From what I have read about Australian immigration policy, Trump’s telephone tantrum with Australian Prime Minister Turnbull makes no sense. Trump should be mad with Obama, not Turnbull. This USA Today article gives some background.
Australia has been refusing to accept refugees in a way Trump should like. Australian was being inundated with refugees arriving by boat, many of them from the Middle East. Australia refused to accept the boats and sent the boat people to islands belonging to Papua New Guinea, where living conditions were poor. Refugee activists criticized Australia harshly for this policy.
The details are not clear to me, but it appears that Obama agreed to take some of the refugees that Australia refused to take. Trump presumably thinks some of the refugees that the US agreed to take are bad people from the Middle East who were trying to escape to Australia.
Another article that shed some light on the deal was an op-ed by Roger Cohen in the New York Times. As a Jew writing for the Trump-hating New York Times, Cohen has to make fun of Trump for putting Rex Tillerson at State in such a bad position, but he at least describes it better than most reports about it. Cohen says the deal was signed in September, but kept secret until after the election, because refugees were such a sensitive issue in the campaign. He says the Australians told the American negotiators, “We really want to mothball these places,” the island camps, because they had become an acute embarrassment to Australia. Cohen says he has visited one of the camps to see how bad they were.
It looks as if Obama was just trying to do Australia a favor, to help Australia close the camps and get rid of some of the bad publicity that they created for Canberra. Ironically, Australia had refused to take the same refugees that Trump was refusing to take. The two men agreed on refugee policy, but Trump apparently thought he was getting stuck with the worst of the deal. Presumably, Australia is still refusing to accept the refugees and is trying to get the US to carry out Obama’s promise to take some of them. But now Trump doesn’t want them either.
Obama has gotten a lot of criticism for failing to support the rebels against Assad, while Putin supported Assad, who had the Syrian military at his disposal. Many of the rebels opposing Assad were affiliated with al-Qaeda or ISIS. The few rebels not affiliated with them were very weak. John McCain’s idea to support the more trustworthy rebels would clearly have benefited Al-Qaeda and ISIS to some extent. Obama pretty much avoided doing that, to his credit. But Obama’s potential allies were weak, while Putin’s allies in the Syrian government were stronger.
People criticize Obama for failing to kill Assad after he crossed Obama’s red line on chemical weapons. I think Obama did the right thing. If Obama had killed Assad, or undertaken a massive invasion of Syria to unseat thim, it’s likely that the war would have become even more violent and even more chemical weapons would have been used. By getting Assad to renounce chemical weapons, Obama significantly reduced their use in the civil war.
In terms of who will win the civil war, Assad’s opponents have never been close to winning, even with foreign support. Assad was not strong enough to win quickly, but he was the only participant who had a chance of winning with only a little outside support. When Russia provided this support, the iide began to turn in Assad’s favor.
It’s not clear whether the end of the war is near, and if so, what it means. Hopefully it will mean less violence and death. It’s possible that Assad will seek revenge against the rebels, continuing the violence and the refugee deluge, but ideally things will be better than they are currently.
Obama could have lessened the destruction in Syria, by supporting Assad despite his unsavory human rights record. Obama could not have led the rebels to victory unless he had sent in US troops for a full scale war. Thus, the easy course of supporting Assad was open to Putin and he took it. He did not expend much in terms of men and equipment, but it appears to have been enough to turn the tide. He comes out looking like a strong man by supporting a human rights pariah.
Fareed Zakaria has French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy on his Sunday morning program often, but he fails to point out that Levy fomented the European and American invasion of Libya that destroyed the country and left it in a state of chaos. Gaddafi was a bad man, but the situation Levy created is even worse. He is a philosopher with a lot of blood on his hands. Fareed should mention this when he introduces Levy.