Donald Trump is actually right to pull out of Syria
Sometimes, Donald Trump is right.
I know it is heresy to write this. Trump’s many detractors — particularly in Canada — take it as a matter of faith that anything the U.S. president does is boneheaded and evil.
But in some instances, he is right. One of those was his decision just before Christmas to withdraw U.S. ground troops from the war in Syria.
America has been at war in Afghanistan and the Middle East for more than 17 years. Yet it has accomplished virtually nothing.
True, it has helped to push back the terrorist group Daesh, or ISIS, from Iraq and Syria. But given that Daesh was a direct result of George W. Bush’s ill-fated 2003 invasion of Iraq, that’s not much of a victory.
The U.S. began it latest round of wars by invading Afghanistan in 2001 — allegedly to punish that country’s then-Taliban government for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden is long dead, but the U.S. is still there, engaged in a war it knows it cannot win, desperately trying to work out some kind of peace deal with the same Taliban it had once so confidently overthrown.
Ironically, if a deal is reached in Afghanistan, it will likely follow the contours proposed by the Taliban 17 years ago that Washington once so summarily rejected: to wit, that the U.S. stay out of Afghan affairs in return for a Taliban pledge to deny terrorists sanctuary.
The folly of Bush’s war on Iraq is well known. The U.S. invasion, ostensibly undertaken to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, ended up destroying the country. It ushered in the nightmare of sectarian war that made Saddam’s time seem, by comparison, a golden era.
Then came Barack Obama’s decision, aided and abetted by Britain, France and Canada, to overthrow Moammar Ghadafi’s dictatorship in Libya. That led to chaos and terrorism across North Africa, inflaming, among other things, the civil war in Mali that Canadian and other United Nations peacekeeping troops are now trying to contain.
Given that sorry record, the real question about Trump’s Syria decision is why it took so long.
Still, the president is being roundly vilified. Hawks in his own Republican party are outraged. And the security establishment has trundled out the usual complaints.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops, the experts warn, will give Russia and Iran a free hand in Syria. Left unasked is the obvious question: So what?
Does it matter if Syria has close ties to Moscow and Tehran? Russia has its own history of failed imperial adventures. It may wisely choose to keep its presence in post-war Syria minimal.
And then there are the Kurds. The main role of the roughly 2,000 U.S. ground troops in Syria is to support Kurdish forces fighting Daesh. That’s all well and good. But the Kurds have their own agenda, which is to carve a new state out of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.
The Turks in particular are not amused by this and point out, correctly, that Kurdish forces in Syria supported by the U.S. are linked to a group inside Turkey that NATO has labelled terrorist.
Does America really want to militarily support a Kurdish statelet in Syria in the face of opposition from its NATO ally Turkey? Is Washington seriously prepared to involve itself in yet another round of sectarian Middle Eastern conflicts?
In a world where Trump is by definition a dastard, the strangest people are considered heroes. Recently departed defence secretary Jim Mattis, the former general fired by Obama for being too hawkish toward Iran, is now labelled a moderate for opposing Trump’s plan to exit Syria.
Even national security adviser John Bolton, a true nutter left over from the Bush era, is treated as a statesman, largely because he is thought to disagree with Trump on Syria.
That Trump would dare to contradict the national security establishment is portrayed as evidence of his impulsiveness. In fact, this is one area in which he has been consistent.
The world is not accustomed to seeing an American president restrain his own war machine. We should welcome it when it happens — even if the restrainer-in-chief is Donald Trump.
“Bin Laden is long dead, but the U.S. is still there, engaged in a war it knows it cannot win, desperately trying to work out some kind of peace deal with the same Taliban it had once so confidently overthrown.”