Rooney, Florida delegation hit Trump’s betrayal of Kurds; Scott silent

10-10-19 Kurdish refugees facesKurdish refugees flee Turkish bombing.             (Photo: Rudaw)

Oct. 10, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated 4:15 pm with comments by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has joined other members of the Florida congressional delegation to criticize President Donald Trump’s precipitous withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, which has already sparked a Turkish invasion.

“I urge the President to reverse his decision of removing our troops, and to send a strong message to Turkey—along with our other NATO partners in Europe—that we support the Kurds who have been fighting with us,” Rooney declared in a statement today.

“The administration’s decision to remove our remaining troops from Syria is strategically short-sighted, erodes our credibility amongst our regional partners and fortifies Russia’s position in the conflict. The Syrian Kurds have been a critical ally in the fight to eradicate ISIS, and they continue to be a crucial partner in the stabilization of the region—holding thousands of foreign ISIS prisoners that our European allies refuse to accept and administering refugee camps that ISIS holdouts hope to infiltrate and exploit. Abandoning the Kurds at this time and supporting by default Turkey’s offensive military action will divert Kurdish resources now being used to stabilize the region and will erode global confidence in the US.”

Rooney also warned of the consequences when Trump first wanted to withdraw US forces earlier this year.

“Regardless of the past decisions which drew the United States into the conflict in Syria, we should not abandon our role in the fight against the Islamic State,” Rooney argued. “A withdrawal would give back all that we have achieved and would be an abandonment of our Kurdish allies. The void we would leave will create space for other power players with interests adverse to ours, like Russia and Iran, to gain ground in the Middle East,” he stated in a Feb. 1, 2019 op-ed, “Stay in Syria to counter Iran.”

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a former US ambassador to the Vatican, Rooney has long supported Kurdish aspirations.

“Given our own tradition and the recent history of Iraq and Kurdistan, we should at least consider the potential strategic advantages of Kurdish independence,” Rooney wrote almost exactly two years ago in an op-ed, “Kurdistan Deserves U.S. Support. Here Is Why.”

Rooney argued that the Kurds were more stable politically than Iraq, with which the US is formally allied, independence would strengthen the fight against the Islamic State (contrary to State Department arguments that an independent Kurdistan would weaken it), an independent Kurdistan could provide a secular-religious bridge in the region and hold back Shiite aggression, and that despite their enmity, a Turkish-Kurdish economic relationship was possible.

In another op-ed related to Kurdistan, in November 2017 Rooney drew a contrast between the Kurdish and Catalan drives for independence (“The Differences Between Catalonia and Kurdish Iraq”).

Trump’s withdrawal decision has led to blistering congressional criticism on both sides of the aisle, including from longtime allies.

At 3:38 pm today Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) tweeted that he was “concerned” about Trump’s decision:

“I strongly support much of the President’s foreign policy. However, I’m concerned about the ramifications of the decision to withdraw from #Syria,” he stated in the second part of a three-part thread. “The Kurds have been instrumental partners in the region, and loyal allies to the US for decades. I hope that this decision will not further destabilize the region, or embolden enemies such as Iran and ISIS.”

Florida’s House Democrats were more vocal:

“Of all of Trump’s foreign policy blunders, this one is particularly damaging and goes against our American values,” stated Rep. Lois Frankel (D-21-Fla). “It’s hard to see how anyone will agree to partner with us on the ground after this. Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds shows he’s willing to throw our allies under the bus.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) also stated: “The president’s latest impulsive decision is outright dangerous and appalling. In sanctioning Turkish military action against the American-trained Kurdish forces who fought and died on the front lines against the Islamic State, the president has abandoned our allies in Syria and made an egregious strategic error. This will undoubtedly pave the way for massacre and humanitarian disaster. At every turn, this president undermines America’s legitimacy as a global leader and forsakes the values that our nation stands for.”

In the Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted:

“At request of this administration the Kurds served as the primary ground fighters against ISIS in Syria so U.S. troops wouldn’t have to.

“Then cut deal with Erdogan allowing him to wipe them out.

“Damage to our reputation & national interest will be extraordinary & long lasting.”

In a second tweet he noted (punctuation his):

“We degraded ISIS using Kurd’s as the ground force. Now we have abandoned them & they face annihilation at the hands of the Turkish military

“ISIS could now be reinvigorated when 1000’s of jailed fighters break out when the Kurdish guards are forced to leave to go fight Turkey.”

As of this writing Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has not issued any statements or made any remarks regarding the president’s decision.

The president has been defending his actions in an ongoing series of tweets. (All Trump tweets can be accessed at Trumptwitterarchive.com, where the latest tweets are posted and can also be searched by topic.)

(To see ongoing coverage of Kurdish events from the Kurdish perspective, check the Kurdish news network, Rudaw.)

Liberty lives in light

©2019 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

Rooney votes against compromise spending bill that averts government shutdown

01-13-19 us capitol cropped

The Rooney Roundup

359 days since Rep. Francis Rooney has appeared in an open, public forum

Feb. 15, 2019 by David Silverberg

Yesterday in the US House of Representatives, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) voted against the compromise spending bill averting another government shutdown.

Despite Rooney’s opposition, the spending bill, House Joint Resolution (HJRes.) 31, passed last night by a vote of 300 to 128.

The spending bill, which had already passed the Senate, now goes to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature. Once signed, it will fund the full government for a year, preventing another shutdown. However, President Trump has announced that he will be declaring a national emergency and redirecting unobligated funds to his border wall —funding which may have been destined for Everglades restoration, Hoover Dike repairs and Hurricane Irma assistance in Southwest Florida.

Foreign affairs: US involvement in Yemen

Yesterday Rooney also voted against ending US engagement in hostilities in the war in Yemen.

Despite his opposition, the Yemen war resolution (HJRes. 37) passed by a vote of 248 to 177.

Rooney stated that resolution would set a bad precedent: “…it establishes a precedent that any disgruntled Member of Congress in the future can deploy to challenge United States security assistance to other countries, which is a vital part of our foreign policy and national security. Any challenge to the use of such assistance could endanger U.S. allies like Israel or our counter-terrorism partners.”

Saudi Arabia is currently at war with Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Rooney opposes sea level rise but doesn’t acknowledge climate change

In an environmental first for Rooney, on Friday, Feb. 8, he introduced House Resolution 112, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that sea level rise and flooding are of urgent concern impacting Florida that require proactive measures for community planning and the State’s tourism-based economy to adapt.”

The resolution is not legislation and has no binding power or authority. It merely expresses an opinion and invites the House to concur.

The resolution acknowledges the threat of sea level rise to Florida military bases, the Kennedy Space Center, businesses and the Everglades. As a result of these effects it: “(1) acknowledges the significance of sea level rise and flooding throughout communities across the country and in Florida; and (2) affirms the need for greater adaptation funding and the incorporation of historical flooding and sea level rise projections into planning.”

In a statement accompanying the resolution Rooney stated: “Sea-level rise, storm surge and flooding currently threaten millions of homes across the state of Florida. I introduced this resolution to express my grave concern about the dangers associated with rising seas, and to stress the need to proactively prepare for future effects, such as increased risks of flooding from stronger hurricanes.

“Without preventive actions taken now, we risk the future livelihoods of our beautiful Florida communities. That’s why I’m calling for greater funding and the incorporation of sea-level rise projections to better plan for such events.”

The resolution has three other co-sponsors as of this writing. It was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Analysis

First, Rooney’s acknowledgment of sea level rise and his recognition that preparations must be made for it, is commendable.

However, missing from this resolution is any acknowledgment of the cause of sea level rise: climate change. Apparently, Rooney is not ready to go that far. In his last public appearance before constituents on Feb. 22, 2018 on Marco Island, Rooney dismissed climate change, stating: “We definitely need to learn all we can about why these sea levels are rising. I’m just not sure how much is man-made and how much is not. I think that there is very complex issues surrounding global warming. Sea levels have been rising since the ice age.”

To date, Rooney has not issued any statements expanding or altering this position.

Dealing with the effects of climate change while denying its cause is a common Republican tactic. It allows Republican politicians to stay in line with Trump’s climate change denial while recognizing that they nonetheless have to deal with its effects in their states and districts. (For a larger discussion of this strategy with a particular focus on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), see “Why conservatives keep gaslighting the nation about climate change,” from Vox.com.)

Given Rooney’s prior legislative record of failing to advance any standalone bills past the committee referral stage and the paucity of co-sponsors of this resolution, the resolution is unlikely to move forward in the House or have any larger impact.

Foreign affairs: Rooney opposes US troop withdrawal from Syria

In a rare dissent from President Donald Trump, on Feb. 1 Rooney authored an op-ed in The Hill newspaper, “Stay in Syria to Counter Iran,” opposing a sudden pullout of US troops from Syria.

“Regardless of the past decisions which drew the United States into the conflict in Syria, we should not abandon our role in the fight against the Islamic State. A withdrawal would give back all that we have achieved and would be an abandonment of our Kurdish allies. The void we would leave will create space for other power players with interests adverse to ours, like Russia and Iran, to gain ground in the Middle East,” Rooney wrote.

Trump’s precipitous decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria on Dec. 19 led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and passage on Feb. 5 of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (Senate 1), a resolution against withdrawal. The House has not yet considered it.

Rooney has previously supported Kurdish independence, writing in Oct. 2017 that: “Given our own tradition and the recent history of Iraq and Kurdistan, we should at least consider the potential strategic advantages of Kurdish independence.”

Liberty lives in light

 

 

 

 

 

Venezuelan oil sanctions may impact gas prices in Southwest Florida

01-29-19 mnuchin at wh on venezuelaTreasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explains sanctions against Venezuela at a White House briefing, Jan. 28, 2019.

Jan. 29, 2019 by David Silverberg

New sanctions imposed on Venezuelan exports of crude oil could raise oil prices in Southwest Florida and throughout the United States—although it may take time before that impact is felt at the pump.

On Monday, Jan. 28, at a White House press briefing, US sanctions were announced against Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, SA), by National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow.

PDVSA owns the CITGO oil company, which is the main supplier of gasoline products to the 7-Eleven convenience store chain.

“PDVSA has long been a vehicle for embezzlement, for corruption for Venezuelan officials and businessmen.  Today’s designation of PDVSA will help prevent further diversion of Venezuela’s assets by [Nicolas] Maduro, and will preserve these assets for the people of Venezuela where they belong,” stated Mnuchin.

Mnuchin was at pains to assure the public that the sanctions will not raise prices at the pump.

“…There’s been a big reduction in the overall price of oil and particularly since we instituted the Iran sanctions.  I think you know we’ve been very careful in making sure that these costs don’t impact the American consumer,” said Mnuchin. “Gas prices are almost as low as they’ve been in a very long period of time.  These refineries impact a specific part of the country.  And I think, as you’ve said, we’re very comfortable that they have enough supply that we don’t expect any big impact in the short term.”

The “specific part of the country” Mnuchin mentioned is the Gulf coast of the United States. However, the main impact there is likely to be felt by refineries on the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas, which will have to replace Venezuelan heavy crude oil with oil from other, more expensive sources like the Middle East.

“Citgo assets in the United States will be able to continue to operate, provided that any funds that would otherwise go to PDVSA instead will go into a blocked account in the United States,” stated Mnuchin.

“Now, I’ve been in touch with many of the refineries.  There is a significant amount of oil that’s at sea that’s already been paid for.  That oil will continue to come to the United States.  If the people in Venezuela want to continue to sell us oil, as long as that money goes into blocked accounts, we’ll continue to take it.  Otherwise, we will not be buying it.

“And again, we have issued general licenses so the refineries in the United States can continue to operate.  So I expect, in the short term, very modest impacts on the US refineries.  We’ve been working with them closely on these issues.”

US oil imports from Venezuela have been declining in recent years and currently account for only about 5.7 percent of US oil imports.

01-29-19 us oil imports from venezuela

US imports from Venezuela since 1993. (Source: US Energy Information Administration)

Background

The United States has recognized Juan Guaido, an opposition leader who assumed leadership of the National Assembly and swore himself into office, as the legitimate president of Venezuela following an election that the United States charges was fraudulent and rigged to elect Maduro. Russia and China are backing Maduro; European nations are joining the United States in recognizing Guaido.

Analysis

As with most battles of this sort, the impacts will depend on the length of the struggle. The Trump administration is trying to minimize the effect on consumers at the pump, as Mnuchin pointed out. In the short term, it’s likely to succeed in this, since the US is not heavily dependent on Venezuelan oil.

However, the longer the fight with Maduro continues the more likely some consumer impact will be felt. Should the fight escalate and possibly include military action, the likelier the effects on all oil and gas sales and the higher the possibility of impacts on the economy, already weakened by Trump’s government shutdown.

Southwest Florida will feel these impacts, like the rest of the country.

For more information on the political crisis see: How Venezuela got here: a timeline of the political crisis (Bloomberg)

For an extensive explanation of the US-Venezuelan oil relationship and the impact of the sanctions see: AP Explains: What a Venezuelan oil embargo could mean for US (Washington Post)

For a transcript of the White House press briefing see: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders (White House)

For the video of the press briefing see: White House Daily Briefing (C-SPAN)

Liberty lives in light