Four takes on Trump’s Syria ‘withdrawal’

23 Dec

Bobby said he’d pull out, Bobby stayed in … Bruce Springsteen

Western liberals despair at Trump’s avowed intent to pull troops out of Syria, a country the USA has illegally occupied since 2014 for reasons said liberals blithely and against all evidence take to be humanitarian and/or to Defend The Free World.

A Gift to Putin, they shriek (for liberals know the man to be a monster and, unlike Obama, a threat to world peace since WashPo, Beeb and Graun miss no opportunity to tell them so). A Gift to Assad, they add (for they know, from Simon Tisdall, Bashar is a monster too). Last but not least they rage (for those same sources spin it that our leaders fight the jihadi dragon in its lair so you and I can sleep easy at night – as opposed to funding it wherever middle easterners dream dreams not to Wall Street liking) that Trump is Santa’s Gift to ISIS!!!

Say Bette Midler and Mia Farrow:

Midler and Farrow, like co-celeb Meryl Streep, are plain out of their depth – years of knocking back the kool-aid on Kurds Good/Hezbollah Baad don’t help – but that slack can’t be cut for today’s Observer as it fumes over the orange idiot’s “notorious chumminess with Vladimir” and willingness to “do the bidding of authoritarian leaders hostile to western democratic values”.

Yes, the Ob really does cite, in all seriousness and with no apparent irony, “western democratic values”. That would be those which – cheered on by that newspaper – killed half a million under-fives through sanctions prior to moving to shock, awe, depleted uranium and Abu Ghraib. And it would be those which turned Africa’s richest country, with levels of welfare, literacy and shared prosperity to match, into what I’ve elsewhere described as ‘the carved up fiefdom of warlords in the business of slavery, people trafficking and the quartermastering of terror’.

Does it ever occur to the liberal, which is to say idealist, mindset to study the actual evidence – as opposed to what we tell ourselves – and ask, how come we get to be the good guys?


If you’ve hung in this far it’s likely you’re seeking accounts less intelligence insulting of what this week’s announcement portends. Accounts, perhaps, that set aside the incandescence of life-long peaceniks; that peer below the bonnet of this declared intent to put invasion, occupation and incitement to terror on partial hold.

But where are such accounts? They do exist and as Xmas gift to you I offer four such. First up is Rolling Stone, a title I’ve scarce looked at since the days of Hunter S. Thompson and which responded to the announcement under the header, We Know How Trump’s War Game Ends.

What’s the War on Terror death count by now, a half-million? How much have we spent, $5 trillion? Five-and-a-half?

For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point of abject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention.

It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.

Unless Donald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads.

A decent start. But readership and revenue factors rule out crediting Russia for an intervention which – could there be a scintilla of doubt on the point? – stopped Syria going the way of Iraq and Libya. We get soon enough to the tacit, preemptive reassurance that Rolling Stone would never let Putin Nazis loose on ageing hippies.

As to the argument that we’re abandoning Syria to Russians — anyone who is interested in reducing Russian power should be cheering. If any country in the world equals us in ability to botch an occupation and get run out on a bloody rail it’s Russia. They may even be better at it than us. We can ask the Afghans about that on our way out of there.

We have brave and able soldiers, but their leaders are utter tools who’ve left a legacy of massacres and botched interventions around the world.

NATO? That’s an organization whose mission stopped making sense the moment the Soviet Union collapsed. We should long ago have repurposed our defense plan to focus on terrorism, cyber-crime and cyber-attacks, commercial espionage, financial security, and other threats.

Instead, we continued after the Soviet collapse to maintain a global military alliance fattened with increasingly useless carriers and fighter jets, designed to fight archaic forms of war.

NATO persisted mainly as a PR mechanism for a) justifying continued obscene defense spending levels and b) giving a patina of internationalism to America’s essentially unilateral military adventures.

We’d go into a place like Afghanistan with no real plan for leaving, and a few member nations like Estonia and France and Turkey would send troops to get shot at with us. But it was always basically Team America: World Police with supporting actors. No wonder so few of the member countries paid their dues.

Incidentally, this isn’t exactly a secret. Long before Trump, this is what Barney Frank was saying in 2010: “I think the time has come to reexamine NATO. NATO has become an excuse for other people to get America to do things.”

This has all been a giant, bloody, expensive farce, and it’s long since time we ended it.

By such words author Matt Taibbi reveals his ambivalence, his half-baked grasp of the nature of the USA as global aggressor. Still, he gets more right than wrong and besides, McCarthyesque self censorship isn’t his prime error. I’ll get to what is in due c but here’s my second recommend.

Appearing in Eurasia Future, this Adam Garrie piece is headed Here’s How America’s Troop Withdrawal From Syria Will Impact Other Parties to The Conflict. Catchy it ain’t but it does what it says on the tin: offering a round up on Iran, Israel, Russia, Syria and Turkey in light of Trump’s announcement.

Seeing Turkey as the clearest winner (Russia and Syria having already won) and as pivotal to Trump’s decision, Garrie begins by telling us that Israel:

… stands to lose the most. As it became ever clearer Assad would remain in power, Israeli officials up to and including Netanyahu lent ever more support to the provocative cause of forming a Kurdish ethno-statelet in the parts of north-eastern Syria occupied by US forces. Israel’s strategic rationale for such a move was clear enough. While Israel ideally wanted the anti-Zionist Assad replaced by a weaker or more pro-western leader, once such an ambition became untenable, Tel Aviv began aiming for a plan to box Assad between the illegally occupied Golan Heights in south-western Syria and a would-be Kurdish ethno-statelet in north-eastern Syrian territory.

Garrie offers equally pithy assessments on all five players but, like Taibbi in Rolling Stone and the liberal voices I opened with, passes on the billion dollar question: is this for real? That’s the question my third and fourth reads – Stephen Gowans in what’s left? and Julia Kassem in CounterPunch – address full on. Both place the announcement within the context of the US Empire’s unflagging commitment to its Exceptionalist Right to dictate terms to the region.

Gowans begins:

The announced withdrawal of US troops from Syria and drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan very likely do not represent abandonment of US aims in the Middle East, and instead more likely reflect the adoption of new means of achieving longstanding US foreign policy goals. Rather than renouncing the US objective of dominating the Arab and Muslim worlds through a system of veiled colonialism and direct military occupation, US president Donald Trump is merely implementing a new policy—one based on shifting the burden of maintaining the US empire increasingly to allies and private soldiers bankrolled by oil monarchies.

Trump’s foreign relations modus operandi are guided consistently by the argument that US allies are failing to pull their weight and ought to contribute more to the US security architecture. Recruiting Arab allies to replace US troops in Syria and deploying mercenaries (euphemistically called security contractors) are two options actively under consideration at the White House since last year. What’s more, there already exists a significant ally and mercenary presence in Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from that country will only marginally reduce the Western military footprint.

US defense secretary Jim Mattis’s clash of worldviews with Trump is misperceived as a contradiction of views about US objectives, rather than how to achieve them. Mattis favors prosecution of US imperial aims through the significant participation of the US military, while Trump favors pressuring allies to shoulder more of the burden of US-empire maintenance while hiring security contractors to fill in the gaps. Trump’s goal is to reduce the empire’s drain on the US treasury and to secure his voting base, to whom he has promised, as part of his “America First” plan, to bring US troops home.

Significantly, Trump’s plan is to reduce expenditures on US military activity abroad, not as an end in itself, but as a means of freeing up revenue for domestic investment in public infrastructure. In his view, expenditures on the republic ought to have priority over expenditures on the empire. “We have [spent] $7 trillion in the Middle East,” complained the US president to members of his administration. “We can’t even muster $1 trillion for domestic infrastructure.” Earlier, on the eve of the 2016 election, Trump groused that Washington had “wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East — we could have rebuilt our country twice — that have produced only more terrorism, more death, and more suffering — imagine if that money had been spent at home. … We’ve spent $6 trillion, lost thousands of lives. You could say hundreds of thousands of lives, because look at the other side also.”

Julia Kassem’s assessment not only chimes with Stephen Gowans’, but echoes Adam Garrie’s in allotting a central role to Ankara – which since the failed 2016 coup on Erdogan has threatened, NATO be damned, to bury past hatchets and tilt toward Russia:

Military failures and excessive expenditures have made direct war campaigns highly unpopular for the US following Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, the US’s strategy post-war on terror has been to pursue more covert strategies.

These have been carried out through proxy wars, support of Western-backed rebel groups, media censorship and manipulation, and maintaining or increasing support and funding to NATO and GCC allies and Israel.

The US has supported the [Kurdish] YPG in hopes of utilizing the separatist faction as a proxy and reliable alternative to other rebel groups, helping it gain territory and grounding against ISIS in Syria. This has put it in conflict with Turkey, who considers the YPG a “terrorist” group. While the US has more faith and assurance in the group as a reliable and long-term proxy ally, Turkey has long harbored deep antagonisms to the groups separatist ambitions.

So that’s me done: mission accomplished, as Dubya famously claimed. And if, as tinsel turmoil takes over, you must shortlist from my shortlist? Go with Gowans and Kassem. To have stayed with me thus far you needed no convincing the West has wrought untold evil on Syria, in which case Rolling Stone gives voice to radical liberalism but little more. And while Eurasia Future is usefully succinct on what stakeholders other than the USA are up to, only Gowans and Kassem offer the perspective true internationalists adopt as default re Washington and its cheerleaders.

A perspective of deep – and deeply evidence-based – mistrust.


5 Replies to “Four takes on Trump’s Syria ‘withdrawal’

  1. This is what Trump means by a ‘deal’ – let Erdogan have his way with the YPG as the price for saving MbS. That Khashoggi’s dead body was used to seal such a diabolical deal is off-the-scale ultra-violet cynicism.

    • Agreed John. I don’t share Ms Farrow’s rose tinted view of the YPG in Syria, far less its assumptions of pre Trump American highmindedness. But there’s no denying that, regardless of whether and to what extent illegal US forces are replaced by mercenaries and yet more covert funding of salafism, the Kurds have, in keeping with half a century of such abandonments by Washington of local forces past their sell-by date, been royally shafted.

  2. I am a supporter of What’s Left and Gowans and have read his analysis of the situation, but many thanks for Julia Kassem’s words.

    As for the Rolling Stone half assed attempt to comprehend the situation, this sentence from Barney Frank, was “Leftfield” in one respect:”NATO has become an excuse for other people to get America to do things.”

    While NATO is manifestly a reductive entity, it is by no means redundant because it serves the purpose of the US as much as the prestige loving heads up arses (quite whose arse is probably not even known to them) who sit on their thrones of importance (impotence) scheming new ways to justify their position (that would be sitting on their necks).

    I think Gowans is probably spot on and I have to assume that the Kashoggi incident publicity has had the required effect of convincing MbS to now agree to buy the THAAD system rather than the cheaper and better S400.

    Have a good Xmas and New Year.
    Susan 🙂

    • Good points on Riyadh (not) buying Russia’s S400 system, widely acknowledged to be a world-beater: witness those states (including regional superpower India) willing to incur Washington displeasure by buying it. Even Riyadh came close, as you say. And of course China is fully signed up.

      Have a great Xmas and new year yourself, Susan.

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