Don­ald Trump is ac­tu­ally right to pull out of Syria

The News (New Glasgow) - - OPINION - Thomas Walkom Thomas Walkom is a jour­nal­ist who cov­ers na­tional af­fairs.

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.”

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