WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, officials announced Wednesday as the president suddenly declared victory over the Islamic State, contradicting his own experts’ assessments and sparking surprise and outrage from his party’s lawmakers who called his action rash and dangerous.
The U.S. began airstrikes in Syria in 2014, and ground troops moved in the following year to battle the Islamic State, or ISIS, and train Syrian rebels in a country torn apart by civil war. Trump abruptly declared their mission accomplished in a tweet.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he said as Vice President Mike Pence met with top leaders at the Pentagon. U.S. officials said many details of the troop withdrawal had not yet been finalized, but they expect American forces to be out by mid-January.
Later Wednesday, Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he said is “heartbreaking” to have to write letters and make calls to the loved ones of those killed in battle. “Now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.
It most certainly is. Naturally, the invade-the-world-invite-the-world bunch are having themselves a hissy fit:
A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Trump made the decision based on his belief that U.S. troops have no role in Syria beyond combatting Islamic State, whose fighters are now believed to hold about 1 percent of the territory they did at the peak of their power.
Well, what else would their role be? Removing Assad from power and replacing him with…what, exactly? Should we countenance another disaster of a mess of a trainwreck along the lines of Obama’s and Hillary’s stupendously boneheaded move in Libya? What exactly does anybody think a mere 2000 troops are going to be able to accomplish, anyway?
You want to fight a war on Muslim terrorism, hey, I’m all for it; establish clear goals, define what victory will look like, send overwhelming force, establish reasonable ROEs that put our soldiers first and foremost, and go through the entire Middle East clusterfuck like shit through a fucking goose. Abjure not one single tool of America’s war-fighting capability: SpecWar, airmobile, armored cav, heavy artillery, strategic bombing, even tactical nukes if needed (they wouldn’t be— leave NOTHING off the table, EVERYBODY has a role. Hammer the place flat, kill people and break stuff, leave not one brick standing upon another. Make the rubble bounce.
Then get the hell out. Oh sure, we can send “humanitarian aid,” help rebuild (as long as it’s US contractors first in line for doing the job and making the money off of it), all that. But let the Muslim world know, without possibility of contradiction or doubt, that America’s days of sending its sons and daughters to bleed and die in godforsaken hellholes to piddle and diddle about in a never-ending conflict where nobody, neither military Higher nor the political “leadership,” has the vaguest clue what winning might mean and aren’t at all fussed about it anyway, are fucking-A OVER.
When we fight, we do so because the outcome matters. Because vital national interests are threatened. Because we have a serious problem with another nation that absolutely must be resolved without delay, after having tried everything else short of war without success. From now on, if we must fight wars, then we fight them to win—in terms absolutely no one can mistake or deny. When the leadership of some pipsqueak ratbag of a failed nation thinks itself feisty enough to make war on us, they must stagger away afterwards knowing for sure they’ve been kissed.
If your little pet hoped-for half-a-war doesn’t meet those terms and conditions, then you don’t get one. If your cause isn’t clearly worthy of the total commitment of this nation’s resources and the lives of its precious soldiers—if it’s another petty, half-assed, half-fought “police action” or some other sort of confusing resource-suck—then hire your own goddamned army and go have at it yourself.
Our military personnel swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Nowhere in that oath does it say a single damned word about any tail-chasing whoopjamboreehoo in far-flung lands where the Constitution is in no jeopardy from anybody, and the whole idea behind the thing is not to win it, but to just keep it going for nobody knows what reason. If we must win it, then we must fight it—totally, relentlessly, without reservation, surcease, or remorse.
The cacophonous criticism of the president’s decision within the Beltway may be the best evidence of his wisdom. Syria is not America’s war. Washington’s security interests always were minimal. The humanitarian tragedy in the country has been overwhelming, but it is beyond America’s ability to fix it.
Most directly, the president’s critics complain that the Islamic State is not yet eradicated from the earth. Wrote the New Yorker’s Robin Wright, “long-term stability is still far from guaranteed against a force that remains a powerful idea—both in war-ravaged Syria and throughout the volatile region—even as its military wing is decimated.” However, the United States can’t fix the underlying causes of radicalism. Moreover, the Islamic State’s long list of enemies—Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Gulf States, Iran, Russia—should be able to handle the aftermath. America should not do everything for everyone forever.
Congress has not authorized military action in Syria, even against the Islamic State. The authorization for the utilization of military force passed after 9/11 was directed against Al Qaeda, not new groups which did not then exist and did not participate in the attacks. That AUMF cannot be stretched to cover Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkey, or anyone else.
Of course, Congress had no reason to authorize force in Syria, which is not a security problem for America. The U.S. prospered for decades while a hostile and even stronger Syrian Arab Republic was allied with the Soviet Union. Would it be good if Bashar al-Assad was a warm, loyal, devoted ally like, say, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman? Sure (well, probably). But the fact that Assad is not isn’t a cause for military intervention. As a superpower, America has interests all over the world. As a superpower, most of them aren’t particularly important. Very few are worth war.
Of course, Trump’s critics play the usual rhetorical games. Withdrawing means “turning over” the country to one or more bad actors, as if Syria was America’s to give away. Those who demand a permanent presence conveniently ignore the lack of a legal basis for even temporary intervention. And objectives—such as thwarting Iranian, Russian, and Syrian misbehavior—are stated without explaining how a couple thousand Americans would achieve them. The ever-hysterical Sen. Graham complained of “devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.” Actually, the Mideast matters far less these days, and would diminish in importance still further if Washington did not make that dismal assembly of nations central to American foreign and military policy.
Washington’s overall objective should be to bring peace to America, not to micromanage the conflicts of other nations. Lister complained that the president “just told Iran and all of our regional allies we don’t believe in sticking it out to achieve our foreign policy objectives.” Sometimes those objectives are not worth the cost of what would essentially be a permanent war. Withdrawal from Syria would be the president’s first practical application of a true “America First” foreign policy. It has been long overdue. Once the president finishes with Syria, he should turn to Yemen and Afghanistan.
Amen, to every word of it. If after a costly seventeen-year slog we haven’t won in Afghanistan, I’d suggest we aren’t going to, and should either reexamine what we mean by winning and get busy rejiggering our strategy and tactics both, or just admit we never did know from the beginning and walk away quietly. Ours would by no means be the first empire to have broken its back on the Hindu Kush. It’s kind of a tradition, really. Plus, bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is gone and pretty much forgotten, so what the hell are we still expending ordinance over there for anyway?
And, I mean, seriously, you guys: Yemen? Fucking Yemen? What the hell is our objective, our purpose there? Do we even have one? How vital could our presumptive national interests in Yemen really BE, considering the no-doubt miniscule percentage of Americans who even know we have troops there at all? I don’t stay on top of everydamned thing, I admit, but I AM a reasonably well-informed guy, and I couldn’t tell you right off the top of my head how long we’ve had troops there, or go into any great detail as to why; I’d pretty much be limited to mumblemumble al Qaeda mumblemumble our allies the Saudis mumblemumbleAHENH, and that’s about it.
Anyways, Porter notes a scorching irony with all of this:
The first indictment of a war criminal is losing the war. Some generals understand this innately and so endeavor to keep their morality pristine by plowing over as many corpses as their infantry can burn. By this measure William Tecumseh Sherman may have been the most ethical fighter of his age. One of his most famous assertions was that War is Hell. It was a quote he strived to uphold.
Yet while war may be Hell, Hell has never been vacated by American troops. So Satan is hardly in the best position to gauge whether war or no war is the more lurid horror. Now perhaps the people of Syria can. Because according to the Carlos Slim Tumblr page Trump is planning to completely de-occupy that ravaged country. As you can imagine, the anti-war left is livid.
I suppose liberals have every right to be angry. Trump pulling out of Syria means one less American appendage stuck in the Levantine sand; it means fewer brown refugees streaming into Europe; and it means more Southern white boys having birthdays instead of funerals. You can see why they would be furious.
But not wanting to just speculate on the source of their discontent, I went straight to its expression in the combox. The performances therein featured more emoting than a production of ghetto Shakespeare. At times they were quite entertaining. Though that’s not to say they were lean, logical, or concise. Most were so blubbery from high-fructose preening that I had to jettison quotes in favor of paraphrasing, lest readers’ eyeballs expire from overuse.
Of which paraphrased rationales for irrationality my own favorite is this:
Finally, the dismount was struck with this solemn lament: we should keep our troops in Syria and get them off the US border where they don’t belong. Where do troops belong? That’s actually a fundamental question more than a political one. As such, why does a country form an armed forces? To defend foreign ethnostates? I mean, an additional foreign ethnostate? Is it foreign democracy? Foreign freedom? Foreign trade? What does the military do for us? Given the Pentagon’s $676 billion price tag, it’s a question to which many more non-foreigners should be demanding an answer.
The obvious fact is that the core function of militaries is to prevent invasion of their sponsoring nation. If they do nothing else, they have served their purpose. If they do not serve this purpose, then nothing else they do matters. Thus troops on our border is precisely where they belong. The Japanese emperor has been subdued.
Which, really, is what all the furor comes down to for the libtards, and at least some of the neocons too.
Update! Walsh chimes in:
This is not to denigrate the heroism of our troops, nor their skills. They may well be, as many say, the best warriors we’ve ever put in the field. But, just as in Vietnam, they’ve been allowed to fight, but not to win. Essentially, they’ve been told to play to an eternal draw, just enough to keep the lid on things over there, but not to materially affect the political structures in place. Thus, by mouthing the liberal pieties in Bush II’s second inaugural address about how the desire for freedom is the natural human condition (it plainly is not) and that America’s duty is to spread the gospel of liberty throughout the world (ditto), our rulers have obscured the lethal realities of our presence overseas.
These are not easy, or happy, conclusions to reach. But we must ask: what have we gotten from our misadventures?
Saddam may have been a tyrant, but he was just one of many, especially in that part of the world. Whether he abused his own people (what tyrant doesn’t?) may have been cause for editorial-page fretting, but not for bellicosity. In effect, both Bushes made the same mistake JFK and LBJ made in Vietnam: thinking that inside every foreigner was an American yearning to get out, when even a cursory glance at the history of Southeast Asia or the Islamic ummah should instantly have disabused them of that notion.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, nothing has changed and nothing ever will change. The last outsider to have any effect on the region was Alexander the Great, and he did so at the point of his sword. Since then, Islam has come and gone and come again, the British fought two wars there, and the Soviets first signaled their systemic vulnerability by not being ruthless enough in their attempt to conquer the “country.” Had they applied the same tactics they used on Hitler’s Germany to Afghanistan we might be living in a very different world today, but they did not. And so now the Soviets have vanished while the Afghans live on in their remote and savage land.
As for Syria, the last foreign occupiers to have a positive effect on that parlous place were the Crusaders, who established the Principality of Antioch, which included Aleppo, in the late 12th century; it collapsed about a century later. Since then, Syria has been the plaything of various warring Muslim factions but offers no menace to American national security, and is far too weak seriously to threaten Israel. As in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, we have no strategic or economic interests in those areas, especially as the United States has emerged once again as the world’s leading energy producer.
The way to deal with these places, therefore, is to withdraw and leave them to their own devices. Sure, the Russians will fiddle around the edges if only to keep their hands in the game and to create an object lesson for their own restive Muslim minorities. So what? The “kingdom” of Saudi Arabia in all likelihood won’t last much longer than Bohemond’s did. As for the religious clash between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, represented on the chessboard by the Saudis and the Iranians, we can only hope that they both lose, and lose badly.
I’m down with that. The Middle East, Israel alone excepted, is a tribal, barbaric sinkhole ruled either by grubby despots, raving madmen with delusional ambitions, self-serving kleptocrats, or a distasteful combination of those qualities. It is inhabited mostly by irredeemable primordial savages inflamed to near-madness by a vicious, totalitarian, wholly destructive pseudo-religion. Very little real good has ever come of civilized peoples mucking about with the place; very little ever will.