Primer: U.S. Escalates in Syria, Afghanistan and Other Things You Need to Know Today | News
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Primer: U.S. Escalates in Syria, Afghanistan and Other Things You Need to Know Today

Posted by on Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 8:24 AM

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Happy Monday, everyone. Let’s jump right into the news.

1. U.S. SHOOTS DOWN SYRIAN AIRCRAFT.

THE GIST: Yesterday, the U.S. military shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet that the Pentagon says had bombed local forces aligned with the Americans, which the Associated Press calls a “new escalation of the conflict.”
  • Nut graph: “While the U.S. has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight [the Islamic State] that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.”
  • Syria’s response: The Syrian military said a lone pilot was killed and the jet was carrying out an attack on ISIS. “The attack stresses coordination between the US and ISIS, and it reveals the evil intentions of the US in administrating terrorism and investing it to pass the US-Zionist project in the region.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Since civil war broke out in 2011, Syria has been the stickiest of foreign policy wickets. The regime is sadistic. The moderate opposition forces the U.S. has been backing haven’t been able to topple it. ISIS used the chaos to gain a foothold. The Obama administration threatened to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people in 2013, then backed off when Congress withheld support. President Trump launched missiles at a Syrian airfield after another chemical attack earlier this year; now, the U.S. military is shooting Syrian planes out of the sky. Keep in mind that the Syrian regime is backed by both Russia and Syria, so any escalation carries substantial risk of a much broader conflict.

WHAT'S NEXT: Two top White House officials are urging the administration to widen the war in Syria, according to Foreign Policy, seeing it as an opportunity to confront Iran’s proxy forces. So far, the Pentagon has shot them down.
  • Nut graph: “Despite the more aggressive stance pushed by some White House officials, [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis, military commanders, and top U.S. diplomats all oppose opening up a broader front against Iran and its proxies in southeastern Syria, viewing it as a risky move that could draw the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran, defense officials said.”
Related: More people were forcibly displaced in 2016 than ever before, even during World War II, in large part due to the Syria crisis.

Other international news: A man drove a van into a crowd leaving a north London mosque, killing one and injuring ten, in what authorities are calling a “terrorist attack.”
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2. DESPITE NEW TROOPS, NO CLEAR STRATEGY FOR AFGHANISTAN

THE GIST: Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have a version of this story today. The Post leads with a “flurry of setbacks in the war [that] have underscored both the imperative of action and the pitfalls of various approaches.” The Times, on the other hand, focuses on President Trump outsourcing decision-making to the Pentagon and hoping that more troops would allow him time to figure out what to do.
  • Nut graph, from the Times: “With a president who ran for office almost never having talked about the war, a coterie of political advisers who bitterly oppose deeper American engagement in it, and a national security team dominated by generals worried about the consequences if the United States does not act quickly, the decision could succeed in buying time for Mr. Trump and his advisers to fully deliberate over what to do in Afghanistan. But former commanders and military scholars said that in sending troops before having a strategy, Mr. Trump has put the cart before the horse, eroded the tradition of civilian control over the military, and abdicated the president’s duty to announce and defend troop deployments.”
  • Nut graph, from the Post: “But no new U.S. policy or troop numbers have yet been announced, reportedly because of disagreements within the Trump administration. They include arguments over whether sending more troops would make a decisive difference, how much NATO allies should contribute and whether the United States should pressure Pakistan to rein in Taliban insurgents believed to be operating from safe havens there.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Thousands more U.S. troops will likely soon find themselves shipped off to Afghanistan, part of a conflict that’s been raging for almost sixteen years. Yet there’s no strategy in place beyond a recognition that, in Mattis’s words, the United States is “not winning.”
  • Smart take: “It’s clear that the U.S. cannot win this war militarily. The Taliban insurgency seems to strengthen by the day, the Islamic State remains resilient, public anger is building, [and] Afghan troops are turning on their American trainers. … [The new U.S. policy] can’t come soon enough, but deploying a few thousand new troops will do little to shift the calculus on the ground.” —Michael Kugelman, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Related: Afghanistan might not be going well, but throughout the region, ISIS is losing ground.
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3. TRUMP LAWYER SAYS THERE’S NO OBSTRUCTION INVESTIGATION (SORT OF).

THE GIST:
On the Sunday-morning circuit, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow—head of the American Center for Law & Justice, which imagines itself as a sort of conservative ACLU—said the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction of justice, contrary to reports last week (and Trump’s own Twitter account). “The president has not been notified by anyone that he’s under investigation,” he told Fox News Sunday. But later on that program, he backed down, admitting that he couldn’t read special counsel Robert Mueller’s mind.
  • Key exchange: Chris Wallace asked Sekulow about Trump’s tweet last week attacking deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, whom the president said was investigating him for having followed Rosenstein’s advice to fire James Comey. Check out this exchange, in which Sekulow manages to talk himself into circles.
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Related: Two years after announcing his presidential campaign, Trump is struggling to keep his die-hard supporters engaged.
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4. GOVERNOR’S SCHOOL SEEKS TO AVOID SHUTDOWN.

THE GIST: The fifty-four-year-old Governor’s School of North Carolina—a summer program at Meredith College and Salem College designed for gifted high school students but threatened by the state Senate’s budget—began welcoming what it hopes won’t be its last class of students. The Senate has proposed eliminating the school’s $800,000 in state funding; the House proposes keeping the status quo, while Governor Cooper has called to increase funding to $1.2 million.
  • Nut graph: “Over the past eight years, the budget for the Governor’s School has either decreased or remained unchanged. In 2009, the school’s budget was cut from $1.3 million to $850,000. In 2011, the program nearly lost all funding before the General Assembly agreed to provide $800,000. Laura Sam, Governor’s School East site director at Meredith, said because funding has remained static for years while North Carolina’s population has grown, the program cannot match demand. The Governor’s School enrolled 670 students for the summer, but Sam said it received 1,796 applicants this year and more than 1,700 the year before.”
Related: The N.C. House and Senate are expected to unveil their compromise budget today and vote on it later this week.
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5. FIVE LOCAL HEADLINES.
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6. ODDS & ENDS.

Primer this week is sponsored by the Raleigh Flyers, the Triangle’s professional Ultimate Disc team. On Saturday night, they’ll be taking on the Jacksonville Cannons in their final home game of the regular season. Click the image below to purchase your tickets today.

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