Geopolitics

Trump's Diplomatic Recklessness Knows No Bounds

The U.S. president's abrupt decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria was short-lived. But backpedal as he might, the damage is already done.

U.S. and Turkish soldiers in northern Syria on Oct. 7
U.S. and Turkish soldiers in northern Syria on Oct. 7

-Editorial-

PARIS — Since his arrival at the White House, Donald Trump has often acted recklessly, making one sudden U-turn and impromptu decision after the other. But the confusion he has sown when he announced that U.S. forces were pulling out from parts of northern Syria coveted by Turkey is something entirely new.

Not only has it left U.S. allies flabbergasted, but even his own administration and, maybe for the first time, members of his own political camp are struggling to comprehend how the U.S. president could weaken the word of the world's leading power in such manner.

"It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal," Donald Trump tweeted on Monday. Shortly before, a White House statement announced that the United States would make way for Turkish forces, thus leaving the Kurdish forces to fend for themselves after having carried most of the load in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group.

Once again, it's easy to see how this decision — and its far-reaching consequences in the region — stemmed from considerations linked to U.S. domestic policy. Donald Trump is campaigning for his second term and wants to show his constituents that he keeps his promises. It is also a diversion, as the U.S. president faces the threat of impeachment for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of his rival Joe Biden.

It is also a diversion.

The outcry over the announcement of the sudden withdrawal then forced Donald Trump to backpedal, adding confusion to ineptitude. Even if the president, later in the day, spoke of the departure of only a few dozen members of the special forces, the diplomatic damage was done.

The declaration forced the Pentagon to state that it does not endorse Turkish intervention in northern Syria, saying that such an operation would have "possible destabilizing consequences' for the region. This reminder from the Department of Defense to its president speaks volumes about the kind of chaos at play in Washington.

Trump meeting with senior military leaders at the White House on Oct. 7 — Photo: Shealah Craighead/Planet Pix/ZUMA

The confusion chips away a bit more at the Kurds' trust in those who had pledged to protect them. "An ally must be reliable," Emmanuel Macron firmly insisted last December, when Donald Trump first hinted at his intention to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.

The French president, with support from the Pentagon and the CIA, managed at that point to convince his American counterpart to think twice about pulling out from the region — as it would have also led to the withdrawal of French special forces that would not have been able to remain on their own.

One more lie, then.

The embarrassment is all the more tangible in Paris, the western capital that is most committed to defending the Kurdish cause. In April, Emmanuel Macron welcomed a delegation of leaders from Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region of Syria, promising them full support. Those may be nothing but words, now. France risks thus being sidelined in the Syrian conflict, tied as it is to its unpredictable and unreliable American ally.

Beyond the failure to keep one's promises, any sign of American disengagement in the region can only breed chaos and favor the ensuing resurgence of ISIS. "The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS has been defeated," said Lindsey Graham, one of the pillars of the Republican majority in the Senate. It's one among a multitude of lies, but may well have unfathomable consequences.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ