By Kent R. Kroeger (December 21, 2018)
The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.
President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.
Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.
“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.
As recently as last February, at least 200 Russian mercenaries (if they were Americans we’d call them ‘contractors’) were killed by U.S. troops during a 4-hour skirmish in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region.
Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.
The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.
But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.
“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
“Russia, Iran, Assad… are ecstatic!” declares South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.
Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.
Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.
However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.
As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.
Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.
Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.
But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.
Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?
In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:
“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”
And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.
After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.
In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.
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