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Leaving Syria: President Trump’s Withdrawal

“The President announced an apparently impulsive decision that shook the world, showed little sign of nuanced consideration, confounded top advisers and by the end of the day left Washington in chaos and confusion.” So goes a typical contribution from CNN, this time by Stephen Collinson, pooh-poohing President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out some 2,000 US troops based in Syria.

Trump had, whether intentionally or otherwise, touched a sentiment that has seethed underneath the US character at stages of the imperium’s muddled history. “Torn between nostalgia for a pristine past and yearning for a perfect future,” scribbled that self-important sage and practitioner of US foreign relations, Henry Kissinger, “American thought has oscillated between isolationism and commitment.”

Isolationism has become a pejorative used to scold and denigrate any movement that supposedly moves the US imperial machine away from its policing role. Cheered on from the international relations galleries, the US as an international sergeant has hardly bettered the world, often finding its clay feet in countries it needlessly deployed forces to. (It’s all in the name of national security, of course.) Nor can it ever have been said to be truly isolationist in any strict sense.

Between the War of 1812 against Great Britain and the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US maintained a posture of intervention, interference and influence at the regional level, thus designating it an assertive “hemispheric” power. “Security,” suggested historian John Lewis Gaddis, “could best be assured… by making certain that no other great power gained sovereignty within geographic proximity of the United States.”

It also proved a violation of that keen injunction made by the all too intelligent President John Quincy Adams in his July 4th address in 1821, one that still sums up the US mission in all its doomed sanctimonious glamour. “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.” But be wary of going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy”; to do so might make the US “dictatress of the world” while no longer being “the ruler of her own spirit”.

Trumpland is a tense, manic place, one where chiding allies and high-fiving authoritarian figures might be permissible; but it is also one that eschews the stifling nature of relationships that entangle. Alliances, like love affairs, can cloy after awhile. Accusations of infidelity and poor bedroom performance are bound to follow.

Such an approach is bound to leave powers collaborating with Washington in the lurch, a point exemplified by the latest Syria announcement. “Does the USA,” tweeted Trump on Thursday, “want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?  Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight…”

For Trump, no one should have raised an eyebrow, or had a complaint. “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months now, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer.” In what was a classic deferral of authority in the Syrian campaign, a backhanded admission of sorts, he noted how “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS.” Why do their blood shedding work? “Time to come home & rebuild.”

Where Trump reverts to full throttle idiosyncrasy (his critics would term it immodest derangement) is his novel assessment of attitudes of those three states at imminent US withdrawal. “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the US leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.” The focus, rather, was on the US “building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

To round off the announcement, one of the last stalwarts resisting the fever of resignation and sacking that has afflicted the administration, announced his departure. US Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis added his name to a pre-Christmas evacuation party that has made the Trump tenure one of the most eventful in US history. His view on leaving remained that of the more orthodox defenders of the US imperium, with its umbrella of “alliances”.

“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world,” he banally enunciated in his resignation letter, “we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”

Other politicians keen to keep the US brand in foreign military theatres were also dismayed at the move. House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi was “shaken by the news because of the patriot that Secretary Mattis is.” The general had proven to be “a comfort to many of us as a voice of stability in the Trump administration.”

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), having argued that the US troops stationed in Syria were “vital to our national security interests” (he never coherently articulated how) seemed personally stung by the announcement. “I’m going to give you an honest evaluation. I am willing to support a Democrat if he followed sound military advice. I’m willing to fight a Republican if you don’t.”

After reading Mattis’ resignation letter, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) felt that the US was “headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.” For Rubio and his extensively spread ilk in the foreign interventionist complex, Adams’ warning of 1821, given an awkward Trump twist in 2018, is not just history but another, very distant country. Empire is its own global and lengthy commitment; to withdraw from any theatre is an admission that it is running out of gas and giving cheer to rivals.

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  1. healthy skeptic

    murdoch/dick Cheney/Rothschild will never let him pull out, while they have rich oil investments paying no taxes or royalties to Syria.

  2. Karen Kyle

    Sidestepping the main issue very neatly. Russia is tremendously pleased about Trump’s sudden decision to pull out of Syria where the Americans supplied air cover for Kurdish Troops fighting ISIS. In fact the Kurdish Troops would find it very hard without air support.

    Putin suggested that America pull out of Afghanistan as well. Two hours later Trump announced his intention to do just that. The Syrian decision came after a phone call from Turkey.

    During all the hoo har about the sentencing of Mike Flynn this week one commentator suggested that Flynn was behaving like a “turned agent”, Such a remark almost set the reporter’s hair on fire. Without proof such a remark should never be made. And yet Trump is also behaving like a “turned agent”. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Special Council ,providing he is allowed to finish his investigation.

    Missed all that eh Binoy?

  3. Joseph Carli

    I have to agree with Komisar Kyle on this one, least a little bit…When I first heard the news, my antenna immediately went to alert!…I suspect that an arrangement has been made with Russia to leave the field to their military to deal with the remnants of ISIS..posssibly even with the testing of new military arms and devices..and THAT will be a most brutal method possible way….There is little and no public sympathy with ISIS fighters of whatever nationality…and those nationals that could possibly make their way back to their “home countries” are not welcome by the govts’ if Russia wants to “deal” with them, they would probably be most welcome…pity the Kurds…
    In will be a blood-bath…

  4. Karen Kyle

    healthy sceptic……suppose you have evidence for your surprising assertions. Do you?

  5. Roswell

    Karen Kyle, look up “Genie Oil”.

    healthy skeptic, I can’t see them being overly thrilled – a sentiment that they might even convey to Trump – but Trump likes to do things his own way. He won’t be told what to do by anybody (unless it’s someone who might have some incriminating evidence against him).

  6. Karen Kyle

    Roswell……Genie Oil. Oil exploration Company with two projects at the moment. One in the Golan Heights, and as far as I know they have found nothing there. And one in The USA. Genie Oil has not found not do they won any oil in Syria, Syria is a small oil producing state around 3 billion a year before sanctions.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Karen, I think you are wrong about “they have found nothing there”.

    Israeli and American oilmen believe they have discovered a bonanza in this most inconvenient of sites. After three test-drillings, Yuval Bartov, the chief geologist of Genie Oil & Gas, a subsidiary of American-based Genie Energy, says his company thinks it has found an oil reservoir “with the potential of billions of barrels”.

    Genie Oil & Gas has extraction rights over a 153 square-mile region in the Golan Heights, a disputed piece of territory between Israel and Syria. Which happens to have more proven oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.

    Major reserves of oil have been discovered on the Golan Heights, which could make Israel self-sufficient for many years to come, according to drilling company Afek Oil and Gas.

  8. Karen Kyle

    Kaye Lee From what I read it was a company named Ofek which found Oil on the Golan . Ofek Oil and Gas is a offshoot of Genie Oil. The discovery has not received wide publicity in Israel, because the world price for oil is now fairly low and the Golan is a difficult field to exploit so that extracting oil is not economic. On the other hand fields of natural gas and oil discovered in central Israel and off shore has generated wide celebrations because those fields are economically viable. Much depends on the quality of the Oil and the ease of extraction apparently.

  9. Zathras

    I think the Kurds are being deliberately hung out to dry in this deal.

    Turkey has always been anxious about the Kurds in their country joining with Kurds in the neighbouring states of Iraq and Syria and trying for a truly autonomous independent state of their own.

    During the first Gulf War, the US imposed “no fly zone” deliberately stopped the Iraqis from defending their border with Turkey and allowed Turkish forces to attack Iraqi Kurds at will.

    It looks like the same thing will happen along their Syrian border.

    There’s an agenda here behind Trump’s apparent naivety and ignorance and he’s probably being played by people smarter than himself. It’s no secret he’s a fan of Turkish despot Erdogan.

  10. RomeoCharlie29

    I read this as recognition by Trump that the regime change he has wanted in Syria is dead in the water, that Al Assad, aided by the Russians has got the upper hand against the Rebels and doesn’t need US help to mop up the last of ISIS. Donald sees writing on the wall and gets out of a place the US should never have been in the first place, slinks off to lick its wounds and ponder the destruction and death of innocents it has caused with its other attempts at regime change across the ME. The one area where regime change is desperately needed, Saudi Arabia, remains off limits. An isolationist USA can only be a good thing for the world, and if the multi- national oil companies, for whom the US provides security services, find themselves in the shit then maybe that’s also not a bad thing.

  11. Karen Kyle

    RomeoCharlie……If you think an isolationist America will be a good thing for the world…..all I can say is you won’t like what comes after America. And if you think it a good thing that Oil Companies find themselves in the shit I hope you are prepared for the global economic dislocation which would result from an unstable Oil market. After all the world economy including Australia is dependent on Oil. I presume you want to feed your kids and send them to school. Can’t be done without Oil.

  12. mark delmege

    Its a good thing Trump has ended Obamas war In Syria. I’m not surprised to see the ‘liberals’ * confused. They never did recognise that al qaeda and IS only became as strong as they did because of western supplied weapons. Those same liberals have been backing the war hawks for some time. Its why we hated Hillary even more than Trump and why Obama was worse than useless as a President. If Trump can get out of Afghanistan too he will indeed have done something useful on the world stage. Unfortunately The USofA is always at war somewhere and its had to imagine another war won’t be started somewhere in the next two years.
    The Liberals the Establishment and the MSM have been running the Russia narrative for years. Pay them no attention. Its a crock designed to mislead the world away from their own crimes and incompetence.

    liberals aka libtards aka so called progressive who support the US Democratic party.

  13. helvityni

    Zathras, like draws/gravitates to like, aren’t our leaders also under the spell of the one who is making America great again…

  14. Matters Not

    Re Trump’s deal with Erdogan over the Kurds. Take into account Erdogan’s pursuit of Saudi Arabia following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ‘butchering’ of Khashoggi in Istanbul. Seem like Trump will sell his soul to protect MBS and Erdogan knows that. Now all is forgiven and that matter will die? Nevertheless Congress may disagree.

    Wheels within wheels. Seems like Mueller is the only hope.

  15. Matters Not

    Further, Erdogan wants Trump to deliver U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen into his hot little hands as well.

    Gülen, who has been in the United States since 1999 and resides in Pennsylvania, is wanted in Turkey over claims he was involved in a failed coup against Erdoğan’s government in 2016.

    Lots of people I met in Turkey are now in prison. Now not a place to visit.

  16. Karen Kyle

    Mark delmege,

    Weapons? They were not flush with multiple weapons systems. Mostly they had Toyota trucks and high powered rifles. Both easily procured. If they had other weapons like tanks for example they were captured from the enemy. And they were of limited use. Terrorists mostly had no training in tanks etc and lacked the means to maintain them. Theirs was a small arms war, rifles and grenades and too many poorly trained fighters.

  17. mark delmege

    Karen so really you have no idea?

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