tv Hudson Institute Discussion on Syria Turkey CSPAN October 15, 2019 9:35am-11:08am EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> good morning. can everybody hear me? okay. my name is ali rogin i'm with the pbs news hour covering foreign affairs and as a journalist, i want to say i'm grateful to the hudson institute for convening this panel to discuss what is a rapidly developing, as we all know, situation on the syrian-turkish border.
without further ado i'm going to introduce these folks who you all probably already know. to my left is the founder of mb long and associate an international legal and advisory firm from 2007-'09 she served as the first woman confirmed by the senate as assistant secretary of defense for international affairs and the chair of nate e-'s high level groups. she has previously served as the principal deputy secretary of defense, and she was the deputy secretary of defense for counter narco. next we have michael durand, a senior fellow here at hudson institute. he specializes in middle east security issues and during the administration of president george w. bush he served as senior director in the national security council. to the left is retired brigadier general mark kimmet of the u.s. army, served as secretary of state for political military affairs
'08-'09 and prior to that, the deputy secretary of defense 2006-2008 and last but not least, a fellow here at hudson institute as well. his research program focuses on the middle east, europe and strategic commission. and blaze was in a congressionally mandated project for u.s. institute of peace. how this is going to work, we are going to be having a conversation for the bulk of this session and then we are going to open it up to a q & a. so, please start thinking of your questions now. i know that on the program you all received there was presented very much a binary choice between people on this panel who are here to argue in favor of the policies that the united states is implementing on the syrian-turkish border and against.
in the brief moments we have before the panel began, i think it's fair to say that nobody size this as a binary choice between either being in favor or being against so we're going to get into a little of the gray area here today as well as talk about what the recommendations of these esteemed panelists believe going forward. so if i could just maybe go down the line and start with just getting your general thoughts about what you think of the u.s. withdrawal from northeastern steyria and the precipitating events. mary beth. >> how much time do i have? >> right, let's try to keep it for a few minutes and then get into the meat of all of that after that. >> i think the situation in 2019 has evolved over the last decade is fairly predictable that the president made the decision, as any president would probably who was sitting in that white house chair would make, that eventually the u.s.
had to withdraw out of northeast syria. it was not sustainable position. it certainly wasn't sustainable with the numbers and assets that were applied. i believe an unfortunate and a mistake that make the decision and implement it the way it was made in part because, number one, we're allowing the slaughter of not only kurds, but the syrian defense forces actually majority arab these days and the kurd membership is almost by the christian and-- and those have over timed joined, and we lost an opportunity there, i think, to stabilize northeast syria and to allow those people to sort themselves out from an association of more stability and perhaps empowerment.
turkey pulled that trigger, i think, prematurely. we positioned ourselves, unfortunately, in a weakened position by acquiescing to erdogan's threats and withdrawing the way that we did which i think is a mistake, however, i think we're going to end up there eventually. i do i think that the president has the position he is not withdrawing out-- and not only in northeast syria, but along the border and still understand in reticent positions backed off up in the northeast where we still may be providing some assistance and i think that's the right thing, i think it will be controversial going forward and there are a lot of implications outside of the tactical maneuvering on northeast syria that i think are more important and those are our relationships with turkey, we can talk about that
in detail, our positioning in the middle east and in the world in a larger sense. our relationships and perceived relationships with the iranians and russians in particular and the stability or perception of lack thereof u.s. credibility in foreign policy rit large. i think those are the really important issues that are front and center, whereas those kind of things. >> thanks. i think it's important that we focus on where we would like all of this to end. how we want to bring this to a solution. and i think it's important to recognize that we were postured for catastrophic failure in northeastern syria because we entered into an alliance with
the pkk and that the ypg, the kurdish force we worked with on the ground is the pkk. this is a terrorist organization on the state department's terrorism list that seeks to partition turkey between kurds and turks by aligning with the pkk or aligning with the pkk we set ourselves on a collision course with turkey. and that was unwise from a humanitarian point of view and the strategic point of view. the strategic prize in this situation is the orientation, the international orientation of turkey. the turks have been telling us for years now that they don't like the fact that we are providing a power umbrella under which the pkk can build an autonomous kurdish statement in northeastern syria and we have effectively time and time again told them to sit down and
shut up. that we rebranded the pkk as the sds, we brought in arabs and yazidis and others as mary beth was saying, but the power center of that organization was always the pkk and we should recognize that we lied to ourselves. the obama administration packaged this as something other than pkk. it successfully propgannized the american people, and this is destroying a relationship with them and we're ignoring it. it's not a question of erdogan, by the way. the vast majority of turks support this operation. if we look at the mess we have there now, we have to recognize we played a major role in creating that, in creating that
mess. getting out of it means we need to reestablish good ties with ankara, stabilizing that part of the world. if we don't have productive ties with the turks, which means largely working on their terms, not on ours because we had 1,000 troops there and there -- we are leaving. everyone knows we're leaving sooner or later, turkey's going to be there forever and the turks know this as well. so we have to work through them largely on their terms. we can have our humanitarian concerns and we can push them aggressively. we can have differences of opinion. they have to be within a turkish frame work rather than some framework that we have made up as a result of where all the different little positions we ended up with as a result of a lot of temporary tactical decisions we made without strategic understanding. we started to talk about the middle east and our policy in the middle east without
reference to states. we have to go back to a traditional understanding of how the world works. states are the main actors and we need to position ourselves accordingly. the strategic prize is turkey and the strategic goal when all of this settles is that we can contain iran. if we drive -- we are in a position, which makes no strategic sense whatsoever of ditching a major ally, a nato ally, that sits aboard europe and asia and which we have bases, intelligence, platforms and ability to stop the russia through the black sea strategic, strategic posture, an ally that worked with us in bosnia, in afghanistan, not to mention the korean war and others. we're going to ditch that state for a splinter group extremist terrorist organization that doesn't even represent the kurds. the pkk is not the kurds. this makes no sense.
we now have a bipartisan-- we now have a bipartisan concensus in congress to put massive sanctions on turkey in order to save our relationship with the pkk. how did we get to this position? it makes no sense. >> all right. >> well, maybe it would be worthwhile to talk about how we got to this position. i've written extensively on this ever since december 19th, but let's go back to the beginning. i think president obama was right when isis attacked into iraq in 2014, there was a recognition that you couldn't just go against the nose, you had to go against the tail of isis. and that meant get in there and defeat the caliphate. until as any military person will tell you if you don't get to the root of the power you're never going to be successful. so at that time the mission was go in under a very, very limited scope, the authority for the military force. that allowed us to go in to
kill isis with american forces and american proxies. you all remember at that time lieutenant general, general lloyd austin was in charge of centcom and i sadly remember him in front of congress saying we spent $500 million to field four soldiers. trying to set up a force with the arabs there, we couldn't vet them properly, they weren't reliable, they were more concerned about fighting assad than they were against fighting isis. we needed to find an alternative fighting force. an alternative fighting force was this scrappy group called the wpg operating outside of kabani. we dropped air supplies in and they proved to be good fighters. we decided to work with them, we understood there was going to be a problem and the problem was going to be turkey because this is a pkk affiliated group according to secretary of
defense ash carter. so we had to figure out how to finesse this. we told the turks and our policy was that this relationship with the pkk with the w -- ypg was temporary, transactional and tactical. that was the american policy at that time expressed numerous times. it doesn't mean that we were long-term allies of the ypg, it meant that we had a specific purpose for a specific time and at the end of that we were going to break apart. there was mutual benefit, the ypg had many, many kurdish towns they were trying to kwend against isis. we want today kill isis. what happened, isis is defeated boo i a brilliant job by ypg on the ground and the american support provided there. at that point the mission was over, but all of a sudden, our
good-hearted people on the ground started thinking we need to what we would simply call engage in mission creep of a massive amount that i've never seen before. we were in there under the authority for the use of military force. counter isis and counter isis alone. all of a sudden we started nation building. we started humanitarian operations. we were going to build a 40,000 man police force so they could be the local police. and there's no doubt in my mind that that would have been a multi-year operation and then on top of that, a syria resolution. what would america do at that point? we'll take sector northeast in this operation. our policymakers on the ground, good-hearted as they may have been were setting the united states up for a multi-year, if not decade long operation in
complete violation of their authority for the use of military force. it's that simple. they got ahead of their headlights. they were making promises on the ground to the ypg that they were writing checks they couldn't back up. so where do we find ourselves? we find ourselves enthralled and in love with an organization that every time they have a press conference has a map-- has a picture behind it and the map along side of it. and so, this was an untenable, it was unsustainable and i think regardless of how this policy fiasco works out, i have no doubt-- >> there are people out there who don't-- >> okay. ochlon was head of the pkk responsible of organizing killing 40,000 turks inside of turkey.
rocava three inside northeast syria are with the ypg aspiration is to set up an independent country and independent nation which is effectively syria kurdistan. so i'm not going to give you my personal views on the current administration, but i would simply say that if anybody was surprised by the decision 19th announcement by president trump, they haven't been watching president trump. they may have been surprised, they shouldn't have been shocked. the fact is, president trump, since the day he was on the campaign trail says we're going to get out of stupid wars in the middle east. and if you take a look at what's happening here, each individual component may have merit, but when you put that whole thing together, you end up with a disjointed policy that when our disjointed policymakers on the ground are trying to justify this, you can
just imagine what's said inside the oval office. why are we here? what's in the benefit of the united states? where is the united states' interest here? the united states doesn't have friend, it has interests. how are the interests of the united states being served here? there would be some saying, we're going to keep an eye on iran. we're going to thwart russia, hold off turkey. i mean, these are all outside of the mandate and the only authority which is the authority for the use of military force. and when you see people in congress that are now saying, we're abandoning our allies, who three years ago were on the record saying, working with the ypg is the dumbest policy i've ever seen, i criticize the united states congress for not being educated on the situation and not invoking their legislation which was the authority for the use of military force as a constraining mechanism under which the united states was
allowed to put forces inside of syria for no other purpose than the defeat of the isis caliphate. the isis caliphate is done, this president made the decision made the decision to pull out now that the isis caliphate is defeated. how that's being done is the biggest fiasco that i suspect everybody up here has seen in their government and military career in the past 50 years, but there we are. don't confuse the policy fiasco that we're seeing happen on the ground with mismatched policies and ways and means that got us here. i feel so much better. [laughte [laughter] >> very well-stated. >> good morning, all of you, thanks for joining us for this important discuss. ali, thanks for moderating. it's my privilege to be on a panel with three such distinguished individual i've learned so much about the
middle east from and it's my unfortunate play to have to go after all three of them so i'll try to find some areas of nuance to shed light on issues that haven't been discussed yet. overall i'd like to make the point the situation is not as binary as a lot of the debate would suggest it is and even though, as said, and mary beth said, it's predictable that we got to this place especially between the calls between presidents erdogan and trump last december where the original decision to pull out was made, and the resolution, that finally came to its end. the first point i'd make, it didn't have to be this way and by that i mean that even though this was set up as general kimmitt said, the decision to work with the ypg and syria, the outcome didn't have to be a
showdown. and who to side with. the and the clearest example to demonstrate that is looking at the u.s. relationship and the turkish relationship with iraqi kurds over a long period of time turkey has voiced the same concerns as now voicing with syrian kurds about northern iraq. it was one of the reasons why the turks were fearful of the outcome of the gulf war in 1991, why they were concerned about operation provide comfort, where the u.s. provided air cover for northern iraq that allowed the establishment of the autonomous kurdish regions and one of the reasons why turkey decided not to allow the united states to use turkish territory and turkish basis for the 2003 invasion of iraq because of their concerns that it would empower iraqi kurds, which were actually at that point, iraqi kurdistan was the center of
gravity for pkk operations. turkey launched into northern iraq for the pkk. and 2013 one of the closest partners was the krg and the iraqi kurds. because the u.s. facilitated the political institution that moved away from the pkk, that embraced responsible governance and made clear to turkey there was an economic benefit here and not a military or terrorist threat. there's precedence for the united states working with the groups and brokering a peace and understanding between turkey and those kurdish groups. unfortunately that's not what we've done the last five years or the time that we worked with the ypg and that has been an unfortunate waste for those five years that we could have led ourselves to a situation that was not di distracting.
i want today make a point to the general's point, it was to work with the ypg in 2014. tra first of all, we have to remember in 2014, president erdogan was having regular talks and turkey was in the middle of a peace process with pkk. and erdogan was working with pkk hoping to bring that conflict to an end. at that time pkk was not an existential threat to erdogan or turkey, but seen as a potential partner for peace and potential political partner. secondly, general kimmitt mentioned we spent 500 million training four guys. that's not the whole story. we spent training fighters inside of the turkey and the moment they crossed from border from turkey to syria, they were captured by extremist forces.
i don't know how that happens unless there's someone telling them where these fighters are going to be crossing, so, i think we had multiple experiences with turkey leading up to 2014 during the syrian conflict where we tried to work with them and although they were certainly failures on the u.s. side in terms of syria policy, finding common ground with turkey on who to support among the syrian opposition, on which fighters to train and eventually on trying to fight isis, we repeatedly failed and so when it came to the decision how do we target the center of gravity of the islamic state's caliphate. we were left with no options other than the ypg. the other point i wanted to make, it didn't have to be this, and the "it" we are talking about it not that we made a choice between turkey and the syrian kurds. the choice we have made is to abandon and betray both of them. we've not only left behind our
partners in the fdf, but not won turkey as a strategic prize, but alienating them through lack of clarity of what we're hoping to accomplish and what we're going to allow them to do and so within a week of green lighting their military operations we're now sanctioning them. this is entirely unclear that this is going to help our relationship with turkey in the short-term and in the long-term, i would say that the future of turkey as a u.s. ally, as a nato partner, it really depend upon its ability to resolve its conflicts with the kurds internally and externally and all we've done is prolong and extend and deepen that conflict. we've put off the possibility of peace process in turkey for years if not decades in years and a generation, all that's doing is actually pushing turkey further away from the united states, further away from the west, further away from the democratic institutions and values on which the modern republic of
turkey was founded, and in so doing we're pushing it closer to russia, to china and to iran. so, if our objective in all of this is to try to win turkey back, to try to keep iran from expanding its influence and aggression in the region, all we've managed to do is increase both of those... is this the right way to have left? i think doing so in the way in which there was no an pending turkish operation as made clear by the fact it took him three days to mobilize and meld the
operation. having done so with no clear plan with the turks about what the operations were going to be, no red red lines as to what the united states was willing to tolerate. and actually after we had demobilized and demilitarize the syrian kurds to make it harder for them to mount a defense, all of those things have made it and even more treacherous situation, we could facilitate a deal between the kurds and assad if we were really going to leap and we wanted to leave the control of this territory. if the choice was about pulling out, if that's what we're debating, there's all manner of things that could've been done to make this much less of a fiasco. the debate is not whether we should hold out or not, it should be done this in this manner. it's hard to imagine being able to do it in a way that would make the situation any worse than it is right now. >> i think the panelists are very robust layout of how we got here. what to turn to what you all
think we should do about it. i invite you to approach that question in whatever way you want to, whether it's vis-à-vis turkey, the kurds, syria, the assad regime, however you think you want to approach your recommendations for the united states, and whoever wants to take it i guess will start. yes, mary beth. >> i'm going to take a slight detour over to what some of my colleagues have said the prize and the strategic issue at hand, which is how does this impact our relationship with turkey. as this sort of one of the many facets in which we deal with erdogan. i have to say i disagree vehemently that the u.s. actions on the northeast border of c pushed turkey into being a turkey of today. the turkey of today is no longer the secular turkey that was the
original member of nato. the turkey of today has an extremist. it's increasingly dictatorial authoritative leader, he has put his own journalists and his own teachers and other civilian in jail repeatedly. he has facilitated through 2012 2012-2014 the iranian nuclear and other programs by going around the blockades and the embargoes and sanctions against iran. he is currently illegally have -- off the coast of cyprus. he has purchased the s-400 -- excuse me, from russia, only after which we had to talk him out of purchasing the committee control communication system from the chinese.
shelley go on? he dares to come to our capital and unleashes his votes against protesters who are across the street and push them around and beat them. this is no good buddy of hours that somehow we are responsible for the freeze for the cold air in our relationship. this is a turkey that is not a good ally, full stop. this is a turkey that the turkish people increasingly with their ability to vote are voicing their concern and opposition to erdogan. this is not a regime that we should be facilitating and we darn sure shouldn't be facilitating the aggressive extraterritorial aggression of this machine either in iraq or syria, full stop.
>> if we can -- >> we are pausing. >> i think that's enough to get an interesting discussion started. mark, you signaled to me for some going to let you have the floor first and then michael, if you can then add your thoughts. >> listen come on the issue of turkey i certainly understand there's been an increasingly authoritarian strain to what is happening in turkey right now and where disputes the go well beyond the issue of the s-400, the issue of pastor brunson, , e had the issue of a belief the united states participated in some of the coup activities. wembley and reception we are harboring a terrorist in the form of a gulen. so stipulated, this is not a good relationship. the question is should we as a nation be trying to push ourselves for as reform effort inside of turkey, do we want to
get under the tent to try to fix that or do we want to stay outside the tent and just push turkey, historical native ally who has served alongside of us, is it better for us to try to work with turkey as an ally to cut help in the reform effort, or do we just excoriate, isolate, and tossed out of date of the largest ground military in the region? i just don't think it's necessary that we have to lose turkey no matter how bad it gets. because there will be a future in turkey. there will be in russia, there will be a post-putin. in in hungary the with the a post orban. >> no one is think we should abandon turkey. >> it's my turn. >> i know, but speedy i like to give mary beth an opportunity to respond giving it was responded to her and then will go to
michael. >> the what is saying we should kick them out of nato. no one is saying -- we have nuclear weapon issues in turkey. but let's not, let's not be, let's be honest about what we are dealing with here. this is an extremist authoritative government that is selling the secular democracy and infrastructure of turkey down the road, endangering the turkish people and somehow acquiescing to been sending troops across their own border is not a path to establishing a conducive productive relationship with this regime. >> i want to make three points. one about this debate, then about what we should do right now and would want to go, what kind of arrangement we can hope for there. with regard to this debate, we need to make a distinction, and
it's extremely important between this issue, by that i mean support by the united states of the pkk. we have not been honest with ourselves about what we were doing in northern syria. mark put it very well. we were building up a group that was supporting the construction of roads. we were building roads, and autonomous kurdish state led run exclusively by the pkk, which is not a democratic organization. the pkk was expelling from its area kurds that didn't agree with it. that's what we were doing. whether we told ourselves or not, that was the effect of our actions. we need to separate that from anything else in the turkish-american relationship. this question of kurdish separatism in turkey is different than any other issue in turkey. it's absolutely, it's the number one issue and turkish domestic and foreign policy, and every
self-respecting turk supports erdogan on this issue. if what undermine erdogan, i tell you i don't do it. you don't do by building up the pkk on his board and then allow him to present himself as the definitive turkish interests against the united states. so let's talk about that. everything that erdogan has done in the last few years to be difficult to us, including the s-400s, he has done in the context of us building up the sworn enemy of turkey in the face of numerous, constant turkish requests that we not do it. now, there's no guarantee that we can salvage turkish-u.s. relations. there's no guarantee at all. i wish i could argue that if we move away from our pro-pkk policy, that we can return relations to where they used to
be. but i know for a fact we will never succeed at that so long as we are seen by the majority of turks as supporting the pkk. so let's recognize that we played a role in the deterioration of our relations with turkey. whether it's 50% america and 50% erdogan% erdogan, or 80% erdogan and 20% -- i don't know that we played a major role. let's move aside the mistake that we may. let's get past that and to try to do something productive. just a couple of sentence about what that means. >> what is that productive? >> donald trump has been forced, doll trump has been forced into, by this bipartisan consensus in congress to put sanctions on turkey. let's use that for negotiation with erdogan, possibly get, maybe get forces to stop, cease-fire in place and then negotiation with the turks but an arrangement and northeast
syria that meets their security needs and allows us what we need in northern syria and protects civilian life. one last sentence just about what blaise said. i agree with almost every word that plays said about what we would like -- blaise said -- >> can i get that in writing? [laughing] >> you can get the full sentence -- about what we would like to see in northeast syria, is something on the model of the krg and iraq. but we never tried to build that. this is the key. we converted the relationship between ally and proxy. our ally is turkey. our proxy was the pkk. our forces on the ground, the department of defense became the representative of the pkk to turkey. this is -- one of the reasons
why the people who are arguing against what's the turkish intervention or outraged by our sink in but we are on the other side, we come america, are on the other side and, therefore, you should feel comfortable with it. it's the fact we are over there made it so untenable to the turks. because we elevated a little splinter extremist organization of a minority and put it on the same level as ally and begin mediating back-and-forth in representing the turkey the positions of the pkk. so while we're using our power umbrella and then representing interest to turkey, , as the grt power on earth and turkey's greatest ally. that was absolutely untenable to the turks. there's no possible way they were ever going to accept that. that pkk, the ypg on the ground, rejected any notion of power-sharing in their area. they hate --
>> let's -- >> last. they hate the krg. these guys, the ypg, they would rather be in bed with assad and the iranians than with the kurds of iraq. that's why we're seeing this quick, the 30 speedy, this very speedy move the american slave and the russians and the syrians move in. because they have always been aligned with the russians and the iranians. we borrowed the russian and iranian proxy and that was strategically stupid. >> that sounds great -- >> it's true. [laughing] statistically speaking, , it is not true. there was a survey of having been to the syrian refugee camps, most of the syrian defense forces are not even
kurds. they are arabs. thank you. and, in fact, that is more out by the wilson center's survey of syrian defense forces that overwhelmingly conclude that the majority of syrian defense forces are arab, statistically overwhelmingly arab, then the kurds, right unbutton underneath the kurds, christians with a few turkmen and they use these. at the beginning i don't disagree with anything that you said about the ypg. i don't know the ypg. it was a mistake, i don't know whether it was mistake but the syrian defense forces are no longer and have been for a while equal to the ypg. it is a diverse organization of actually several very large tribes who fought against the kurds on behalf of assad until very recently and as the joint the sdf in order to preserve
what they believe to be territorial, one-third of syria, on behalf of this very shaky, very of the moment grouping under the sdf. so the narrative of these guys being the wai pf and the pkk is a a couple years old and no longer the case. it's much more complicated now. that's the turkish narrative that they want us to believe, and it's just not accurate. >> that's like saying account isis coalition which is 52 states is not an american coalition if you took america out of account isis coalition, of the 51 state are however many, would be -- how much firepower with the bring on the ground against isis? ask yourself the question. none. it's an american coalition. the sdf is a pkk coalition. yes, that are speedy that's your opinion. statistically is not borne out. >> it's not the numbers.
the leadership, the political agenda and the court fighting capability. >> i can jump in. >> let's maybe broaden out the conversation again. >> i don't know if i'm going to that but am going -- [laughing] i am going to do something like characteristic and agree with michael mullen . and general kimmitt on another. mike is right that having a mechanism for reconciling police the conflicting tween the turks and the sdf forces on the other side of the border come away trying to find ways to accommodate turkish security concerns, a way to make turkey, some form of mechanism for working with both sides of this would be fantastic. we have that up until ten days ago. that's we had a mechanism through which we have joint u.s.-turkish patrols. we had a demilitarization of sdf forces along the border and we were trying to give turkey the
security guarantees that was looking for. i have not heard in expedition yet of why that was not enough for the turkish site other than turkish demand that that gets a 300 mile-long 20-mile deep strip of territory that it gets to control within syria. and i don't know why that is necessary for the repair of u.s.-turkish relations for us to enable turkey to have that. having that strip of territory for turkey is not about the sdf. it is not the fact it has more than 3 million syrian refugees that is no longer political tenable for erdogan to maintain within turkey and he needs to be able to send somewhere. turkey has mismanaged its diplomacy in its attempts to work with russia and iran and is fundamentally miscalculated when it came to trying to protect the sort of opposition forces and is find a can no longer maintain that so it has on the order of 115 million refugees are likely going to be trying to cause the
turkish border under the iranian syrian russian offensive going on. what's happening is turkish trying to find a way to accommodate that pressure which is why it needs the territory, that's why you are security guarantees, the mechanisms that were put in place over the last four months to cut accommodate turkish security concerns were not enough to make erdogan happy. happy. so yes, it would be great if we tried to do everything we could to make sure that turkey felt secure. that's in fact, what we are trying to do with all this fell apart. i will disagree with general kimmitt on the fact i don't see us having been engaged in in a nationbuilding exercise. nation building was 150,000 troops in afghanistan can 185,000 troops in iraq. we had 1000 troops that we are spending $1.25 billion on you. that's a a drop in the bucket n terms of what we spent and about and afghanistan, what we spend on overseas operations generally. we are not engaged in a massive
exercise of trying to build up a state there. what we were engaged and i think was twofold. one was continued counter isis operations because we understood that returning stability to these areas was important to making sure isis wasn't able to reemerge because we knew isis was not, was physically defeated or territorially defeated but not ideologically defeated. that is something that is been poured out in the last ten days as we've seen resurgence of isis within territories that it once held. the fact, the thing we were not honest with ourselves about, at 1000 forces were in northern syria to protect against iranian expansion into that territory. it was about making sure that assad and iran were not able to take control of major oil-producing areas of scenery which would help fund the reconstruction and a continued grasp on power. it was to make sure there was
not a land closed-door particularly through that area along the iraqi border that was established to allow iran to continue funneling weapons and fighters in money both to assad and if hezbollah. this is something that john bolton talked about, the need to forces in syria until iran was pushed out, something the military was, in fact, not very willing to be upfront about that this was part of why we have been there but something that is now can you because as mary beth said at the beginning, of all the orders for his troops to pull out, the one garrison that is remaining about the 15050 soldiers we have stationed at a critical border crossing between syria and iraq which makes it clear we are concerned about iranian presence there. yes, we haven't been honest about ourselves about what we're doing in syria but not because we many cajun nationbuilding. we've been engaged in trying to push back against iran in ways that we have been forthright about. the question of what we're going to do, very quickly, i think the
current debate about the sanctions that were put in place in turkey by the administration yesterday, the sanctions are being considered by congress. at this point are going to be counterproductive. the fundamental thing we lost his credibility in this decision but also clarity for ourselves and for our international partners about what exactly use objectives are. we need to step back and think about both what are the subject is, figure out how to articulate those clearly rather than doing that and a tumultuous hodgepodge manner, , then think about how e get back the credibility to try to further those objectives. sanctioning turkey for something it appears we greenlighted them to do does that help us get back our credibility. what we should be doing with turkey is putting in place the sanctions and penalties that we
left on -- unenforced 200 putting in place the penalty in trying to skirt iran sanctions, putting in place the sanctions that are due under the countering america's adversaries through sanctions act for turkey's purchase of the s-400s had been delayed indefinitely to do the things that are required of us to do by law and by the result of turkey's counterproductive actions and step back and reevaluate where we're going next and how we rebuild the credibility to get there. >> i take your point about maybe it's small nationbuilding, but the united states was heavily involved in ensuring the governing council is moving along, helping with self-governing processes. one of the fundamental issues of the nationbuilding effort is that your u.s. security on the ground. we're helping build a a 40,000n police force. okay, small in nationbuilding but if they we were moving in
the path in any case. the one point i wanted to talk about was i think that we've got to acknowledge that turkey is not, while turkey is not blameless, i think there's a lot of going to go around particularly in the case of europe and, frankly, some of the middle east countries. turkey has since the beginning of the civil war absorbed a significant amount of refugees. it was mentioned this was a political issue. it's not. it is a drag on the economy. turkey has a fairly weak economy in the first place and has gone out of their way to try to host those syrian refugees to the capacity it can. so yes, they wanted a security buffer zone. yes, they still want a security buffer zone of 30 kilometers of the also won a place where they can resettle a significant number of those syrians who have gone into turkey to relieve the burden. the event absently no sympathy on the part of europe for any assistance in that regard. they see themselves as bearing
an inordinate amount of weight for those refugees. i think they are looking to get them back to, if not for many that area is their homes, but many at the least getting them back into syria so that takes the pressure off a very precarious turkish economy. as blaise sikkim sanctions on the economy right now in many ways is only going to make it worse for the syrian refugees. >> okay. in about ten minutes with a different want open it up to you. i want to move the discussion to, we touched on influence of the rent and what this means for iran's presence in the region. i think there's potentially more in-depth discussions i want to start there and also ask you about the other player outside of the region which appears to be russia. the sga worked with the assad regime in the deal brokered by
the russians to figure out a way going forward, so it certainly seems to me that might be something we want to discuss as we talk about the regional calculus here. so whoever wants to begin. let's go down the line. >> i'll make it short. >> i'll take your extra time. >> jumping back up to strategy. we have a congruence of interest with the russians right now in syria that i think we need to emphasize, and that is while the russians and the iraq's -- excuse me, the iranians worked very hard together early on getting rid of isis and other activities, there's now a fair amount of tension between the two of them with a little bit of competitiveness with the russians will tell you behind the scenes with who is going to
be responsible for the syrian military after this all settles out, which is the number of years in the future. and i think working with assad, with the russians come to minimize the role of iran in syria would be in all of our best interest, particularly in certain physical locations northeast syria and along the israeli jordanian and other borders where we've already stationed troops. so i think there can be a deal to be made with assad to the russians to keep iran out of those places, limit iran to no involvement in the syrian no, nn which i think the russians would like. absolutely no proxy forces in iran at all. but to the extent, excuse me come in syria at all.
but to the extent syria is becoming hezbollah eyes as some people argue to work with the russians to minimize that, i think the russians actually are buying into that. that also helps us with credibility i think that with erdogan come in a couple of weeks, is it? weeks? >> november 17. >> coming for a meeting, we need to stop bickering about how we got here and be very clear about what we want from the turks and what we are willing to give to the turks. turkey had plenty of opportunity not only with what blaise was talking to but to the processes to make it clear they could want something from the u.s. i think we should hear them out but said some very, very stringent limitations of what we expect in return, and certainly the behavior we had the last time.
>> what are the sticks and cures you believe we should be presenting to erdogan when he comes? >> i think the sticks, leaves talked about our we are legally required to institute the sanctions in the activities. i think my understanding is while turkey is a losing its key role with the f-35, it's a very difficult process for those of you who are involved, you just can't move the factory, both the jobs and move. i think there is room there for economic job-training and other reasons to work with the turks, if possible, to keep the program of life. i think turks would greatly appreciate it. it's a key program and facility and capability that they want. i think working with the russians and assad against turkey to deal with the buffer on northeast syria where it will not permit turkish troops or
other presence, , but allow the return of refugees and displaced persons, both internally and externally, is something we should strive for, and in some respects should help turkey from the refugee standpoint. perhaps not on a political standpoint. i think those are some ideas. >> just a little bit of history here i think is important on the iran question. one of the reasons why the obama administration married the pkk in northern syria was because it was consistent with the obama policy of reaching an agreement regionally and on a nuclear issue with iran. the opposition forces that we tried to use in syria against isis, we made them sign a
declaration that they would not carry out any operations against assad, because assad was a russian and the iranian asset and ally. and we were in the process working on the jcpoa, and of aligning across the region with iran. this is the dirty little secret of the obama foreign policy. brett mcgurk come brett mcgurk ran the program is the guy who aligned us with irgc assets in iraq against isis. if you want to understand why there's a growing corridor from baghdad to beirut, it's because we just created kill zones for attacking sunnis while never ever addressing the rise of the iranians and their shiite proxies. that is true in all the cost iraq, and it's also true in syria. this this is the thing i think e
missed this. the pkk, the ypg, has about this entire time that they're supposed to be our proxy, they kept the assad government forces in the east. planes go from damascus and there are assad forces and hezbollah. then they use it to reinforce the position. if we were serious about having a counter iran program we would return to our proxy, the pkk and what it said, close down the assad position come close down the assad and help us close down assad position. we never ever said that. if you look at what brett mcgurk wrote a few months ago when he saw trump is going to pull out, he said sadly, what i think we should do is we should broker a deal whereby we take the sdf the we built up and we should put it up under assad.
that was always the plan. that was always the plan. we outlined -- >> that's what we just did. >> that was the ypg program which we took on board. my point to you and all your sink and we took on without admitting it, our military especially took on the ypg political program in syria, which benefited in the end the iranians. that was the foundation that was late. once the trump administration came in and became hostile to iran, a lot of officials, well-meaning, very much in the manner that mark described while many, good intentioned, or trying to take the position that we had built up in syria and then grabbed a counter iran strategy on. the american military was never on board. general votel, former commander of centcom we do for commerce and testified, it is not a dod
mission to counter iran in syria. it's an american policy to counter iran not in syria. this morning i read our forces are being pulled out of syria and their being redeployed elsewhere including to iraq and the government is saying they can carry out how to isis activities from iraq into syria. so we can carry out counter border operations for lerach industry to counter isis we can't close down the syrians. this is again strategic, a total interest but let's understand where it came from. came from that original alignment with iran. last point that the strategic prize in all of this i repeat is a international orientation of turkey and trying to repair the relationship. president erdogan has signaled
this time and time again over the last few years that he could keep doing what you're doing, i have other options. unfortunately, today a doctrine has taken hold in ankara that perhaps it's better for the turks to align with the russians and iranians and solve their security problems in syria in a russian context. that is what we need to be worried about. if turkey, this is not an impossibility. if turkey were team up with the iranians and with the russians, with the intention of doing the united states out of the middle east, think how long would last in the region. inc. of difficult our life would become in the region. look, erdogan said to us for years, please don't build up the pkk in syria. we ignored him. last week he said i'm going to drive the americans out, and he drove us out like that. i'm not saying we would fold all over the region if that happened. i'm saying turkey is a very significant country with a very
significant, with a very coherent understanding of what its interests are, and it is actually hostile to the united states company can do an enormous amount of damage. before we ever get to that stage let's make sure we're not doing anything that women look back on it historically we will say, you know what, maybe we shouldn't have done that. >> general kimmitt. >> give mike a chance to catch a breath. >> all, no. while you're waiting i'll talk some more. [laughing] >> three points very quickly. first of all this notion of an iranian land bridge is absolute nonsense. very simply because the marines have been encircling the region for years. they are in kurdistan, in syria, in lebanon, in yemen. they have a good relationship and colemont. there in eastern provinces, in the heart rate. so i do understand with whole notion of the land which is going on. the they have been encircling industry for years and years.
number two, when i came out of iraq the first time in 2004, one of the great programs we had was driving a a wedge between syria and iran. that was a fool's errand. iran has been a patron, syria has been a proxy for iran for decades and i don't think we're any chance of changing that in the near term. last point i would make, we had some good normative policy recommendations going forward, what should be done. the positive, , what will happe, my prediction is the same comment on this that yugoslav national army officer may to meet in 1996 when we were talking about bosnia as we just entered in. he looked at me and he said this is going to be a multi-decade operation for you. okay. you look at me and he said, sometimes you just need to let the fire burn itself out. and i think u.s. policy going
forward a lease under this president when it comes to this area northeast syria, he is just going to let this fire burn itself out. >> i guess a couple of points. part of the challenge of this region is sort of all the overlapping interest the united states has in it, which the question validity. i think we need to rack and stack those and rank them if you got to dress them in order picker think the number one concern that we should have now is the return of sunni extremism in the area. there's two things we need to be concerned about there. the first is that 10,000 or so isis fighters that are being held or have been held in sdf controlled territory, and the 100,000 or so refugees that were being held in that same territory of isis family and others.
whatever happens next in those territories, we need to make sure that those people are accounted for and those that are still left. i think this is summer where the united states could work with its partners both regionally come in data and others to come up with a solution of how to move those camps and the spiders into places where we can guarantee that they're not escaping and starting new terror cells. on the same point i think we need to be terribly concerned that the same way turkey accuses us of using terrorist proxies to fight in syria, turkey is using terrorist proxies in the form of the free syrian army witches and al-nusra affiliate force that is been allegedly carry out atrocities already in northern syria, that they are not allowed to grow stronger as a result of these operations. one of the things we should do is put criteria in place for president erdogan visit in november. if you want to come in november the we need to make sure that our example forces are no longer
allowed to conduct operations in northern syria as well as protections are put in place for civilians, particularly and large urban areas. they should be conditions if you want to have a white house meeting to make sure that he is working with us. but more broadly i think the point i wanted to make is one that i read in a book about u.s. policy in the middle east as i admired greatly, which was that the united states has failed when it has seen itself as an, its role in the least as being an honest broker and trying to accommodate the demands of multiple different sites and figure out who's right and who's wrong and how to figure out sort of where the historical conflicts are and how to resolve them. instead can we should be more single-minded in pursuing our interest and working with the forces that are actually going to further them rather than get into the demands of people and countries that lay claims to us giving them what they justly
deserve. and so in this we need to think longer-term about how we make sure iranian influence, whether it is overland or over air or financially, doesn't expand. i don't see how we have accomplished that i basically saying we haven't abandoned the kurds can we make sure the world is protected by her good friends aside in soleimani so we need to think about how we can try to rebuild some of her credibility and our ability to push back against iran. it's likely be that northern syria is it going to be the place to because we have given up our influence their and our ability to affect things on the ground. that means the hitters like iraq, yemen, the persian gulf are going to grow a lot more important. we will probably be a lot more reliant on partners like israel that is already been conducting what i call the war between wars to try to make sure iran doesn't embed itself too deeply into syria. but i think we are more reliant
that we were ever before on partners to try to do come help us in the middle east and we just need to be clear eyed about who those partners are. >> where's that book? >> it was written by and once clear eyed analyst of the middle east by the name of mike doran. i highly recommend. >> available on amazon. [laughing] >> okay. i think that's a great place to pause the conversation we've been have any an open up the question. this gentleman right here, we will start there and try to get as many as we can. i just want to listen groundrules. please see your name and your affiliation. please limit your question to a question and not a comment. >> there's a microphone coming. [inaudible]
>> i expect you will talk about what's next after decisions have been from mr. trump. and even i expect you will talk a little about what's happening in north that syria. there's many civilians was killed, many civilians, nobody talks about that, absolutely. the main issue, that's why i want to talk, you concentrating about the pkk. pkk issue inside turkey. it is not connected northeast syria. i'm not kurdish i'm not kurdish. i will never accept pkk to be inside syria. that's why i'm wondering why you are talking like that? and my question now, my question, it is what's your opinion about what's happening in the northern syria by killing the civilians and occupation works and one more issue that
the area from concentrate from invasion from turkey, it is between -- [inaudible] they are not kurdish. these people with the arm are not kurdish. the first found was killed by -- it was region affiliate. >> that's a great place to pause the question and turn it over and get some answers to the civilian cost. >> actually come , for those ofu who have been following this over, the airy we talking is about a third of the territory of syria, a very large territory and there are literally somewhere between one-third and half of the total population of syria is either internally or externally displaced. there are millions that are in lebanon, in turkey, in other
places, some of whom, jordan, yes, some of whom affiliate or self describe themselves as pro-syrian defense forces in my personal experience they are from all walks of life, kurds, arabs, christians, turkmen, tribes that have followed their tribal leaders so very much a tribal geographic fight. and these people are being slaughtered. as refugees they are living under internally and externally absolutely horrific circumstances. it bothers me tremendously that we have not had the coverage here of the plight of these substantial women and children who are literally died of malnutrition. winter is coming. many of them will freeze to death. they are not even given
pocketable water, and in lebanon actually they turned off the water and made the move because they were worried about the sewage seeping into the water tables and impacting their crop growth. you're exactly right, we we've not paid sufficient attention and there are some indications that the ypg, the turkish proxies and others certainly remnants of isis, al-nusra and others, are basically using civilians and women and children in particular as both shields and as political victims for their fight. and that has got to stop, regardless of what the u.s. does, that has got to stop. one final point. the refugees in turkey, is that because erdogan is out of the goodness of his heart, saving the rest of europe from influx of immigrants. that was a political blackmail
tool that is used against germany and others, and still uses, in order to get their acquiescence on political and other matters. it's not because erdogan is being -- because he's such a great guy. >> general kimmitt. >> i think the ladies titration is that the gdp of turkey has been reduced by about .25% by the manager and assistance that given to the series can whether it's political purposes,, whatever, there is still money being paid to house the syrians inside of turkey. this is going to sound are radically and i expect a few books to be thrown at me, but i believe all sides are complicit in what's happening in northern syria right now. i believe they are complicit because it was clear that this is going to happen at some point.
erdogan had been amassing his forces along the border for the last you. he's been saying i'm going to go, i'm going to go. so there's no doubt about that. the fact the ypg has decided to fight inside that area rather than withdraw to the 30-kilometer out of the 30-kilometer buffer zone so that the turks come in in may noncombat role but just occupy. the fact the ypg has decided to fight their makes it complicit in the carnage we are seeing. i believe the united states is complicit, too, because they could've worked this out between both sides. look, if, in fact, the turks are going to come in, you're going to come in as peacekeepers. you will be living with these people for years and years. if you come in guns blazing, all you'll do is turn off the very population that you are trying to get onto your side. my view would be the ypg had the opportunity to reduce the carnage substantially only
behind the 30-kilometer line. the turks can reduce the carnage substantially i coming in as peacekeepers and not as were fighters, and the united states could've done its job by brokering that agreement between those sides before the turks came in. >> michael? >> thank you for your question. because i realized in the last few days talking about this issue, that when you talk about it at a strategic level it often sounds as if one doesn't have concern about the loss of life on the ground and the civilians. but that's in the forefront of my mind. my point is that if we don't get the structural issues correct, there will be no framework -- there would be no successful framework for humanitarian
policy. simply putting the humanity in question first and talking about it without reference to the strategic framework is a disaster. i agree with what mark just said. there's a lot of blame to go around as i think going forward we have to pick out what other structural fundamentals that can create a framework in which we can look after the humanitarian concerns. with respect to the corridor or the pocket between -- yes, it's not kurdish and that's exactly erdogan went in there because it breaks up the east and west. because the turkish, and you know this unsure as those i do, the goal of the turkish policies to make sure there is no rise of a pkk statement. also he was under pressure from the americans that there be no occupation of, you know, of
kurdish cities and so on, and so we chose that area. i think we should work to accommodate his secret security concerns in that area with a clear understanding those security concerns are there would be no speed is i'm going to get more questions and in the tennis with left, i posit unclipped a couple questions are so moved to the back because i seem your hand up quite a bit. over here and you could just give us your questions up briefly and so will incorporate both of them. >> hello. my name is laura kelly. i'm a reporter for the hilbert this question is for ms. along anybody who wants to answer. you brought up the whole bank case and also the sanctions for the purchase of the s-400. why do you think that the u.s. hasn't imposed the sanctions, especially given the reporting
we know now about maybe giuliani pressing for favorable outcomes for turkey? >> thank you. >> we have to bring impeachment in? let's make this an impeachment freezone. >> i don't think it is. i think it's just a strictly policy question. let's get your question and then will incorporate both of them. >> thank you. i'm a fellow who at the hudson institute. my question has to do with subject raised by general kimmitt a long time ago which is where this all started, which he described as a decision to take on isis and subsequently to carry that campaign into syria. so my question is, as you are aware where we wound up is that wise? if we were going to fight isis in syria, who will be going to fight it with except for sdf and
ypg forces? we certainly were not going to fight it with turkish forces since turkey was actively embedding isis in syria. we know that and i'm not a particular event of the policy that president obama followed, but turkey was confronted with that in the spring of 2014 and thereafter and speedy can you get to the question. let's turn for some edges i know we were not getting to some questions. if i can be so bold as to suggest perhaps some of the panelists have a few minutes after this to chat with folks individually. i apologize, we have to move on. the first question was about the sanctions. web wants to take that. and who else do we have partnered with? >> i'll do a quick one. you are the hudson institute
speedy no, please. >> all go really quickly. all of us agree that our relationship with the turkey is really fundamental, not only to our presence in that part of the world, but it is a very important nato ally. i think the reason why those two sanctions, activities were pursued is the president and the congress really has been trying to work with turkey, particularly from the mil to mil standpoint, not to sever the tie between the turks and the u.s. military. the joint chiefs, you know, ending the f-35 program and acquiescing to the 300 which has been bought, that really is a game changer. and by dragging it out, i hopefully working through turks
concerns to give them the capabilities that they need to have nato reinforce those desired capabilities is something i know, and nato is out for the summer, something under this administration and other administrations wants to do. i think it is purely a realistic acceptance that we have to work with turkey mil to mil is critical, on the s-300 that's a step beyond the river and anything we can do to delay it is important. >> anybody want to entertain the second part of the question, which is why haven't some of these sanctions been implemented yet? >> i'll just echo what mary beth said, which at least when it comes to the sanctions. understand has been there been ongoing appreciation between the united states and turkey on how to resolve the s-400 standoff including the possible that turkey wouldn't unboxed the 400 i would fully implement it and i think even after the initial
delivery was taken there was hope there would be some ability to find a way out of this, which is why the legally mandated sanctions have not been applied jeff. as for the penalty i think that is a lot harder to understand, particularly for an administration that is made maximum pressure on iran making sure that sanctions are fully implement and know it's starting sanctions on iran come one of its main policy objectives the becomes a lot harder to understand. >> who wants to dive into the second question? who else could we have partnered with? >> first of all, over at dod they were always searching for a better partner, but candidly, i'm not disputing the ypg was not the right solution. i think was absolutely the right solution with the conditions that been set out the temporary tactical and transactional. this was not meant to be a long-term alliance. this was not going to be the northeastern syria nato.
there's a reason the ypg wanted to fight with us. they wanted our assistance in protecting their villages. there was a reason why we wanted to fight with them but we also know that the conditions that were put on because there had to be the day after the fight, after the caliphate was destroyed that those weapons couldn't stay in the hands and post to turkey. our support was not going to be continuing. i actually think it was a very interest focused alignment that we make with the ypg that worked out very well for the united states. it worked out very well for the ypg, and had it been followed to its fruition it would've been a good deal for turkey as well. >> i want -- we have a few minutes, i see the u.s. representative for the syrian democratic counsel which is a critical arm of the sdf. we have about four minutes let so if i can ask you to ask a yor question quickly and let's get some responses in. >> thank you so much. first of all i would like to
just make one comment. [inaudible] -- said syrian issue which i don't see -- [inaudible] failed. they syrian issue is not only with the pkk. what's going on in with the syria is not related to pkk. it's the syrian people, arabs, kurds. in this region we have 5 million people living there. they are not all pkk. as -- that are not kurds. they are arabs. do you think these arabs are accepting to be a puppet in the kurds hands? do you think the syrian people will be a puppet to accept to be a puppet in the kurdish hands? i don't think so. because the system which we are advancing there is -- [inaudible] one question i want to ask.
now, let us see, okay, whatever you discuss, it is, okay, so who is the alternative here? do you think -- who came to the region and killing the civilian after resting them as it happened to the -- [inaudible] she's political. the arrestor and they kilter when she was alive. so this is alternative? people who come to -- [inaudible] these people committed, their committing the same decision again. so we would like to have who would be replaced these people? who will be there? who will be the alternative? we want to see speedy i'm very sorry. i don't want to cut you off.
we have two minutes left somewhat to get some response. >> i would just like this expressed. >> quickly. i don't know the answer to that. my fear is, and we haven't really touched upon this isis and other radicals and other extremists with a diverse agenda. those will prey upon the discord of all of the syrian people and we will all lose in that scenario. >> on the other hand, if at all works out and we can get syria writ large to some sort of post-civil war resolution, it's cleared the plan and up with everybody in your counsel would agree that you're looking for a federated region, somewhat self govern in the way kurdistan is in northern iraq. so there is a blueprint for that. there is a model for that but right now we've got to get to
syria in a post-civil war political resolution before anyone can move forward with that. >> all right. michael, last word? >> i just wanted to say that i do of course recognize that the average person on the ground is being crushed by these larger forces and has no voice in what's happening here but i think we have to realize, i know you're not the pkk, but the number one concern of the turks is the pkk. and if we don't address that to their satisfaction, and this is what we're going to get. i think this was inevitable on the basis of how we approached all this. the questions how do we get out of it and it has to be to u.s.-turkish relations. >> place, real quick. ..
we are doing joint patrols with the turks. to say that was inevitable regardless whether we drew the turks are not mean turkey was going to attack regardless of the we are a nato ally. >> we never addressed it is a political issue. we addressed -- the department of defense shoved everybody out of the way and addressed it as line here, line there and didn't address turkish concerns about the political project going on behind the lines. that you your self said it, what we want is the kr g model with power-sharing. dod did not want power-sharing because it liked the island it created for counterterrorism without reference to the larger structure in the region. that is stupid and this is what we get.
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