Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Trump Impeachment Inquiry Widens
The growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine took another turn this week when top Congressional Democrats added Vice President Mike Pence to the growing list of Trump Administration officials they want information from. On October 3, Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Vice President Pence requesting documents that could shed light on whether he knew anything about President Trump’s intentions towards Ukraine. The letter specifically requested that Pence turn over all documents related to “the Administration’s attempts to press the Ukrainian President to open an investigation into former Vice President Biden or election interference in 2016,” as well as “the reasons behind the White House’s decision to delay critical military assistance to Ukraine.”
On October 2, it was reported that President Donald Trump used Vice President Mike Pence to exert pressure on the Ukrainian government to convince it to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. For example, President Trump told Vice President Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, knowing the Ukrainian leader desires close ties with the US in the face of continued threats by the Russian government. Additionally, the Washington Post reported that Pence met with Zelensky to convey to him that hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid would not be released to the country amid concerns about the country’s lack of efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
In response to these allegations, Vice President Mike Pence state that he was unaware of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie US aid to Ukraine to the Ukranian government’s efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Additionally, Vice President Pence’s press secretary Katie Workman indicated that the letter by the top Democrats on the Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committee was “not a serious request but just another attempt by the Do Noting Democrats to call attention to their partisan impeachment.” According to Congressmen Schiff, Cummings, and Engel, however, public reports indicate that Vice President Pence may have direct knowledge of the Trump Administration’s plan to withhold aid to Ukraine. The main problem for the House Democrats is that the Trump Administration has refused to cooperate with the Congressional inquiry, meaning that they will be unsuccessful in receiving the documents they need for an investigation without a fight.
As such, the most likely outcome at this point is….
A bigger fight between the House Democrats and President Trump and his Congressional allies.
2. US Military Begins To Withdraw From Northern Syria Amid Reports of Turkish Offensive In The Area
On October 7, it was announced by the Kurdish led-Syrian Democratic Forces that the US military was beginning to withdraw from its positions in Northeast Syria on the border with Turkey amid plans by the Turkish government to begin a military offensive in that area of the country. “Despite our efforts to avoid any military escalation with Turkey, the US forces have not fulfilled their obligations and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey,” the SDF said in a statement. The Trump Administration had announced the withdrawal late on October 6, saying that it would not “support or be involved” with planned Turkish military operations in the area. US forces had backed and fought alongside the SDF in their fight against ISIS fighters in the region, with both the Obama and Trump Administrations seeing the Kurdish-led force as the best ally in Syria to combat the extremists. Many Syrian Kurds see the withdrawal as leaving them open to attacks by Turkey, which regards them with suspicion.
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops has been criticized not only by Syrian Kurds but also by some of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham calling the decision “a disaster” and “unnerving to its core.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement saying that the pullback would only benefit Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lawmakers from both major parties have warned that clearing the way for a Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send disconcerting signals to US allies across the world. President Trump, who is in need of his party’s support amid the impeachment inquiry against him, took to Twitter to explain his rationale, saying he had wanted to get out of Syria for the past three years. He accused Europe of frontloading its captured ISIS fighters on the US and said the Kurds had been given a lot of money and equipment, noting that they had been fighting the Turkish state for a long time. He later threatened to “destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took any action he considered “off-limits,” saying he had taken such measures before, without giving details of which country was meant.
In response to the news of the US pullout, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, said: “We don’t know what is going to happen,” clarifying that the US had not notified the UN of the decision to withdraw in advance. “We are preparing for the worst,” said Moumtzis, adding that the UN already had a contingency plan in place to protect civilians in the area. France, a major player in the US coalition fighting in Syria and Iraq, also warned on the pullback, saying that the withdrawal and any action by Turkey could pave the way for a revival of ISIS in the region.”We must be extremely vigilant that a maneuver of this kind can not, contrary to the goal of the coalition, strengthen” ISIS rather than eradicating it, said France’s armed forces minister, Florence Parly.
3. Saudi Arabia and Iran Take Steps Towards Indirect Talks To Defuse Their Longstanding Tensions
Despite their long-standing rivalry, Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken steps this week towards indirect talks to defuse tensions in the Middle East, with the Saudi government asking Iraq and Pakistan to speak with the Iranian leadership about de-escalation. It was announced on October 5 that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) asked the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan to intervene in the wake of the attacks on two Saudi oil facilities on September 14. The announcement also stated that President Donald Trump’s lack of response to the attacks raised questions for the Saudis about the American commitment to Saudi security and prompted Saudi Arabia to seek its own solution to the conflict. The Iranian government also indicated that it is willing to hold talks with Saudi Arabia, “Iran is open to starting a dialogue with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region,” Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, stated in an interview this week. “An Iranian-Saudi dialogue could solve many of the region’s security and political problems,” Larijani further added.
The recent moves for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran show that any reconciliation between the two regional powers would have far-reaching consequences, particularly regarding the efforts by the Trump Administration, Israel, and many Arab countries to isolate Iran and overturn the mandate of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani turned down a meeting with Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly, ruling out any talks between the two countries until the Trump Administration lifted its crippling sanctions against Iran. Rouhani also invited regional countries to join a “coalition for hope,” which he said would pledge non-aggression and non-interference in one another’s affairs. Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi stated in an interview with Al Jazeera last week that he believes Saudi Arabia is looking to de-escalate tensions with Iran. “Nobody possesses the weapons necessary to deal their adversary a fatal blow. Chaos and destruction will hit the region in its entirety,” he said. “Everybody is open to dialogue,” Mahdi said. “Iran says it is willing to negotiate if sanctions are lifted; the US [also] asks for dialogue … neither does Saudi Arabia close the door for dialogue.” “There are many countries, and Iraq is one of them, that can offer a solution or a place for a solution to be found.”
As such, the most likely outcome at this point is….
that Saudi-Iran tensions are beginning to decline after many years of direct and indirect conflicts.
4. The US and North Korea Agree To Resume Talks After A Months-Long Stalemate
North Korea and the US have agreed to resume nuclear negotiations this weekend following a months-long stalemate over the withdrawal of sanctions in exchange for disarmament, a senior North Korean diplomat said on October 2. Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, said the two nations would hold a preliminary meeting on October 4 before holding working-level talks the next day. In a statement released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Choe expressed optimism over the outcome of the meeting but did not say where it would take place. “It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations,” Choe said in the statement. The US further confirmed the talks will take place. “I can confirm that US and DPRK officials plan to meet within the next week. I do not have further details to share on the meeting,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, who is traveling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Italy.
Nuclear negotiations have been at a standstill for months following a February 2019 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Vietnam. Those talks broke down after the US rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities. North Korea followed the summit with belligerent rhetoric and a slew of short-range weapons tests that were seen as an attempt to gain leverage ahead of a possible resumption of negotiations. Choe’s announcement came after North Korea praised Trump for suggesting that the US may pursue an unspecified “new method” in nuclear talks with the North. North Korea also has welcomed Trump’s decision to fire hawkish former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who advocated a “Libya model” of unilateral denuclearization as a template for North Korea. North Korea sees the 2004 disarmament of Libya as a deeply provocative comparison because Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed following a US-supported military action in his country seven years after giving up a rudimentary nuclear program that was far less advanced than North Korea’s.
As such, the most likely outcome at this point is….
A lot more posturing on the part of President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-Un that will result in little change in terms of policy.