Trump’s Syria Move Sparks Uncertainty
Plus: Indigenous protests rock Ecuador, Pakistan’s leader heads to Beijing, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Confusion follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s shock announcement on Syria, indigenous protests paralyze Ecuador, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan heads to Beijing.
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What Will Happen in Northern Syria?
The unexpected announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump that the United States would reduce its troop presence in northern Syria to make way for a Turkish incursion surprised defense officials and appeared to leave Syria’s Kurds on their own. But it is not yet clear what the U.S. drawdown—or a Turkish invasion—will look like.
Senior Pentagon leaders unanimously opposed Trump’s decision, as FP’s Lara Seligman reports, and Kurdish officials told the Washington Post that they hope they can stop or delay the U.S. troop withdrawal. (Trump’s previous promises to withdraw troops have been met with similar resistance.) “Maybe the situation could still change,” one senior Kurdish official said.
What about the Islamic State? While the Turkish military poses an immediate threat to the Kurds, Kurdish leaders have warned that their efforts to hold off the Islamic State insurgency could suffer if Turkey invades. The Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have already relocated some fighters along the Turkish border. A U.S. official said Monday it expects Turkey to take charge of prisons holding former Islamic State fighters if the SDF withdraws.
Driving displacement. A Turkish incursion—as well as ensuing violence between Turkish and SDF forces—“would very likely displace large numbers of Kurds, who would head elsewhere in Syria or into Iraq,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, wrote in an email. “There are also large [internally displaced] populations in SDF-held areas who would be displaced anew if violence flares,” he added.
Rare Republican dissent. Trump’s shock announcement has been met with disapproval from Republican lawmakers—even after Trump adjusted his message on Twitter. Some of the president’s most vocal allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham came out against the move.
What We’re Following Today
Protests paralyze Ecuador. For the fifth day, thousands of indigenous protesters in Ecuador blockaded roads and crowded the streets of the capital, Quito, on Monday, to demand that President Lenín Moreno revoke last week’s decree to end longtime fuel subsidies. The protests also disrupted three state-run oil fields. Since the unrest began, 477 people have been arrested. An indigenous organization, CONAIE, says the protesters refuse to back down until Moreno withdraws the fuel hike. The movement has significant precedent: Indigenous-led protests forced three presidents out of office before ex-President Rafael Correa took power in 2007.
Khan meets Xi in Beijing. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan travels to Beijing today to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders are expected to discuss the security situation in disputed Kashmir as well as their economic relations. Some observers say progress on the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative—is slowing down as Pakistan’s economy struggles. Today’s meeting will cover the ML-1 railway, one of the CPEC projects that has stalled over funding.
Iraq reaches a breaking point. On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered the army out of the Sadr City district, where dozens of protesters were killed over the weekend amid the country’s ongoing violent unrest. The intensity of the demonstrations has surprised even some veteran protesters, as young demonstrators call for the government to be overthrown. A number of protesters even say they are ready for military rule, Pesha Magid reports for FP.
[In FP, Ahmed Twaij argues that the sudden firing of a popular general who led the fight against the Islamic State was the spark that triggered the outrage.]
Keep an Eye On
The world’s longest undersea tunnel. Chinese-funded plans for the world’s longest underwater rail tunnel—connecting the capitals of Estonia and Finland via the Baltic Sea—have hit a snag. In July, an Estonian official said the timeline for a Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel wasn’t realistic and raised security concerns about China’s involvement. The controversy reflects shifting European attitudes toward growing Chinese investment, Reid Standish reports.
The Zimbabwe doctors’ strike. Public doctors in Zimbabwe continued their month-long strike on Monday, defying a government order to return to work and rejecting a 60 percent pay increase. Under extreme inflation, the doctors say that is not enough and have demanded salaries pegged to the U.S. dollar. Already facing medicine shortages, Zimbabwe’s state hospitals are struggling amid the strike.
Greece’s refugee camps. With refugee flows from Turkey to Greece already increasing, Greek authorities are expanding transfers to the mainland from the overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands near Turkey. Officials plan to quickly establish new camps. With a likely Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria, officials expect the number of arrivals to Greece will keep rising.
The NBA kowtows to China. The NBA’s apology for the Houston Rockets general manager’s support of Hong Kong’s protesters is part of a broader trend of U.S. corporate submission to China, James Palmer writes. “China’s leverage in the United States has grown even as the country itself has slipped ever further into despotism,” he argues.
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Odds and Ends
An Israeli startup, Aleph Farms, has produced lab-grown meat in the International Space Station for the first time, using a 3D bioprinter to make a prototype steak. The company focuses on food security and environmental impact: “We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition,” the co-founder told the Guardian. Rabbis are still debating whether it is kosher.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has removed five of his young grandchildren from the royal house, meaning they won’t receive a taxpayer-funded annual allowance. (They will keep their titles as dukes and duchesses.) The move comes amid controversy over the cost of the growing number of official royals.
That’s it for today.
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