Banging the War Drums

Given both sides of the American Establishment detest Trump I can’t tell if this article is supposed to appeal to Republicans or Democrats, but its language is illuminating:

President Donald Trump has spoken: He wants U.S. troops and civilians out of Syria by the fall. But don’t call it a “timeline.”

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides.

There was a time when Democrats would be extremely happy that a president would face down hawks in the military, but nowadays they’d back nuclear strikes on Tehran if Trump advised against it.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Sorry, what US vacuum? Nobody has any idea what the US is actually doing in Syria, let alone why it is doing it. The US was rightly criticised for creating vacuums in Iraq, firstly by deposing Saddam Hussein and then by pulling its troops out before the Iraqi army was ready to defend the place. But unless you believe the nonsense that the CIA were behind the uprising which led to the civil war, the US is in no way responsible for any vacuum that forms in Syria. While some neocon lunatics probably believe it is America’s moral duty to insert itself into any vacuum which appears around the globe and make things worse, most normal people aren’t sold on the idea.

Besides, this assumes there would be a vacuum anyway. Assad remaining in power was assured the minute the Russians stepped in to prop him up, and Iran poured into whatever was left. So if there was a vacuum, it was rapidly filled by Russia and Iran years ago. Are American operations so significant that their cessation would radically alter the balance of power in Syria? I doubt it. But most importantly, so what? The one thing I’ve never got my head around is why anybody cares whether Russia or Iran are in Syria. The place has absolutely no strategic value for the US, and the only justification I hear for American involvement is a product of demented zero-sum thinking that what is good for Russia must automatically be bad for the US. There is absolutely no chance that Assad, the Russians, the Iranians, neighbouring Turkey, the Kurds, and roaming bands of jihadists will be able to create a functioning state that threatens American interests in any meaningful way, unless they step outside the borders of Syria. In which case, let’s keep and eye on things and cross that bridge when we get there, eh?

Granted, a Syria with a large Iranian military presence could cause problems for Israel, but my guess would be Iran will have its hands full trying to deal with the Russians, Turks, and Assad. If in the event Israel is seriously threatened, that is another bridge we can cross when we come to it. And in any case, I do hope Israel isn’t the reason America is getting itself bogged down in another Middle Easter quagmire, because that would look very bad indeed.

But the article doesn’t consider any of these points, preferring to paint Trump as an imbecile ignoring the advice of national security experts who, ahem, haven’t put a foot wrong, ever.

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.

What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

It speaks volumes that this authors of this piece believe this reflects negatively on Trump. What I want to know is why the hell the press haven’t been publishing such tirades and asking these questions themselves? And remember, Trump ran on a platform of not getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars and the public liked it, so why the surprise he’s trying to follow through on that?

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said: Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.

At one point, Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities.

Sounds clear enough.

Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said.

This reminds me of Brexit. The public were asked what they wanted, and they said they wanted to leave the EU. Cue howls from the ruling classes that this would be impossible and irresponsible. So why ask the question if you already know what’s best? Until I read the above statement I had high opinions of Mattis, but I think they’re due a revision. Calling an American withdrawal from Syria irresponsible implies America is somehow responsible for ridding the country of ISIS, which is nonsense. Have the American people been asked if they want the US military to assume this responsibility? Has Congress been consulted and their agreement secured? No, they haven’t.

As for ISIS, the only people who could be accused of arming jihadists in Syria are the Americans. The Russians have proven themselves far more willing and able than the Americans to deal with ISIS (and anyone else who threatens the Assad regime), even if we don’t much like their methods. So why not leave it to them? And note that one minute we’re being told an American withdrawal will leave a vacuum which Russia and Iran will fill, the next it will leave the field clear for ISIS to regroup. Well, which is it? I can’t see a Russia-backed Assad having much tolerance for ISIS.

And even assuming that nothing I have written thus far is true and we dismiss it all as absolute nonsense, what the hell is the Americans’ plan in Syria? What is the strategy? What is the end game? Who will run these “newly liberated territories”? And why aren’t the media demanding Mattis & Co. answer these questions and present a coherent plan, instead of looking for any excuse to bash Trump for doing precisely what he was elected to do?

What a mess. You have a civilian government which has lost control over its military which is hell-bent on fighting endless, disastrous wars on as many fronts as possible, and the media are supporting it because they don’t like the president. Who is representing the public’s interest in all of this, especially those who will be called upon to fight and die? Aside from Trump, there’s nobody that I can see.


10 thoughts on “Banging the War Drums

  1. The true genius of Trump is that he doesn’t give a shit and seems able instinctively to expose the deep state elites for what they are. His appeal is direct to the electorate, over and above the party, the departments, the media or the opposition. 8 years of him will transform America for the better – and not to the liking of those mentioned above.

  2. “There’s a vacuum” – ie peace and order have fallen apart somewhere so it is now a burning, violent mess – “so we must insert ourselves”, is one of the worst conceivable reasons for sacrificing the lives of the young who signed up to protect their country. This is before we even start to consider the issues of blowback and grudge-bearing and financial cost.

  3. What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

    The article seems to have glossed over the bit where the officials explained to Trump exactly what was wrong with this view…

    risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups

    Best throw US support behind the country’s legitimate government then.

  4. Isn’t it about oil, the pipe-line Assad refused to allow the US to run through his country? Syria’s on the old American “hit list” – middle eastern countries that the US decided to smash and grab. As I see it, Trump is not into this. He’s into Making America Great Again, which includes making it less dependent on external oil supplies and not wasting time, money and militia on raiding foreign soil.

  5. Isn’t it about oil, the pipe-line Assad refused to allow the US to run through his country?

    Groan. No.

  6. Best throw US support behind the country’s legitimate government then.

    Well indeed. We’ve seen this movie before, where the good guys overthrow the awful Baath Party dictator: the country in question goes from unpleasant-but-reasonably-habitable shithole to brutal-warzone-overrun-by-fanatics shithole.

    As for ISIS, as far as the US is concerned they should be a border-control problem rather than a military problem.

  7. “It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. ”

    To which the correct response is who elected them? They are advisors and the elected president is under no obligation to action their advice

  8. “I do hope Israel isn’t the reason America is getting itself bogged down in another Middle Easter quagmire”

    Things are definitely heating up around the world and the Mideast. The US and IDF have just completed their biggest ever joint exercise in the region simulating an attack on Syria, Lebanon and Palestine simultaneously. This exercise included a huge buildup of military might in the region plus the US has confirmed that it will support Israel in a local ground war and that the decision to engage will be with the IDF. French promising to send troops to Manbij. The US withdrawing its main air force capability from Incrick and Israel reportedly conducting stealth flight missions over Syria and Iraq into Iran. Then to top it all off we got Erdogan the antichrist dressed up in military fatigues.

    If something goes down surely it would have to be timed around Trump’s opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May, just before he meets with Rocket Man.

    Plus we got the new US economic warfare of tariffs with China, that are planned to be implemented following his trip to Panmunjom.

    And a side serving of push and shoving going on between the Turkish navy and the Greek cypriots that could quickly escalate and at least raise the hackles of the UN Security Council.

    So if there is going to be any action my money would be on it taking place during Trump’s visit to Jerusalem or Korea in May.

  9. ISIL (ISIS in the West, Daesh in Arabic countries) is Assad’s creation. He hosted jihadists who aimed at ending the US-led occupation of Iraq. Upon the Arab Spring, ISIL turned against its host.

    The Arab Spring was Barack Obama’s bright idea, aimed at overthrowing the largely secular governments of Libya, Egypt and Syria and replacing them with regimes that followed the religious dogma of the Arab League. When ISIL went rogue, Obama and Clinton embraced them gratefully, arming, training and financing them. The US bombarded Syrian Arab Army targets and interdicted Syrian Air Force missions, including those against ISIL.

    This only changed when Putin entered the war. ISIL had steadily been advancing in Syria. Now ISIL’s conventional forces are almost completely expelled from Syria, and their territory in Iraq has shrunk dramatically too. It’s clear that whatever else US forces were doing in Mesopotamia and the Levant, they weren’t fighting ISIL.

    The US, UK and France should have been backing the Free Syrian Army all along. Although the FSA are not all angels, they don’t normally behead opponents and burn them in cages or throw gays off rooftops. Trump’s decision is realistic. The rebels’ chances of winning are diminishing and to change this, the US would have to go up directly against Russia. A pull-out is a wise option.

  10. The idea that the US goes to war for oil is retarded.

    The US always has had massive oil reserves now with fracking it has basically infinite energy reserves.

    Its goes to war because oil income allows otherwise irrelevant tin-pot third world dictatorships countries to cause international problems.

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