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Recent U.S. policy in Syria, from the moment that former U.S. ambassador Robert Ford showed support for Syrian protesters in 2011, has been one of good intentions that were mismanaged through conflicting policies. This week it led to the decision to withdraw. A new crisis will unfold in eastern Syria, an area that, liberated from ISIS, has seen too much war and where the people are just beginning to reconstruct their lives. Many are expressing feelings that the U.S. betrayed its partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are mostly Kurdish. The larger context is that the U.S. has been seen as abandoning one group after another in Syria, reducing American influence in Syria and the region.It is at least the third time that President Donald Trump has sought to leave Syria. In March 2018, he said that the U.S. was leaving “very soon.” In December 2018, he wrote that the U.S. was bringing the troops home after defeating ISIS. In fact, ISIS was not defeated on the ground until March 23, 2019, in its last pocket near the Euphrates river. ISIS sleeper cells are still active, and there are thousands of ISIS detainees in eastern Syria. However, Trump now says that Turkey or other countries will need to deal with the remnants of ISIS and the detainees in Syria.How did the U.S. get here? In 2011, Americans were outraged by scenes of Bashar al-Assad’s regime cracking down on protests. There was bipartisan support for backing the Syrian protesters and then the Syrian rebels. At the time, the Obama administration had a vast spectrum of options, from giving them anti-tank missiles to carrying out airstrikes against Assad and punishing him for using chemical weapons. But Obama walked back from his 2012 red line on the use of chemical weapons.Washington shifted from directly opposing Assad to training and equipping Syrian rebels, a program that cost up to $1 billion and was largely seen as a failure by 2015. By this time, the U.S. was working on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the “Iran deal,” and the overthrow of Assad, who is backed by Iran, was no longer a priority. ISIS had exploited the Syrian conflict to take over a third of Syria and Iraq, controlling the lives of 12 million people and committing genocide. The U.S. began anti-ISIS operations in Syria in September 2014 and helped the Kurdish fighters in Kobane resist ISIS. From there grew a unique partnership between the U.S. and these leftist Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey accused of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the U.S. views as terrorists. The U.S. supported the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces in 2015 in eastern Syria, as a way to rebrand the Kurdish fighters and distance them from the PKK, so that Washington could train and equip them without appearing to support the party.The Obama administration had moved from opposing Assad, to arming rebel fighters, to fighting ISIS and signing the Iran deal. At each juncture it narrowed its goals. By the time Trump was elected, the U.S. mission in eastern Syria, encapsulated in Operation Inherent Resolve, was to defeat ISIS on the ground and diplomatically oppose Assad through lip service in Geneva.Trump vowed during his campaign to defeat ISIS, but he also wanted to show that there was a red line with respect to Assad’s crimes. He ordered airstrikes against the regime in April 2017 and April 2018 but was reluctant to do more. He ended support for the rebels in July 2017, and a year later Damascus took back rebel areas that had previously enjoyed some U.S. support. By this time, Russia and Iran were deeply involved in Syria, supporting Assad, and Turkey had launched an operation in northern Syria to prevent the U.S.-backed SDF from expanding its areas of control.At each juncture, the U.S. found its choices narrowed in Syria, and America was isolated from having a say in the future of Syria as Russia, Turkey, and Iran excluded Washington from peace discussions they held at Astana. Nevertheless, by 2018, the U.S. and its SDF partners controlled a huge area in eastern Syria. National-security adviser John Bolton sought to push a strategy whereby America would hold on to eastern Syria until Iran left. The goal was to roll back Iranian influence and reduce Israel’s fears about Iran using Syria to attack. Bolton never got his way.Trump’s decision in December 2018 to leave Syria led to the resignation of defense secretary James Mattis and anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk. Bolton was gone by September 2019. Jettisoning these key officials, the White House narrowed its role in Syria even more, no longer seeing a way to use it as leverage against Iran. Since Trump didn’t want to do nation-building in Syria, and wanted Europe or the Gulf states to foot the bill to keep ISIS detainees locked up, he saw the area as a sunk cost. As for Iran, he said the U.S. would use Iraq to “watch“ it.All that was left of U.S. policy in Syria was the question of what to do about the U.S. partners, the mostly Kurdish forces that had been trained and that had done a phenomenal job defeating ISIS. The problem was that Turkey, sensing that Trump wanted to leave, kept threatening to launch an invasion of eastern Syria to attack the SDF. Turkey says it will resettle 2 million Syrians, mostly Arabs from elsewhere in Syria, in the Kurdish areas of eastern Syria.U.S. policy in Syria has been one of shutting one door after another to close off U.S. influence, at the same time that Iran, Russia, and Turkey are opening those doors to partition Syria for their own interests. The risks of U.S. withdrawal are clear. Not only will ISIS make some inroads, but Washington will lose influence in Syria, and America’s image will be tarnished for appearing to abandon friends and being bullied into leaving. Iran is already calling the US an “irrelevant occupier” and saying that it’s ready to help take over eastern Syria.Unfortunately, as the U.S. seeks to narrow its footprint and get out of the nation-building-humanitarian-intervention business that was a hallmark of the 1990s and early 2000s, Washington has chosen such a narrow goal that its allies are wondering whether there is a future for the U.S. in the Middle East. The U.S. had good intentions — the road to hell is paved with them — in Syria but badly mismanaged them. The result is that Iran, Russia, and Turkey got something and that all the U.S. got was a damaged reputation. It’s a far cry from 2011 when Syrian protesters all across the country, including Kurds and Arabs, looked to Washington for leadership and support.
Donald Trump threatens to 'obliterate' Turkish economy if it goes too far with Syria invasion
Turks are attacking the heroic Kurds. Trump thought he had a deal with Turkey to protect the Kurds which would allow US troops to withdraw safely
US President Donald Trump warned Turkey against going too far in Syria, after giving Ankara a green light to invade its southern neighbour.
Mr Trump said on Monday he was done with "ridiculous endless war" as he stood aside to allow a long-threatened Turkish assault on Kurdish-held Syria, effectively abandoning its allies who fought Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The US had for months been working with Turkey to try to create a buffer zone along its border with northern Syria between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces which Ankara sees as terrorists.
But amid an outcry from the region and strong opposition at home from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, the US leader appeared to reverse himself, though without drawing any specific red lines that might protect Kurdish allies.
"If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)," Mr Trump tweeted.
Other US officials, apparently surprised by Trump's Sunday announcement, stressed that Washington will not actively support the long-threated Turkish action, warning of destabilizing blowback to the region.
"The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey - as did the president - that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria," said Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman.
Turkey has repeatedly criticised the slow implementation of the buffer zone and threatened a unilateral assault, but until Monday the US had refused to stand aside.
"The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades," Mr Trump said in an earlier series of tweets.
"Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out."
US Republican and Democrats had warned such an offensive on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which lost 11,000 troops in the battle against Isil, could lead to a massacre of Kurds and send a worrying message to American allies across the world.
The US began pulling back some of its 1,000 troops from border towns Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn on Monday, and has said it will potentially depart the country should widespread fighting break out.
The announcement, first made by the White House overnight on Sunday, appeared to take both the Kurds and US coalition forces, which had been carrying out joint patrols with Turkey on the ground, completely by surprise.
Kurdish sources say they were acting in good faith trying to establish a security mechanism with the US to placate Turkey, but now felt that Ankara had been using it as a cover for reconnaisance.
Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), tweeted: "We are not expecting the US to protect NE #Syria. But people here are owed an explanation regarding security mechanism deal, destruction of fortifications and failure of US to fulfill their commitments."
The White House statement was released after a phonecall between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday night.
Mr Erdogan had reportedly assured the US president that Ankara would take over the detention of Isil militants captured by the SDF, on the battlefield.
The Kurds have been holding thousands of Syrian and thousands more foreign Isil suspects in prisons and camps across the north of the country.
Mr Trump has repeatedly asked countries under the US-led coalition against Isil to repatriate their citizens. However, the UK, France, Germany, and other allies have so far refused.
“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the White House statement said. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial “Caliphate” by the United States.”
The decision is a massive blow to the Kurds, who not only helped hold back Isil but have for years been building an autonomous statelet in the northeast of Syria.
Turkey claims its planned “safe zone” is to purge the border of YPG forces, which it sees as a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency inside its territory for the past 35 years.
The proposed corridor would have an initial depth of 18 miles and a length of 300 miles and includes the Kurds’ biggest urban centres, including the city of Qamishli which has an estimated 250,000 population.
Turkey on Monday night carried out air strikes on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Syria border crossing, in what was thought to be an attack on the YPG's supply line.
Western diplomats told the Telegraph they are working on the theory that Mr Erdogan will begin by attempting to take a smaller sliver between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain on the border, but the Turkish president himself has previously hinted at much wider ambitions.
Mr Erdogan has said he wants to return two million of the mostly Sunni Arab Syrian refugees Turkey is hosting to the buffer zone, which some have said would amount to an ethnic repopulation.
The Kurds fear many of the Syrians that might be placed in the zone are not native to north-east Syria, and might displace the Kurdish culture and rights.
The UN said that it was "preparing for the worst", fearing an assault would send large numbers of civilians fleeing.
“This Turkish military operation in northern and eastern Syria will have a significant negative impact on our war on ISIS and will destroy everything that has been achieved from the state of stability over the past years,” the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement.
They said they would defend themselves against “Turkish aggression” and called on all sects, including Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and Assyrians to join them.
Defending its Kurdish allies would have seen the US come against its Nato partner Turkey, which Washington was keen to avoid.
President Donald Trump has since taking office attempted to disentangle the US from drawn-out wars in the Middle East.
His goal of swift withdrawals in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been stymied by concerns from US officials and American allies about the dangerous voids that would remain.
America’s top CEOs say they are no longer putting shareholders before everyone else
This a joke. CEOs have NEVER put shareholders first. Their own prestige, power and income have always been their first priority and that will not change. Shareholders just get the scraps
For the past two decades, the official stance of America’s top corporate executives has been that the interests of shareholders came before the interests of all others—workers, consumers, the cities and towns in which their companies operated, and society as a whole.
Today, that changes.
The Business Roundtable, a lobbying group composed of the nation’s leading CEOs, just announced that its members “share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders”—each of whom “is essential”—while pledging “to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities, and our country.”
With its “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” the Roundtable has affirmed the need for “meeting or exceeding customer expectations”; “investing in our employees,” including by “compensating them fairly and providing important benefits,” as well as offering training and education so that they can “develop new skills for a rapidly changing world”; “dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers”; “supporting the communities in which we work”; and “generating long-term value for shareholders.”
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase and the Roundtable’s chairman, says he hopes that this declaration “will help to set a new standard for corporate leadership.”
It is, without question, a huge deal.
As I’ve detailed before, through the 1980s and most of the ’90s, the Roundtable held that companies had a responsibility to “carefully weigh the interests of all stakeholders,” as the organization described it, and that “the thrust of history and law” buttressed this kind of broad assessment.
In 1997, the Roundtable switched course. Suddenly, it proclaimed that “the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders” and that “the interests of other stakeholders are relevant as a derivative of the duty to stockholders.” (The Roundtable echoed that message in 2016.)
The Roundtable’s shift to a shareholder-first posture has been widely cited as a significant marker in the evolution of corporate America—both a reflection and reinforcement of an ideology that has thrilled investors, gripped executives, and knocked out a more enlightened form of capitalism that had emerged in the era after World War II.
Yet since then—and especially over the past 5 to 10 years—serving shareholders first and foremost has come under increasing attack. An expanding chorus of critics has made the case that this predilection has contributed to a short-term mindset among far too many executives, fostering a culture of indiscriminate cost-cutting and financial engineering, and has been a central reason for the explosion in income inequality.
“I read the Roundtable’s statement as a return to common-sense principles of management and the recognition that employees need a bigger share of the pie to assure a healthy economy,” says Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.
The pressure for business to put an end to shareholder primacy has been building from a variety of quarters. Younger workers, in particular, are looking for employers that have a loftier purpose than merely maximizing their profits. More and more, customers are paying attention to which companies seem to be doing right by their people and the environment—and punishing brands that fall short. Socially conscious investors have started putting vast sums of money into financial products that use a “sustainable, responsible, and impact” lens.
Politicians have also taken up the cause. The Accountable Capitalism Act, proposed by Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate, would require very large companies to obtain a new federal charter under which directors would have to “consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, the basic tenets of shareholder capitalism have been questioned by scholars such as the late Lynn Stout, a Cornell law professor and author of The Shareholder Value Myth, who cogently argued that executives and directors have wide latitude in deciding what is best for a company and don’t have any obligation—legal or otherwise—to elevate shareholders above everyone else. Journalists and think-tank types have weighed in along these lines, too.
MY DINNER WITH DIMON
Among them has been me. As Fortune’s Alan Murray recounts, the Roundtable began to reevaluate its views on the relationship between shareholders and other stakeholders after a “testy, off-the-record dinner” last fall that I participated in. Dimon had invited four of us—including the Washington Post‘s Steve Pearlstein, Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera, and Samuelson of the Aspen Institute—to JPMorgan headquarters to better understand why we kept insisting that corporate America had become overly obsessed with shareholder value and, as a result, was damaging society.
Dimon’s perspective—then and now—is that most big companies already take good care of their various stakeholders. “We relentlessly invest in employees, communities, and innovation,” he told me.
If that were true, of course, the new Roundtable statement would simply be codifying the current state of affairs. But with all due respect to Dimon, who deserves great credit for engaging with us and then guiding the Roundtable to recast its position, the numbers don’t back him up.
Sure, no company completely ignores all of its constituents save for its shareholders. If it did, it would soon be out of business. But as a study published last week by the Center for American Progress makes clear, things are terribly out of balance.
Wages for the majority of the American workforce have been stagnant for 40 years, while their health coverage and retirement security have eroded. At the same time, corporate profits—high by historical standards—are mainly being used to reward shareholders, including CEOs themselves. Their compensation has gone up 940% since 1978; typical worker compensation has risen 12% during that time, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
For the Roundtable’s statement to mean something—and not stand as empty rhetoric—this picture can’t be allowed to continue.
With that in mind, I asked a half-dozen colleagues who’ve been at the fore of fighting shareholder primacy what would it take for them to be convinced that CEOs across the business landscape had genuinely embraced stakeholder capitalism.
For starters, several say, companies must curtail stock buybacks, if not stop them altogether. These repurchases have become a financial narcotic, with a record volume of shares being snapped up, largely in an attempt to pump up their price.
Some, including Roundtable President Joshua Bolten, defend the practice as an efficient way to deploy capital and help the economy grow. But buybacks plainly favor shareholders (including, again, CEOs), and every dollar of profit spent on them means one less dollar that can go directly to bolster worker pay, training, R&D, and other areas.
“I would make it the primary obligation of all business corporations to ‘retain-and-reinvest’: retain profits and reinvest in the productive capabilities of employees,” says economist Bill Lazonick, who is perhaps the country’s most outspoken detractor of buybacks. “I would place constraints on ‘downsize-and-distribute’: downsizing the company’s labor force and distributing corporate cash to shareholders.”
Environmental stewardship is another proving ground. Some big companies score high marks in this arena right now. But with climate change posing an existential crisis, it’s crucial that corporations do far more.
“Why I’m passionate about ending shareholder primacy is that I truly think the future of the entire human race depends on it, and I’m not trying to exaggerate,” says Lenore Palladino, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “For corporate leaders to show they are committed to stakeholder capitalism, we need to see a commitment to the health of the environment as a business priority . . . a dramatic strategic reorientation towards reversing the current damage and reengineering businesses to be productive for the long term.”
For sustainability pioneer John Elkington, another sign that a stakeholder model hadreally taken root would be for companies to no longer speak with two voices: one from the C-suite and another via the Washington influencers representing them.
“They would resign from all trade and industry groups which lobby to slow or stall necessary systemic changes” that would enhance the simultaneous creation of economic, social, and environmental value, says Elkington, who coined the term “triple bottom line.” Then they would turn around, he adds, and “forcefully and publicly lobby for a meaningful price on carbon and for the breakup of monopolies and oligopolies.”
To give the Roundtable statement some teeth, they’d also take a fresh approach to organized labor. “Welcoming, rather than fighting, a union would be a big one,” says Andy Green, managing director of economic policy at the Center for American Progress. Research shows that nearly half of all workers not in a union want to join one. Yet many companies do all they can to keep this from happening.
Samuelson, for her part, would be impressed by companies “dampening down the intense focus on stock price in CEO pay.” More than half of CEO compensation is share-based these days, much of it tied to short-term financial measures. Instead, executives should be paid—and to a meaningful degree—on a mix of environmental, social, and governance metrics.
The University of Toronto’s Roger Martin, who has been recognized as the world’s number-one management thinker, wants to see a reversal of something that, for many of the most senior executives, is even more deep-seated.
Rather than concentrate on stock price, he says, they should expressly concentrate on serving customers or developing employees or tackling some social need through innovation. Ultimately, Martin has maintained, that’s the best means of taking care of shareholders anyway.
“For me, the key would be to view shareholder value creation as the logical consequence of other things, not something that you can directly pursue,” he says. “It is like Aristotle who pointed out that if a person sets out to be happy, the person is unlikely to end up happy. However, if the person sets out to lead a virtuous life, the person will probably end up happy. If I could only have one thing, it would be that.”
Others made additional suggestions: Companies should guarantee a living wage for all workers, including contractors. Stakeholders of different stripes (employees, sustainability experts, even everyday taxpayers) should be given seats on corporate boards. Executives should lean on business schools to stop teaching that shareholder value is the be-all and end-all of capitalism.
Much of this agenda may be dismissed as unrealistic. Certainly, none of it will be easy to achieve. And none of it is meant to imply that the Roundtable’s statement isn’t, in and of itself, a monumental step.
Words matter. The words of the Roundtable—a Who’s Who of those at the helm of the largest U.S. corporations, from Abbott to Zebra Technologies—matter a lot. In the end, though, it is the actions of Roundtable members that will matter the most.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.
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