• Don’t Weep for Mattis but for the Global War on Terror, 2001-2018, R.I.P.

    December 25, 2018

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Trump, Yemen



    Senior officials never seem to resign over a president starting a war. And Trump, the guy who was supposed to start new wars, instead ended one and is on his way to wrapping up another.

    A full pull-out of U.S. forces from Syria and a drawdown in Afghanistan are much more important as markers of the end of an era than either a bureaucratic tussle (Mattis is stepping down as defense secretary after Trump overruled him and other top national security advisers) or a disastrous geopolitical decision.

    The New York Times, its journalists in mourning over the loss of a war, ask “Who will protect America now?” Mattis the warrior-monk is juxtaposed with the flippant Commander-in-Cheeto. The Times also sees strategic disaster in an “abrupt and dangerous decision, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale, sowed new uncertainty about America’s commitment to the Middle East, [and] its willingness to be a global leader.” “A major blunder,” tweeted Marco Rubio. “If it isn’t reversed it will haunt… America for years to come.” Lindsey Graham called for congressional hearings.

    What is history if not irony. Rubio talks of haunting foreign policy decisions in Syria seemingly without knowledge of its predecessor decisions in Iraq. Graham wants to hold hearings on quitting a war Congress never held hearings on authorizing.

    That’s all wrong. Mattis’ resignation, and Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, are significant as marking the beginning of the end of the GWOT, the Global War on Terror, the singular, tragic, bloody driver of American foreign policy for almost two decades.

     

    Why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    It’s 2018. Why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    Defeat ISIS? ISIS’ ability to hold ground and project power outside its immediate backyard was destroyed somewhere back in 2016 by an unholy coalition of American, Iranian, Russian, Syrian, Turkish, and Israeli forces in Iraq and Syria. Sure, there are terrorists who continue to set off bombs in marketplaces in ISIS’ name, but those people are not controlled or directed out of Syria. They are most likely legal residents of the Western countries they attack, radicalized online or in local mosques. They are motivated by a philosophy, and that way of thinking cannot be destroyed on the ground in Syria. The fundamental failure of the GWOT is that you can’t blow up an idea.

    Regime change? It was never a practical idea (as in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, there was never a plan on what to do next, how to keep Syria from descending into complete chaos the day Assad was removed) and though progressives embraced the idea of getting rid of another “evil dictator” when it came through the mouthpiece of Obama’s own freedom fighter Samantha Power, the same idea today has little drive behind it.

    Russia! Overwrought fear of Russia was once a sign of unhealthy paranoia satirized on The Twilight Zone. Today it is seen as a prerequisite to patriotism, though it still makes no more sense. The Russians have always had a practical relationship with Syria and maintained a naval base there at Tartus since 1971, and will continue to do so. There was never a plan for the U.S. to push the Russians out — Obama in fact saw the Russian presence are part of the solution in Syria. American withdrawal from Syria is far more a return to status quo than anything like a win for Putin (Matt Purple pokes holes in Putin Paranoia elsewhere on TAC.)

    The Kurds? The U.S.-Kurd story is a one of expediency over morality. At each sad turn there was no force otherwise available in bulk and the Kurds were used and abandoned many times by America: in 1991 when it refused to assist them in breaking away from Saddam Hussein following Gulf War I, when it insisted they remain part of a “united Iraq” following Gulf War II, and most definitively in 2017 forward following Gulf War III when the U.S. did not support the Kurdish independence referendum, relegating the Kurds to forever being the half-loved stepchild to Baghdad. After all that, U.S. intentions toward the Kurds in Syria are barely a sideshow-scale event. The Kurds want to cleave off territory from Turkey and Syria, something neither nation will permit and something the U.S. quietly understands would destabilize the region.

    Mattis, by the way, supported NATO ally Turkey in its fight against the Kurds, calling them an “active insurgency inside its borders.” The Kurds run a propaganda operation inside the U.S. to rival any other, and, as if to signal that they would not go quietly, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, a prominent monitoring group and a Western official said Thursday. Western media of course featured this story heavily, without thinking for even one second how stupid it would be to release thousands of ISIS prisoners who would immediately turn on you, just to spite the U.S.

    A final point — “The Kurds” are not a nation, or an organization, or a sports team. As referred to in this context, “The Kurds” are a violent subset of an ethnic group spread across multiple nation borders, including Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Supporting “The Kurds” means supporting a non-uniformed armed force which uses violence many classify as terrorism, including urban car bombs, to take and hold territory. The roots of these conflicts go back centuries, and the U.S. should tread carefully when inserting its 500 pound gorilla-self into them. Certainly discussion beyond Op-Eds is needed. Sorry, kids, it’s called real world politics: forced to choose between Turkey whose second-largest army in NATO controls the entrance to the Black Sea, and the stateless Kurds, um…

    Iran? Does the U.S. have troops in Syria to brush back Iranian influence? As with “all of the above,” the genie got out of the bottle years ago. Iranian power in the greater Middle East has grown dramatically since 2003, and has been driven at every step by the blunders of the United States. If the most powerful army in the world couldn’t stop the Iranians from essentially being the winners of Gulf Wars II and III, how can 2,000 troops in Syria hope to accomplish much? The United States of course wasn’t even shooting at the Iranians in Syria; in most cases it was working either with them, or tacitly alongside them towards the same goal of killing off ISIS anyway. Tehran’s role as Assad’s protector was set as America rumbled about regime change. Iran has since pieced together a land corridor to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria and will not be giving that up, certainly not because of the presence of absence of a few thousand Americans.

    American credibility? Left is that once-neocon, now progressive catch-all, we need to stay in Syria to preserve American credibility. While pundits can still get away with this line, the rest of the globe knows the empire has no clothes. Since 2001 the United States has spent some $6 trillion on its wars, and killed multiples of the 9/11 victims worth of American troops and foreign civilians. The U.S. has tortured, still maintains the gulag of Guantanamo as a crown jewel, and worst of all credibility-wise, lost on every front. Afghanistan after 17 years of war festers. Nothing was accomplished with Iraq. Libya is a failed state. Syria is the source of a refugee crisis whose long-term effects on Europe are still being played out. We are largely left as an “indispensable nation” only in our own minds. A lot of people around the world probably wish America would just stop messing with their countries.

    Our allies? The much-touted coalition which the U.S. lead into Afghanistan was in pieces before it fell apart in 2003 ahead of the Iraq invasion. One-by-one, American allies across Europe, including Britain, as well as Canada, have dropped out of GWOT or reduced their participation to token forces. Nonetheless, the media has found people as far away as Australia to quote on how the U.S. is abandoning its post-WWII roll as the world’s protector. And of course any U.S. ally who feels the fight in Syria/Afghanistan/Yemen/Etc. is worth dying for is more than welcome to send in its own troops.

     

    So why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    Anyone? Bueller? Mattis?

    The U.S. presence in Syria, like Jim Mattis himself, is an artifact of another era, the failed GWOT. As a Marine, Mattis served in ground combat leadership roles in Gulf Wars I and II, and also in Afghanistan. He ran United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, the final years of The Surge in Iraq and American withdrawal afterwards. There is no doubt why he supported the American military presence in Syria, and why he resigned to protest Trump’s decision to end it — Mattis knew nothing else. His entire career was built around the strategy of the GWOT, the core of which was never question GWOT strategy. Mattis didn’t need a reason to stay in Syria; being in Syria was the reason.

    So why didn’t Trump listen to his generals? Maybe because the bulk of their advice has been dead wrong for 17 years? Instead, Trump plans a dramatic drawdown of troops in Afghanistan (American soldiers will be there in some small number forever to act as a rear-guard against the political fallout that chased Obama in 2011 when he withdrew troops.) The U.S. presence in Iraq has dwindled from combat to advise and assist, and Congress seems poised to end U.S. involvement in Yemen against Mattis’ advice.

    There is no pleasure in watching Jim Mattis end his decades of service with a bureaucratic dirty stick shoved at him as a parting gift. But to see this all as another Trump versus the world blunder is very wrong. The war on terror failed, and needed to be dismantled long ago. Barack Obama could have done it, but instead was a victim of hubris and bureaucratic capture and allowed himself to expand it. His supporters give him credit for not escalating the war in Syria, but leave out the part about how he also left the pot to simmer on the stove instead of removing it altogether.

    A New Lens

    The raw drive to insta-hate everything Trump does can mislead otherwise thoughtful people. So let’s try a new lens: During the campaign Trump outspokenly denounced the waste of America’s wars. Pro-Trump sentiment in rural areas was driven by people who agreed with his critique, by people who’d served in these wars, whose sons/daughters had served, or given the length of all this, both. Since taking office, the president has pulled U.S. troops back from pointless conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Congress may yet rise to do the same for American involvement in Yemen. No new wars have started. Though the results are far from certain, for the first time in nearly twenty years negotiations are open again with North Korea.

    Mattis’ ending was clumsy, but it was a long time coming. It is time for some old ideas to move on. And if future world events cause us to have some sort of debate over what the proper U.S. role is in places like Syria and Afghanistan, well, that’s been a long time coming, too.

     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      The rabid MSNBC, FOX, CNN are all Mad (dog).

      The rest of the world should quarantine US.

      12/25/18 1:23 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      2

      Peter Van Buren: “What is history if not irony?” (referencing the American Empire). Some of us are determined to counter that despondent aphorism. Were we born sadomasochists?

      12/25/18 10:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      So we just gave control of Syria to the Syrians. Are you Syriaous?

      12/26/18 8:52 AM | Comment Link

    • Traven said...

      4

      PETER.. A brilliant analysis of a very complex action. Trump is a swamp creature so we shouldn’t ascribe any any rational reasons to his decisions since they all come from a very disturbed megalomaniacs mind. But let us applaud the act of pulling out of two country’s we never should have gotten so intimately involved in the first place.
      This is the first bold move against GWOT that the military has shoved down our throats and that our left and right politicians have feared to do. If it took a madman to do it, so be it.

      12/26/18 2:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Trump is busy fighting the war on the Homeland.

      Trumpie: Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?

      He has met the enemy and it is US apparently.

      12/27/18 8:31 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      6

      Trump with his Syrian drawdown needs to decline any invitations involving open top motorcade parades The MICC has already booked all the grassy knoll settings along all possible routes. It is not Mueller he should fear but his own party and the Democrats who are beholding to the military, industrial, congressional complex.

      12/27/18 1:33 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      JP,

      Trumpie doesn’t have to fear getting the JFK haircut. He will give the MIC anything it wants.He just gave the military a 10 % pay raise apparently.

      12/27/18 1:49 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Fake News: The NYT, the paper of the War Party, says Trumpies drawdown in Syria and Afghanistan has united the LEFT and the Right. Translated: the Corporate Left and Right have always been united in one War Party.

      12/27/18 2:03 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      9

      Trump will give money to the armed forces but I don’t see him giving them invasion plans which is what they crave.

      12/27/18 8:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      No doubt the same goons who mailed the anthrax letters to get the Patriot Act passed are hard at work planning a false flag attack. If we needed oil, the false flag attack would target Venezuela. Since oil production is basically a profitless venture these days that ain’t happening. It will be timed for September 2020 to scare the munchkins to vote for our dark lord and savior.

      12/27/18 9:10 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      Trumpie gets his marching orders from Saudi and Israel to attack Iran, then figure a false flag “Iranian” dirty bomb in the NYC financial district ought to do the trick.

      12/27/18 9:14 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      To recap: thanks to idiots like Dick Cheney, the man who won’t die, and the neocons who created the Bin Ladens and other pissed off people just because we invaded their land, perhaps the Global War on Terror should begin and end on der Homeland. And don’t think it won’t, sports fans.

      12/28/18 12:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      13

      Bombs away

      Trump freezes civilian feds pay while raising military pay. That will teach all those Democrats.

      12/29/18 1:44 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      14

      Rich,

      Whole “Syria withdrawal” thing is a sham. Trump is keeping troops in Iraq as a lilypad to go back in whenever he wants. He said that openly. Also, while we are pulling the official troops out of Syria, Trump did not say a word about the CIA trainers or the mercenaries we use there, we are going to continue the air bombing “as necessary”, and there has been no indication that we are going to stop arming the FSA and other al Qaeda-affiliated “rebel” groups we are using to try and topple Assad. Oddly, the generals have received no information on this troop withdrawal beyond his tweet.

      We just opened two new bases in Iraq. Trump has been talking to the Sauds for a few months about them paying US troops to help the Sauds in Yemen. That, plus his remarks to the US troops this week about how we are suckers and other countries should pay for our “work” shows that Trump considers the US military as mercenaries for hire for the right price. I don’t know how long it will take US soldiers to figure out that Trump is intending to just sell them to the highest bidder. I don’t know how they will feel about that once they do figure it out, although given how bloodthirsty we are as a people, perhaps they won’t give a damn at all. Just happy to have a job killing someone somewhere, even if there is no longer the pretense that it is for the “security of the homeland”.

      Trump has been in talks with Erik Prince since before the 2016 election about privatizing the war in Afghanistan.

      The target is Iran, when all is said and done. In the meantime, Trump will sell the US military to whomever is willing to pay, for whatever use. Trump has increased drone bombing all over the place dramatically over Obama’s already egregious numbers. He has furthermore increased the troop levels abroad and the use of clandestine forces abroad. He has no problem with bombing the fuck out of some other nations for no reason; he just wants to make some cash out of the action now that he has given all the money to the rich fuckers he calls friends and caused the deficit to sky-rocket.

      As to Iran, I am not sure why anyone would prefer to give the ME over to Saudi Arabia influences rather than Iranian. On the whole, Iran seems much the more reasonable player. They are only in Syria at Syria’s request to fight the ISIS head choppers we sent in there, while we are in there illegally and continue to blithely talk about what “we should do” about Syria as though they weren’t a sovereign nation with an elected president. Saudi Arabia, OTOH, supports ISIS principles, is negotiating with Trump for nuclear weapons technology, and is carrying on open warfare with Yemen in a civil situation that is none of their business – with our help.

      Trump is probably going to go after Iran next at the urging of Bolton and Pompeo. And the US media will love it, since they enjoy all our fun little wars, never for a moment thinking about what we are doing to the rest of the world. No doubt they will promote the next false flag around just like they did yellow cake uranium and incubator babies. In the meantime, Trump will enjoy screwing US workers in whatever fashion he can (he is a vicious mother-fucker at heart) while he further enriches the Pentagon and the wealthy. (He’s demanding an increase in the Pentagon budget for next year already.) Wait’ll he goes after SS and Medicare – maybe that’ll wake up his cultish followers.

      Trump’s as much a lying piece of shit as Obama was, and Bush before him. We aren’t going to end the war on terror – it’s our cash cow. Trump just doesn’t care if everyone knows it.

      PS: Trump deserves no credit for progress in the Koreas. That is due to Jae-In Moon and happens despite Trump and his merry band of raving neocon warmongers. Nobody interested in world peace and an end to wars abroad would have brought in the likes of Pompeo and Bolton (or Mattis, for that matter) to his administration. We avoided the war-pig Clinton, but I see no evidence that Trump is better. He’s just a different road heading to the same dismal place. Plus, with Trump, we get the added thrill of complete environmental wreckage, financial deregulation, and a soaring cost of living to kill off those of us stuck here a little more quickly.

      12/30/18 5:23 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      15

      Teri,

      At this rate we won’t have to worry about Social Security and Medicare. If we attack Iran, some big city is gonna pay the price. Then it is ball game over.

      The motto of the War Party: Death and Taxes.

      12/30/18 9:28 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      16

      Yikes teri! For a little levity -wikipedia states some wiccans won a lawsuit giving them the right to have a pentagram (the symbol of the devil in some cults) on their fallen family member’s headstone at Arlington. Is this a dark fun house or not? Learn to laugh or you’ll go nuts.

      12/30/18 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      17

      John,
      Wiccans?

      Here’s a laugh fest; in Iowa, blind people are legally allowed to own and possess firearms.

      Only in the US.

      12/30/18 10:14 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      18

      Trump in the White House. The devil does have a sense of humor.

      12/30/18 2:27 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...

      19

      Ya got that right, Rich.

      12/30/18 2:50 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      20

      Let history note the only true thing Trumpie ever said was this country was a sucker for getting involved in these quagmires, and was immediately condemned by the corporate media and corporate dumbocrats and even the FoX fake news for saying it.

      Trumpie ain’t the problem, is he?

      12/30/18 9:34 PM | Comment Link

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