Leading Democrats blast Trump over ‘sham ceasefire’ in Syria | The Times of Israel

Posted October 18, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Leading Democrats blast Trump over ‘sham ceasefire’ in Syria | The Times of Israel

Pelosi and Schumer say deal with Turkey benefits Islamic State, Assad regime, Russia and Iran; some Republicans also criticize the move

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, right, speaks with members of the media alongside Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York after a meeting with US President Donald Trump, October 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, right, speaks with members of the media alongside Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York after a meeting with US President Donald Trump, October 16, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The two top Democrats in Congress on Thursday bashed a five-day truce that the US brokered with Turkey to halt violence on the Syrian border.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the agreement was a “sham ceasefire” that showed that US President Donald Trump is “flailing.”

The US, Turkey and Kurdish forces agreed Thursday to the deal to stop the Turks’ attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria and allow the Kurds to withdraw to roughly 20 miles away from the Turkish border. The arrangement appeared to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the weeklong conflict.

After more than four hours of negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, US Vice President Mike Pence said the purpose of his high-level mission was to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion of Syria, and remained silent on whether the agreement amounted to another abandonment of the US’s former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American forces from the area.

US Vice President Mike Pence meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace for talks on the Kurds and Syria, October 17, 2019, in Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Pelosi and Schumer said Turkey had surrendered nothing while Trump had given Erdogan “everything.”

They said the deal damages American credibility and leaves thousands of Islamic State prisoners in the hands of Turkey and Syria’s government, which they said represents a security threat to the US.

Pelosi and Schumer said the US and its allies “deserve smart, strong and sane leadership from Washington.”

“President Trump unleashed a further escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria that has left dozens of innocent civilians dead, displaced hundreds of thousands more and invited the resurgence of ISIS.  The only beneficiaries of the President’s policies are our adversaries: ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and Iran,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

Next week the House will pass a sanctions package to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of the US withdrawal, the statement read.

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters fire a heavy machine-gun towards Kurdish fighters, in Syria’s northern region of Manbij, October 14, 2019. (AP Photo)

Some Republicans also criticized the truce.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria “will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

The Utah senator took to the Senate floor Thursday to criticize Trump.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Romney argued.

He said removing US troops who protected the Kurds “violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor.”

Romney said he hopes the truce works but that a deal with Turkey should have been struck before the US pulled its troops out, not afterward.

Republican senator Marco Rubio similarly criticized the cease fire, saying: “Other than giving Kurds a chance to leave so they don’t get slaughtered, it doesn’t sound like a change of any of the other dynamics I’m concerned about.”

Kurdish civilians flee the town of Kobane on the Turkish border on October 16, 2019 as Turkey continues its assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Bakr Alkasem/AFP)

Brett McGurk, the former civilian head of the administration’s US-led counter-IS campaign, wrote on Twitter that Thursday’s deal was a gift to the Turks.

“The US just ratified Turkey’s plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground,” he wrote, adding that the arrangement was “non-implementable.”

Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lauded Thursday’s deal as a significant achievement, and Trump tweeted that it was “a great day for civilization.” But the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent ceasefire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops.

In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the administration had imposed and threatened to impose since the invasion began, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.

During the five-day ceasefire, the United States “will not be implementing additional sanctions,” Pence told reporters.

US Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leave the Ambassador’s Residence as they walk to a motorcade en route to the Presidential Palace for talks on the Kurds and Syria, October 17, 2019, in Ankara, Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Once we have a permanent ceasefire, following the orderly withdrawal of all YPG forces, the United States also agreed to withdraw the sanctions that were imposed on several cabinet officials and several agencies,” Pence said, referring to Kurdish forces in Syria.

Trump was ebullient after the agreement was announced, tweeting that “Millions of lives will be saved!” and asserting that “People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years.”

He credited his threat of sanctions on Turkey as “tough love” that led the country to agree to a five-day ceasefire in its battle with Kurds in northern Syria.

Talking to reporters in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday, Trump said the Kurds are happy with the deal.

He added that he was open to hosting the Turkish leader in Washington.

Speaking to reporters, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed suspension of the offensive, but rejected the notion that the agreement constituted a ceasefire.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party officials in Ankara, Turkey, October 10, 2019. (Turkish Presidency Press Service via AP, Pool)

“We are suspending the operation, not halting it,” he said. “We will halt the operation only after [Kurdish militants] completely withdraw from the region.”

“This is not a ceasefire. A ceasefire is reached between the two legitimate parties,” he said.

Ankara has long argued that the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the US and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they are willing to abide by the agreement.

“We are ready to abide by the ceasefire,” covering the area from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad, SDF chief Mazlum Abdi told a Kurdish TV station.

Trump’s withdrawal of US troops has been widely condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated with his administration.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk near the Turkish village of Akcakale along the border with Syria on October 11, 2019, as they prepare to take part in the Turkish-led assault on northeastern Syria. (Bakr Alkasem/AFP)

Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the US troop withdrawal.

Trump has denied that his action provided a “green light” for Turkey to move against the longtime US battlefield partners, or that he was opening the way for a revival of the Islamic State group and raising worldwide doubts about US faithfulness to its allies.

While Erdogan heard global condemnation for his invasion, he also faced renewed nationalistic fervor at home, and any pathway to de-escalation likely needed to avoid embarrassing him domestically.

Pompeo landed in Israel overnight Thursday-Friday after meeting with Erdogan in Ankara for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aimed at easing Jerusalem’s fears about the US withdrawal.

 

US and Turkey agree on Syria ceasefire. But the ball is still in the Moscow/Damascus court – DEBKAfile

Posted October 18, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: US and Turkey agree on Syria ceasefire. But the ball is still in the Moscow/Damascus court – DEBKAfile

US Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement in Ankara on Thursday, Oct. 17 that Turkey had agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire surprised only those who credited the consistent misreporting on the “successes” of the week-long Turkish operation against the Kurds of northern Syria. In straight talks with Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Erdogan realized that a truce was his best bet for avoiding a debacle.

With them were US national security adviser Robert O’Brien and special Syrian envoy James Jeffrey. Pence announced that the ceasefire was to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone (agreed between President Donald Trump and Erdogan on Oct. 6) and make way for negotiations towards a permanent end to the conflict. US forces are to facilitate the Kurds’ retreat.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Pence handed Erdogan a lifeline. By last Sunday, Oct. 13, his operation was flagging, thwarted by the arrival of Syrian government forces in the Kurdish areas, with Russia military support, while Turkish troops were still poised for attack. This followed a snap deal between the Kurds and Damascus. That deal and the close coordination between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin, revealed exclusively by DEBKAfile throughout, left the Turkish president little choice bit to dance again to the tune of Trump administration policy. Otherwise, he and the Turkish army would find themselves up against a broad front of Russia, the Syrian army and the Kurds. Erdogan therefore folded and acceded to Trump’s demand for a provisional truce.

Three inferences may be drawn from Pence’s disclosure that the US would facilitate the Kurds’ retreat:

  1. The US forces scheduled to withdraw from Kurdish regions are still present.
  2. They would have to coordinate their steps with the Russian and Syrian military forces which moved into those regions this week.
  3. Washington is in no position to tell the Kurds what to do after pushing them into the arms of Moscow and Damascus.

It therefore remains to be seen how Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to Washington’s truce initiative with Turkey and how US military steps in northern Syria fit in with those of the Russian forces. Pending answers to those questions, Kurdish leaders will not move out of their positions.

 

Iran said planning to limit international inspector access to its nuclear sites

Posted October 17, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Iran said planning to limit international inspector access to its nuclear sites | The Times of Israel

Tehran says measure aimed at pressuring European powers to find way around crippling US sanctions imposed after Trump pulled out of nuke deal

IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

IAEA inspectors at Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

Iran on Wednesday warned that it would start limiting international inspectors’ access to its nuclear sites as it continues to move away from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, said that Iran was taking the step because “when the other party doesn’t fulfill its commitments, there is no necessity for us to meet our part of commitments.”

“In the fourth step of reducing JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) commitments, we will probably impose limits on inspections, which means the International Atomic Energy Agency’s surveillance on Iran’s nuclear activities will be reduced,” the Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.

“Europeans have not honored their part of the commitments and we have not seen any practical step taken by the other side,” he said.

Iran has steadily increased its breaches of the nuclear accord as it pushes its European partners to find a way around US sanctions that have kept it from selling oil abroad and crippled the Iranian economy.

Also Wednesday, France urged Iran to stop violating the accord.

“Iran must abstain from crossing an especially worrying new phase of new measures that could contribute to an escalation in tensions,” French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnès von der Muhll said, according to the Reuters news agency.

She was referring to an announcement last week that Iran plans to start using a new array of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, spokesman of the organization Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks in a news briefing as advanced centrifuges are displayed in front of him, in Tehran, Iran, September 7, 2019 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Ali Akbar Salehi, the country’s nuclear chief, told Iranian state TV that an array of 30 IR-6 centrifuges will be inaugurated in the coming weeks.

Under the terms of its 2015 deal — which the US unilaterally withdrew from over a year ago — Iran had committed to not using the array until late 2023.

Salehi also said Iran is now producing up to six kilograms of enriched uranium daily.

“It means we have restored pre-deal” capacity, he said.

In September, Iran inaugurated an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges that can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the IR-1 that Iran was already using.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to about 4.5%. Prior to the nuclear deal, it only reached up to 20%, which is a short technical step away from the weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the 2015 deal, insists that Tehran is seeking a nuclear arsenal, and is hiding parts of its program

Regional tensions spiked last month after a drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility that shook global energy markets. The US said Iran was behind the attack. Tehran denied the charge and said any retaliatory strikes by the US or Saudi Arabia could lead to “all-out war.”

 

Trump in letter to Erdogan: ‘Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!’ 

Posted October 17, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Trump in letter to Erdogan: ‘Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!’ | The Times of Israel

In missive sent 6 days ago and using language shorn of diplomatic niceties, US president again threatens to destroy Turkey’s economy

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

US President Donald Trump (L) talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for the NATO summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Tatyana ZENKOVICH/AFP)

WASHINGTON — “Don’t be a fool,” US President Donald Trump warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an extraordinary letter sent the day Turkey launched its incursion into northeastern Syria — warning history risked branding him a “devil.”

Three days after appearing to greenlight an invasion by pulling US troops from the Kurdish-dominated region, Trump told the Turkish president he would wreck Ankara’s economy if the invasion went too far.

In language shorn of diplomatic niceties, Trump began with an outright threat.

“Let’s work out a good deal,” Trump wrote in the letter dated October 9. “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will.”

Peter Alexander

@PeterAlexander

First reported by Fox Business.

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“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump said. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.”

The US leader told Erdogan a “great deal” was possible if he negotiated with the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Abdi, whom Turkey has labelled a “terrorist” for his ties to the Kurdish PKK militants in Turkey.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool,” he finished, adding: “I will call you later.”

 

Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in bid to reassure Israel on Syria pullout 

Posted October 17, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Pompeo to meet Netanyahu in bid to reassure Israel on Syria pullout | The Times of Israel

Secretary of state due on Friday after talks in Ankara aimed at achieving ceasefire in Turkish invasion of northern Syria; discussions to also focus on Iran

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, as they depart en route to Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel on Friday for talks on Syria following the pullout of American soldiers and Turkey’s launching of a military offensive against Kurdish fighters.

Pompeo will travel to Israel after visiting Turkey with Vice President Mike Pence, the State Department announced late Wednesday.

Pompeo will meet “Netanyahu to discuss developments in Syria and the continued need to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” the statement said.

Pence and  Pompeo departed for Turkey on Wednesday, seeking to secure a ceasefire in the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. “Our mission set is to see if we can get a ceasefire, see if we can get this brokered,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Pence and Pompeo, who traveled on different planes, were scheduled to hold talks on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it is not clear if Erdogan will meet them.

Erdogan has also vowed that Turkey’s operation — which was facilitated by the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria — would continue.

US President Donald Trump, facing with mounting criticism over the abrupt pullout, has denied he gave Erdogan a “green light” to launch operations against the Kurds.

Pence’s office said the US would pursue “punishing economic sanctions” unless there was an immediate ceasefire.

After the trip to Turkey, Pompeo will stop in Jerusalem on Friday to meet with  Netanyahu.

The Trump administration last year pulled out of a multinational deal on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and instead slapped punishing sanctions.

Later Friday, Pompeo will also meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, the statement said.

Trump last week announced the immediate pullout of American forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey’s subsequent incursion into the area.

Israeli officials, among them Netanyahu, have condemned Turkey’s military operation and voiced support for the Kurds, but have not criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather outside the border town of Ras al-Ain on October 12, 2019, during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Nazeer Al-Khatib/AFP)

The US pullout has raised concerns of a reemergence of the Islamic State jihadist group, which US-backed Kurdish fighters fought and retook areas of Syria from, as well as the expansion of Syrian regime backers’ Russia and Iran’s influence in the country.

Israel has warned against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria that could be used to attack the Jewish state and carried out hundreds of airstrikes there in recent years on Iran-linked targets.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an ally of Trump, has said the pullout could “ensure Iran’s domination of Syria” and “become a nightmare for Israel,” a sentiment echoed at Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Despite international condemnation over the offensive, Erdogan has remained defiant and said the operation won’t cease until the Kurdish fighters give up their arms.

Turkey considers the YPG, a Kurdish militia, a terror group over its ties to the Turkish PKK group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Netanyahu said in 2017 that Israel considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

 

Despite Erdogan’s bravado, his Syrian offensive is squeezed in a US-Russian hug – DEBKAfile

Posted October 17, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Despite Erdogan’s bravado, his Syrian offensive is squeezed in a US-Russian hug – DEBKAfile

US-Russian coordination for holding back Turkey’s operation against Syria’s Kurds goes forward smoothly amid a flurry of talks.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the US secretary of state held talks with his Russian counterpart, as did the two defense chiefs. That night, Turkish President Recep Erdogan held phone conversations with both US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Putin invited him to visit Moscow before the end of October, while Trump informed him that Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary Mike Pompeo would be arriving in Ankara on Thursday, Oct. 17.

They would be coming with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and special Syrian envoy James Jeffrey. Erdogan was quoted as refusing to receive the Vice President, but the highly volatile Turkish leader may have backtracked on this snub.

Very little was disclosed about the content of this burst of high wire parleys. DEBKAfile’s sources have learned that Putin warned Erdogan that if the Turkish army attacked the Syrian forces which arrived to defend Kurdish districts against a Turkish onslaught, the Russian air force would intervene.

Trump is believed to have focused his warning against a Turkish assault on the key SDF-held town of Kobani and its environs. He demanded a pledge from Erdogan to stop his forces and allied Syrian militias from entering this town and to halt attempts to seize control of the strategic M4 highway.

The Turkish leader demanded as a quid pro quo that the US president guarantee that the Syrian forces not far from Kobani won’t enter the town. However, since Moscow holds the whip hand over the Syria army, it was necessary for the American and Russian foreign and defense ministers to confer on this.

For now, the SDF retains control of the town, shielded by Russian special forces.

Erdogan finds his troop movements increasingly constricted by the tough dictates coming at him from Washington and Moscow. They are operating in concert in a still unpredictable, inflammable situation.

 

Israel’s true failures on Iran

Posted October 15, 2019 by josephwouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Israel’s true failures on Iran – www.israelhayom.com

Even after Israel exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the US withdrew from the deal, reimposing sanctions on the ayatollah regime, journalists and lawmakers on the Left continue to blame the Israeli government for the current state of affairs.

Failure No. 1: The torpedoing of initiatives to strike Iran on no less than three occasions. In 2010, senior defense officials Meir Dagan and Gabi Ashkenazi opposed an initiative to attack proposed by Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak. One year later, then-IDF Chief of Staff and current Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz opposed a similar move that had the support of Netanyahu, Barak, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In 2012, a dispute emerged between Netanyahu and Barak over the timing of such an attack, which as a result was once again not carried out.

Ever since, countless “senior defense officials” have bragged of saving us from a military strike on Iran.

Failure No. 2: The Iran nuclear deal, which was aimed at postponing, not preventing Iran’s nuclearization: The best-case scenario would see Tehran just one year away from acquiring a nuclear bomb. UN Security Council Resolution 2231 went so far as to grant Iran nuclear power status, authorizing the Shiite regime’s enrichment of uranium, including the detonation of a nuclear device, for research purposes, of course.

This was accompanied by a “side deal” that regulated the favorable economic conditions Iran received following the removal of sanctions, including the immediate release of $100 billion to the Iranian economy and a plethora of investments. Iran was not required to cease its terrorist activity or interference in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, or Syria in return for receiving these funds. In fact, Tehran actually received international funding to continue these efforts. Former US President Barack Obama and the Europeans authorized Iran’s development of long-range missiles able to reach Israel, but not Europe.

These “defensive” missiles are now in Iraq and aimed directly at us.

Failure No. 3: The response to the nuclear agreement in Israel: Netanyahu’s opposition to the 2015 deal was depicted as a personal obsession by people like then-Labor party leader Isaac Herzog, who accused the prime minister of “panicking.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced similar criticism, while Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid added that Netanyahu was “destroying ties with the US over a speech” [to the US Congress].” And diplomatic and security commentators praised the accord, harming the broad national consensus on the dangers presented by Iran.

Failure No. 4: Iran’s violation of the agreement. In many ways, Iran never implemented its part of the deal. For example, 8.5 tons of enriched uranium were supposed to depart Iran with the signing of the agreement; there is no record of this actually having been carried out.

And now that Iran has announced that within two weeks, it will restart activity at the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, it is clear that, had it destroyed the site, as it committed to doing as part of the agreement, it would not have been able to rehabilitate it so quickly. And above all else, the agreement was never authorized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The fatwah we were promised has yet to be issued, and in its place, we have heard only speeches condemning the deal.

Failure No. 5: Even after Israel exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the US withdrew from the deal, reimposing sanctions on the ayatollah regime, journalists and lawmakers on the Left continue to blame the Israeli government for the current state of affairs. This political war they continue to wage is the mother of all failures: a lack of any sense of statesmanship.