Leaving Syria

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

The article Trump gets it (half) right by John Quiggin (Crooked Timber) is about Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. In it, he makes the following point:

“[…] the history of US involvement in the Middle East has been one of consistent failure at least for the last 40 years. […] Reagan in Lebanon, 40 years of failure on Israel-Palestine, failed confrontation on Iran, incoherent attempts to influence oil supplies, and, of course, the second Iraq War including the rise of ISIS).”

Pulling out of Syria doesn’t fix all of U.S. foreign policy: the U.S. is still criminally aggressive toward Iran, still funding Saudi Arabia and Israel in their colonial endeavors and still incoherent vis à vis Turkey.

That the U.S. foreign-policy establishment is angry about this is clear. That the purported left is lining up with them against Trump is a sign of the times. That pretty much everyone—the U.S. and European media, European governments, Republicans and Democrats—is against Trump is obvious: he’s endangering all of their best-laid, elite plans. He doesn’t know he’s doing this, but they do.

U.S. military involvement in Syria was always illegal. The U.S. is free to be involved non-militarily and should do so, e.g. to protect the Kurds. That even luminaries like Chomsky want the U.S. to stay in Syria is understandable, but not with its military. No good has ever come of it; I’m mystified how Chomsky could have said something like that.[1]

I agree that we should aid our Kurdish allies—especially if we’re serious about helping them carve out a much-deserved homeland from Iraq, Syria and Turkey, but not with the military. How would that even work? Has something like that ever worked medium- or long-term?

The article Will Trump Hold Firm on Syrian Pullout? by Patrick Buchanan (Antiwar.com) agrees that “the real losers” are

“[c]ertainly the Kurds, who lose their American ally. Any dream they had of greater autonomy inside Syria, or an independent state, is not going to be realized. But then, that was never really in the cards. (Emphasis added.)”

Buchanan may have a lot of bad opinions, but he’s 100% right about U.S. aims. The U.S. has been using the Kurds for decades. Buchanan’s just being honest—sure, he’s a jerk, but he’s less of a jerk than all of the others who pretend that the U.S. was ever going to do anything to help them.

He goes on to explain the realpolitik that led to America’s choosing Turkey over the Kurds. Interestingly, Bolton’s aims of being militarily aggressive toward Iran and Hezbollah has been undercut by Trump’s move. This is a good thing, as well. That Israel’s empirical aims in Syria are undercut is also a good thing.

It sounds obvious, but: How else are we going to get out of the Middle East if we never leave?

The Black Agenda Radio, Week of December 24, 2018 (Black Agenda Report) includes a segment “BAP Welcomes Trump Exit from Syria”, which is an interview of Ajamu Baraka by Glen Ford. They discuss not only the Syrian withdrawal but also U.S. military involvement in Africa (AFRICOM).

Update (Jan. 9th, 2019):

The article Trump’s Abrupt Withdrawal From Syria Might Provide Exactly the Anarchic Conditions in Which ISIS has Always Flourished by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch) provides some more background on the exact worries people have.

“The Syrian Kurdish leadership will be hoping that the US will not totally abandon them. They know that much of the US political, military and media establishment, along with allies like the UK and France, want the US to stay in Syria. They know that Mr Trump’s policies have been diluted or reversed before when facing such wide-ranging opposition.”

Why is Turkey slaughtering Kurds a foregone conclusion? No sanctions? They’re talking about attacking in Syria, just like Israel does, contravening international law.

“So long as Turkey, Russia and Iran are working in coordination, it will be difficult for Mr Trump to pursue his principle policy in the Middle East, which is to isolate and confront Iran.”

Jesus isn’t that a good thing?

“Its fighters have suffered devastating casualties. Isis no longer rules a state with a powerful army controlling, at its height, some 6 or 7 million people.”

Why do we care so much about Isis? Is the war on terror an accepted fact now? This sounds like Vietnam to me—there’s always a reason to stay or to go back.

“Isis has always wished that its great array of enemies, called into being by its cruelty and violence, would one day turn on each other and once again create the conditions for an Isis resurgence. This may now be happening. A Turkish invasion of northern Iraq would lead to chaos, mass flight by millions, and conflict between the local Kurdish and Arab populations: it is in such anarchic conditions that Isis was born and has always flourished.”

I’m surprised to read Cockburn describing Isis like a host of locusts interested only in destruction—like the bugs in Starship Troopers. He speaks as if they are a special kind of evil—somehow more evil than the myriad carpet and “surgical” bombings from Western planes.

Update (Jan. 10, 2019)

The following two articles also contribute to the conversation meaningfully, I think.

How the War Party Lost the Middle East by Patrick J. Buchanan (Antiwar.com)

“We are told ISIS is not dead but alive in the hearts of tens of thousands of Muslims, that if we leave Syria and Afghanistan, our enemies will take over and our friends will be massacred, and that if we stop helping Saudis and Emiratis kill Houthis in Yemen, Iran will notch a victory. In his decision to leave Syria and withdraw half of the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, Trump enraged our foreign policy elites, though millions of Americans cannot get out of there soon enough.”

Trump’s Syrian Withdrawal: an Act of Political Realism by Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch)

“The resignation of Mattis has elicited predictable lamentations from commentators who treat his departure as if it was the equivalent of the Kaiser getting rid of Bismarck. The over-used description of Mattis as “the last of the adults in the room” is once again trotted out, though few examples of his adult behaviour are given aside from his wish – along with other supposed “adults” – to stay in Syria until various unobtainable objectives were achieved: the extinction of Iranian influence; the displacement of Bashar al-Assad; and the categorical defeat of Isis”
“Keep in mind that Trump needs – though he may not get as much as he wants – Turkey as an ally in the Middle East more than ever before. His bet on Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Arabia as the leader of a pro-American and anti-Iranian Sunni coalition in the Middle has visibly and embarrassingly failed. The bizarre killing of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi team in Istanbul was only the latest in a series of Saudi pratfalls showing comical ineptitude as well as excessive and mindless violence.”

But Turkey slaughtering Kurds is OK.

“[…] but as the Syrian state becomes more powerful it will have less need for foreign allies.”

Isn’t it pretty much a war-torn hellhole? How powerful can it get in the near-term, realistically?


[1] I imagine misquoting and/or catching an old man in a bad moment might have something to do with it.