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How will the success of the U.S. raid impact Middle East relations?

In his announcement Sunday morning, President Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for supporting the military mission that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Vali Nasr, a former senior U.S. State Department advisor and a Middle East scholar and a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the implications.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In his announcement this morning, the president thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for support of the mission. Vali Nasr is a former senior adviser in the State Department under the Obama administration and a Middle East scholar and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He joins us now from Washington, D.C. Last, sort of, group to get thanks today were the Kurds. Should this be another example of their value to the United States, the fact that they were able to help provide some of the intelligence on the ground, whether the Iraqi Kurds are Syrian Kurds?

  • Vali Nasr:

    Of course, the Kurds have been fighting ISIS for a long time. They have been very critical in keeping them at bay. There have been important even in putting al-Baghdadi on the run. So in many ways, aside from what intelligence they provided, we wouldn't have been here had it not been for Kurdish support all along.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    At this point, it seems that, regionally, we seem to have ceded control. To say, it is an alliance of Russia, Syria, Turkey. Do with the area what you want. And we will be there in some capacity perhaps to guard the oilfields.

  • Vali Nasr:

    Well, I think guarding the oil fields was just a sort of a throwaway excuse by President Trump when he came under tremendous amount of pressure for abandoning Syria. I think largely he made a decision that he wanted to withdraw from Syria and he could come up with any number of excuses and he got pushback because people were worried that ISIS would become resurgent. That was the most important criticism that he received. So the killing of al Baghdadi relieves a lot of pressure from President Trump.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And does that change what Turkey is doing in Syria now?

  • Vali Nasr:

    No. I think Turkey's focus is on crushing the 50, 60 thousand armed Kurdish forces that it sees as a threat, or at least pushing them sufficiently back from the Turkish border so they wouldn't be an imminent threat. Turkey has not, never been as concerned with ISIS or al-Qaida or other jihadi groups. And therefore, it might view this sort of downgrading of the ISIS threat in the United States as actually a benefit to them, because some pressure would be lifted from even Turkey's operations in Syria.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what does this do to the strength that the United States has in the region and perhaps any sort of long term, kind of, moral authority?

  • Vali Nasr:

    Well, I think it would it will give President Trump greater assurance to continue what he's doing. You know, he can talk tough, but he's really withdrawing from the region. And he can make a case that the United States can do pinprick attacks to protect itself, like killing of Baghdadi without having a very big footprint on the ground. So this is a major move back from from the doctrines that President George Bush put on the ground of a massive U.S. presence in order to protect the United States. And, you know, frankly, Hari, I think the big the big issue here was not ISIS, it was the Syrian forces. These were 60,000 forces, a militia of 60,000 that essentially belonged to the United States. And we were maintaining it on the ground with very few American advisers. And it gave us a much bigger footprint in Syria and the Middle East than the two thousand number of American troops suggested. And President Trump basically gave that away without any kind of a justification from anyone for what he was getting. The criticism has been on relieving pressure on ISIS. But the real criticism should be on liquidating that kind of an asset without a clear explanation.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Ali Nasr from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Vali Nasr:

    Thank you.

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