asked if he believes the remittance restrictions are contributing to the crisis in Cuba, Price said, “I have not seen a comprehensive study of it, so I’m not prepared to comment on that from here.”

Price went through the typical talking points of proponents of the embargo. He said there are exemptions for humanitarian goods. But study after study has shown, no matter how many exemptions, US economic sanctions still have a negative impact on the supply of food and medicine because it discourages companies from doing any business with the targeted countries.

In a sign that the Biden administration has no plans to change its Cuba policy, the U.S. voted against ending the embargo at the UN General Assembly. The U.S. and Israel were the only countries to vote against the resolution, demonstrating the widespread international support for lifting the blockade.

On Monday, President Biden released a statement throwing his support behind the protests. “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” he said.

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What Does the Biden-Putin Summit Mean for Russian Relations Going Forward?

What Does the Biden-Putin Summit Mean for Russian Relations Going Forward?

President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up talks in Geneva on Wednesday. Both leaders had positive things to say about the meeting, but the tensions between the U.S. and Russia were on display during press conferences that followed.

World leaders typically hold joint press conferences after summits, but Biden and Putin spoke to the media on their own. Putin spoke with reporters first and described the meeting as “constructive.”

“There has been no hostility,” Putin said. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.” At the same time, Putin made it clear that Moscow blames US hostility for the sorry state of U.S.-Russia relations.

Asked if U.S.-Russia relations have hit rock bottom, Putin Said, “It’s hard to say at the moment because all steps in regard to the deterioration in the Russian-American relations were not initiated by us and they were taken by the American side.”

One constructive agreement Putin said he reached with Biden was to return ambassadors to the other nation’s capital. Russia recalled its U.S. ambassador in March, after an interview aired where Biden said Putin is a “killer” who has “no soul.” In April, the U.S. ambassador to Russia headed back to Washington after the US imposed fresh sanctions on Moscow and expelled Russian diplomats.

“As for the return of ambassadors to their places of work—of the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, and, respectively, of the Russian to Washington, we agreed that this issue is resolved,” Putin said in Geneva.

During his press conference, Biden portrayed the meeting as a necessary step for the “self-interest” of the U.S. “It was important to meet in person so there could be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate. I did what I came to do,” he said. “This is not about trust. This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest.”

Biden repeated the typical talking points about Russia’s alleged human rights violations and warned of “devastating” consequences if opposition figure Alexei Navalny were to die in prison. “I made it clear to him that I believed the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia,” Biden said.

Putin and Biden released a joint statement on “strategic stability” that discussed arms control between the two powers. The statement reads: “The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Putin said he and Biden agreed to begin negotiations on the replacement of New START, which will expire in 2026. The joint statement said the U.S. and Russia agreed to begin nuclear talks in the “near future.”

Biden suggested future talks on “major strategic stability” but sounded less certain than Putin. He said the next few months will serve as a “test” to see if U.S.-Russia relations could improve.

“What is going to happen next? We’re going to be able to look back, look ahead, in three to six months and say, did the things we agreed to sit down and work out, did it work? Do we—are we closer to a major strategic stability talks and progress?” Biden said.

While Biden portrays Russia as the party that needs to take steps for better relations, the reality is, the US has been the aggressor. The question is if the U.S. will back off Russia and take steps towards arms control.

Biden said neither country has an interest in a “Cold War” and suggested Moscow might want better relations with the U.S. because of China. “Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. They are being squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power,” he said.

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House Members Demand Pentagon Give Israel an Extra Billion in Aid

House Members Demand Pentagon Give Israel an Extra Billion in Aid

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a letter to the Pentagon on Wednesday urging Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to give the Israelis more military aid after Israel’s Gaza bombing campaign. The effort was led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who was joined by 54 other members of the House.

The letter comes as Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is traveling to Washington, where he is expected to ask the U.S. for an additional $1 billion in “emergency” military aid, on top of the $3.8 billion Israel receives annually.

The letter reads: “We write to express our strong support for the Biden Administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s safety and security, including replenishing Israel’s stock of interceptors for the Iron Dome missile defense system and other important matters. We ask that you continue urgently engaging with Israel on this request, and that you please report to Congress regarding Israel’s needs as soon as possible.”

“Replenishing” the Iron Dome missile defense system is likely the excuse the US will use to give Israel more money. In reality, Israel could easily spend the additional aid on more bombs to drop on Gaza.

In the letter, the lawmakers pointed out that after the 2014 Gaza War, when Israel killed over 2,000 Palestinians, the U.S. gave Israel $225 million in “emergency” aid. They said the agreement that gives Israel $3.8 billion each year, known as the Memorandum of Understanding, says the US could hand over more money “following a major armed conflict involving Israel.”

The lawmakers sounded eager to help the Pentagon fulfill Israel’s request for more aid. “If Israel requests additional assistance, as contemplated in the MOU, please work closely with Congress to expeditiously fulfill this request.”

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NYT: U.S. Could Be Out of Afghanistan by July

NYT: U.S. Could Be Out of Afghanistan by July

According to a report from The New York Times, U.S. troops are expected to be out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, well before the September 11th deadline set by President Biden.

Unnamed U.S. officials told the Times that Washington’s allies are also expected to be out by July, although Germany is apparently struggling to keep up the pace. U.S. Central Command on Tuesday said the Afghanistan withdrawal process was about 16 to 25 percent complete.

The U.S. recently handed over Kandahar Airfield to Afghan forces. The Times report said that U.S. fighter jets and other military equipment will start leaving Bagram Air Base in the coming days. Last week, locals told Afghanistan’s Tolo News that the U.S. has shipping truckloads of scrapped equipment out of the Bagram Air Base, which is the largest US military facility in Afghanistan.

Because of the quicker withdrawal, the Pentagon is scrambling for ways to maintain influence and assets in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO both plan to continue supporting the Afghan government financially. The Times report said the approximately 17,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan are leaving alongside US and other foreign troops.

The Afghan military is almost entirely reliant on these Pentagon contractors to maintain their equipment, so Afghan officials are looking into hiring contractors of their own, which the U.S. would pay for anyway.

The Pentagon is hoping to reposition military assets into neighboring countries, but the U.S. has no basing agreements in the region. The U.S. might have to settle for launching reconnaissance missions or airstrikes in Afghanistan from bases in the Gulf after the pullout.

Pentagon officials said after the withdrawal, the U.S. would limit airstrikes in Afghanistan to “counterterrorism operations,” a definition that can be used loosely.

The U.S. wants to keep a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, which would require the Kabul airport to be secure from the Taliban or other militants. Hundreds of Turkish troops are currently guarding the airport, but it’s not clear if they will stay. The U.S. is mulling options to incentivize Ankara into continuing defending the airport. A diplomatic mission in Afghanistan could also be used to justify a small US troop presence.

Washington’s decision to pull out before September is likely an effort to avoid Taliban attacks on withdrawing troops. President Biden broke the U.S.-Taliban peace deal by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline. Earlier this month, Tolo News reported that the U.S. and the Taliban were in talks to get foreign troops out by sometime in July. In exchange, the Taliban would participate in a planned Afghan peace summit in Istanbul.

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Gaza Ceasefire to Take Effect Friday Morning

Gaza Ceasefire to Take Effect Friday Morning

On Thursday night, Israel’s security cabinet voted unanimously in favor of a ceasefire to end the Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza that has been raging since last Monday.

The ceasefire was brokered by Egypt and is set to take effect early Friday morning. A Hamas official told Reuters that Israel and Hamas will enter a “mutual and simultaneous” Gaza truce at 2 am on Friday.

According to Ynet, one Israeli official said the truce was an agreement on “quiet in exchange for quiet.” Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya reported that Egypt was sending monitors to Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza throughout Thursday. After 11 days of Israeli air raids in Gaza, at least 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children. Many residential buildings were also destroyed in the campaign. In Israel, at least 12 people have been killed by rockets fired out of Gaza, including two children.

News of Israel approving the ceasefire came a day after President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called for a “de-escalation.” Netanyahu appeared to reject Biden’s comments after the conversation and said he was “determined to continue” the Gaza operation. But now, it seems the campaign will wind down.

Israel had rejected an earlier truce offer from Hamas that was made last week through the Russian foreign ministry after only two days of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

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Amid Gaza Killings, Biden Approves $735 Million More Weapon Sales to Israel

Amid Gaza Killings, Biden Approves $735 Million More Weapon Sales to Israel

A report from The Washington Post revealed that the Biden administration approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel. Congress was officially notified of the sale on May 5th, less than one week before Israel began its latest bombing campaign in Gaza, which, so far, has taken the lives of over 200 Palestinians, including over 60 children.

A congressional aide told The Hill that the bulk of the $735 million deal is for Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which can convert unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions.

U.S. arms sales and military aid to Israel are nothing new, but the bombing campaign in Gaza is drawing more attention to this deal. There’s no chance Congress would move to block the sale, but some House Democrats are raising questions about leveraging such sales.

In light of the news, Rep. Ilhan Omar released a statement condemning the planned sale. “It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians. If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire,” Omar said.

While Omar is taking a strong stance against the sale, and other Democrats are voicing their concern, the view represents a super-minority in Congress, as most U.S. lawmakers staunchly support Israel. Progressives have called for the US to leverage military aid to Israel, and legislation has been introduced that would require more oversight concerning assistance to Israel, but these efforts have little support.

The Biden administration appears to have little interest in pressuring Israel to stop bombing Gaza. Within the past week, the US has blocked three UN Security Council statements calling for a de-escalation.

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Israel Vows Further Escalation in Bombing of Gaza

Israel Vows Further Escalation in Bombing of Gaza

Israel continued its bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip through Tuesday and into Wednesday morning as the death toll continues to mount. Gaza’s health ministry said early Wednesday that so far, at least 35 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, including 12 children.

Israel started bombing Gaza on Monday, which was framed as retaliation for rocket fire from Gaza that did minimal damage. After the first series of Israeli airstrikes targeted residential neighborhoods and killed 20 Palestinians, including 10 children, the rocket fire out of Gaza has stepped up. According to Haaretz, at least five Israelis have been killed.

The initial rocket attacks from Gaza were a response to violence against Palestinian protesters in occupied East Jerusalem who are demonstrating against planned evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that will make way for Jewish settlers. Amid the chaos, Israeli police stormed al-Aqsa mosque and fired rubber bullets and tear gas, wounding hundreds of Palestinians.

Israeli airstrikes on Tuesday targeted a 13-story residential building in Gaza. The building’s residents were reportedly evacuated before the strike, and Hamas responded by firing rockets towards Tel Aviv.

Israel shows no signs of seeking a de-escalation of the situation. The Jerusalem Post quoted an unnamed Israeli official who said Israel is not ready for a ceasefire. “There will be a ceasefire when we’re ready for it,” the official said. A report from Israel’s Channel 12 News said Israel declined an offer from Egypt to negotiate a ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel will step up the “might and frequency” of the attacks on Gaza. “We are in the midst of a campaign,” he said. “Since yesterday, the IDF has carried out hundreds of attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. We have taken out commanders, attacked a large number of their high-quality targets. It was concluded that we will increase both the might and the frequency of the attacks.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz also said Israel will continue bombing Gaza. “The purpose of the operation is to strike Hamas hard, to weaken it and to make it regret its decision,” he said. “Every bomb has an address. We will continue this in both the coming hours and the coming days. It’s hard to estimate how long it will take.”

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the military is launching a major offensive in Gaza using about 80 fighter jets, including F-35s. The IDF has named the offensive “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”

Over in the US, Biden administration officials have condemned rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, called for a de-escalation, but have failed to denounce or even mildly criticize the Israeli airstrikes that killed Palestinian children.

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An Honest General Admits the Goal: Permanent Hegemony

An Honest General Admits the Goal: Permanent Hegemony

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Wednesday that the “rise of China” threatens the U.S.’ status as the dominant global military power, warning that the world could be entering an era of “potential international instability.”

“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States essentially was the unchallenged global military, political and economic power. With the rise of China, that is changing and changing fast,” Milley told a graduating ROTC class at Howard University.

“The global order since the end of World War II—and for sure since the end of the Cold War—is under significant stress in areas of vital interest for the United States of America. And we are entering a period of potential international instability,” he said.

Milley’s comments reflect the Biden administration’s foreign policy priority, which is confronting China. President Biden recently said that the US was in competition with China to “win the 21st century.” Biden officials, most notably Secretary of State Antony Blinken, often claim Beijing is a threat to the “international rules-based order.”

As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley is the highest-ranking officer in the military. He is a hold-over from the Trump administration, which also prioritized countering China, especially in the last year.

Milley also said that there are threats to global stability due to new technology, like artificial intelligence, robotics, and hypersonic missiles. “And they are extraordinarily disruptive and potentially decisive in the conduct of war,” he said.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke of how new technology would affect warfare and said, “The way we’ll fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones.” Austin referred to his time as top military commander in the Middle East as his service in the “old wars.”

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The U.S. Coast Guard Caught Sailing…Along the Russian Coastline

The U.S. Coast Guard Caught Sailing…Along the Russian Coastline

For the first time since 2008, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter entered the Black Sea amid heightened tensions with Russia. The U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet said the USCGC Hamilton entered the waters on Tuesday.

The Sixth Fleet said the Hamilton made the transit “in support of NATO Allies and partners.” The U.S. frequently sends warships into the Black Sea, but this deployment comes at a sensitive time and is clearly meant to send a message to Russia.

The U.S. and its NATO Allies have been hyping Russian military exercises in the region. The Biden administration has expressed “unwavering” support for Ukraine and shipped military equipment to the country amid a stand-off between Kyiv and Moscow.

Russia took notice of the Hamilton and said its Black Sea fleet was monitoring the vessel. “The Black Sea forces and means have begun monitoring the actions of USCGC Hamilton, which entered the Black Sea on April 27,” Russia’s National Defense Control Center said on Tuesday. Russia’s Black Sea fleet also held live-fire exercises in the region.

Separately, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that U.S. and NATO actions in the region are the region for Moscow’s recent military drills. “The actions of the U.S. and NATO in the European region to increase the combat readiness of troops and strengthen their forward presence is contributing to an increase in military danger,” he said.

NATO forces regularly hold exercises in the Black Sea and are encouraging Ukraine to expand its military presence in the region. In February, Ukraine’s prime minister announced plans for new military bases in the region from NATO headquarters. One will be located on the Black Sea, and the other will be on the Sea of Azov, a waterway between Ukraine and Russia.

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