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.