The military might of the modern US has been compared to that of the Roman Empire. Donald Trump appears to imagine himself in the role of its emperor. If there is a way he can exercise power without abiding by his country’s norms, he will use it. For example, despite constant and virulent criticism of Obama by both himself and the GOP every time Obama issued an Executive Order, Trump began his own presidency by issuing dozens.
It’s always been clear he found any push-back against his personal will an affront. His fellow Republicans constantly make excuses for him. Their failure to stand up to him is daily having worse and worse consequences. Currently, the US government is shut down basically because Trump is holding his breath like a naughty child. This directly affects 800,000 federal workers. 380,000 of those workers have been put on leave without pay. Another 420,000, including border control, customs, and the Coast Guard, have to work without pay. Despite many of us saying before Trump even took office that it wasn’t going to happen, the GOP still thought they could control his excesses. Besides, to admit otherwise would be to admit they were only in government for the power it gave them.
As the months go on, it’s becoming more and more clear that another thing those of us who write and speak against him say is correct: he’s likely the perpetrator of multiple crimes. The net appears to be closing in on him. There are currently at least seventeen different investigations into Trump entities by multiple agencies.
This video lists those investigations and which entity is making them:
One investigation that has almost run its course is that into the Trump charity. The charity itself is closing down. A significant consequence of the investigation is that Trump and his three eldest children can no longer sit on the board of any charity for several years. Just let that sink in. The President of the USA and Leader of the Free World isn’t considered a suitable person to be on the board of any charitable trust. It’s the result of the consistent pattern in the way the Trump charity was run over decades (since the 1980s). In far too many cases to be ignored, Trump made use of charity funds for things he shouldn’t have.
Perhaps in an attempt to distract attention from the closing noose, Trump has just made his stupidest, shortsighted, and most dangerous decision yet. (How many times have I written that since his inauguration?) I refer, of course, to his announcement via Twitter (FFS!) that the US will pull all their troops out of Syria immediately. Even worse than announcing new foreign policy by tweet, no one, not even those closest to him let alone the US’s allies, seem to have known about it beforehand.
We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Before we go any further let’s make one thing clear. DAESH/ISIS is not defeated in Syria or anywhere else. Here’s an excellent short (2:12) video from the BBC explaining why:
As recently as August this year the Pentagon’s assessment was that there were still 14,500 DAESH/ISIS fighters in Syria. It seems Trump knows this himself, as less than 24 hours later he sent this pair of tweets:
Does the USA 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…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
….Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
If DAESH/ISIS is gone, why will Russia, Iran, Syria and “many others” have to fight them? And what does, “ISIS hits us they are doomed!” mean? One of the reasons the US fights terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere is to prevent them becoming strong enough to get to the homeland. It’s cheaper and easier to try and stop them at the source.
In the US, the president is also Commander-in-Chief of the military, so his right to do this isn’t the issue. The issue is his failure to discuss the matter with his generals, Secretary of State, and other advisors with expertise on the issue. Further, because it’s an about-face in policy, it’s a decision that he should explain to the people of the US.
Obama made a similar bad decision in relation to Iraq, but at least he went through the proper process of discussing how to handle it with all stakeholders, including allies. Then he went on TV to explain to his people why he was doing what he was doing. Trump sent out the appalling Stephen Miller to yell defensively at the camera instead.
Meanwhile, Trump sent out this tweet:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
That tweet was where I got the inspiration for the title of this post.
The Consequences of the Trump Decision
Trump has made many appalling decisions, but this one has had a consequence that leaves the US and the world more exposed to his incompetence than ever. It’s lead to the resignation of his Secretary of Defense, (former general) James Mattis. The last adult is leaving the building. As CNN‘s Don Lemon put it, “… he was the bulwark between impulse and stability.”
(Remember that Mattis and soon to be ex-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly have a secret agreement that neither would be out of the country at the same time. Why? In order to try to curb the president’s worst excesses.)
Being the pathological liar he appears to be, Trump couldn’t even let the Mattis resignation happen without yet another untruth. The world was told, via Tweet as usual, that Mattis was retiring. It wasn’t long before the Mattis resignation letter was in the public domain though, exposing Trump’s lie.
So Mattis resigned…he didn’t retire as POTUS stated in his tweet. In his resignation letter he says “Because you have the right to have a SECDEF. whose views are better aligned with yours on these. and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” pic.twitter.com/4MF334Ymjg
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) December 20, 2018
The letter is a brutal rebuke of Trump in what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. For almost two years Mattis has been disagreeing with many of Trump’s decisions regarding the military. Those disagreements include Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, his cancellation of military exercises with South Korea, Trump meeting Putin on his own, and Trump’s sending of active-duty troops to the border with Mexico. It appears the move re Syria is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In his letter, Mattis pointedly does not say what is all but standard in such situations: that it was an honour to serve Trump. This is clearly not an oversight; the letter is well thought out. By giving no praise whatsoever to Trump, he’s making a point. However, judging by Trump’s initial public response to the letter (i. e. a tweet), it appears that he either didn’t read it, or didn’t understand the nuances. Given his prodigious television watching, he soon found out what the letter meant. Thus, once again White House staff were putting up with his Bear With A Sore Head impression.
Why Military Withdrawal From Syria is Not Advisable
So why is withdrawing US troops from Syria such a bad move? There are only around 2,000 of them after all. How much difference can that many personnel make?
This is where the Roman comparison is useful again. The reason the Roman army was so successful was not because their soldiers were braver, stronger, more committed, or had divine support. It was their training, their weapons, and their armour. These are the same things that make 2,000 US soldiers so important in the face of up to 30,000 (probably about half that) DAESH/ISIS troops. There may not be very many US troops, but, along with their air support, they can do a lot of damage.
Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, which received much justified criticism from the GOP, was one of the main reasons for the rise of DAESH/ISIS. It was also the reason for Trump’s exaggeration at his rallies that Obama was the founder of DAESH/ISIS.
Now, Trump has made the Fake News declaration that he’s defeated DAESH/ISIS. Quite apart from anything else, it’s all but impossible to defeat an idea and that’s what sustains DAESH/ISIS. They have a core belief that they are fighting for God/Allah.
As an aside, don’t be misled by those telling you about people going to fight for DAESH/ISIS are buying books like ‘Islam for Dummies’ and that means they’re not really fighting a religious war. You don’t have to understand a religion to have a deep commitment to it. Most of us know the statistics in relation to religious knowledge in the US, but here they are again (right). Those who have the best knowledge of religion are atheists/agnostics, while some of those with the least knowledge of Christianity are its most fervent supporters. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it helps not to have a deep understanding of a religion to be blindly devoted to it.
There are multiple geopolitical reasons why leaving Syria at this point is wrong. It’s why earlier this month General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told The Guardian:
… US soldiers [have] only progressed 20% along the way towards its target of training up to 40,000 local fighters to keep Isis in check.
The US policy in relation to Syria until Trump’s tweet was to stay there until Iran left.
The Role of National Security Advisor John Bolton in Trump’s Decision
In September however, National Security Advisor John Bolton made the additional public statement:
… we’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.
That’s a step further than the previous policy. Some administration officials are saying that it was Bolton’s hawkish reaction to Iran that made Trump feel a need to push back. (I’ve been critical of Bolton’s extreme anti-Iran stance myself.) However, this makes Trump’s act of pulling out of Syria one of petulance. He wants to get Bolton to shut up about Iran, possibly because he knows he made a mistake in pulling out of the JCPOA , and Bolton had a lot to do with persuading him to do that.
As well as needing to be there as a bulwark against DAESH/ISIS, the US is doing its already bad reputation in the region untold damage. In many parts of the world, the US has a reputation for abandoning its allies. The Middle East is one of those as a result of the Gulf War. The current military leadership not only understands that this is justified, they want to change the impression.
However, once again the US is leaving an ally, this time the Kurds, to be slaughtered (by Turkey). This, after all the excellent work the Peshmerga (Kurdish military, aka YPG) have done in the fight against DAESH/ISIS. I heard reporting on CNN that the tweet about pulling out of Syria came directly after a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey. In addition, The Guardian is reporting:
Trump talked to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by phone on Friday, and Erdogan later said he had received some “positive answers” from his US counterpart on the tense situation in north-eastern Syria.
Turkey’s goals in Syria are not the same as those of the US, or indeed most of the world. They see the Peshmerga as terrorists and would like them gone. If they can’t do that, or at least leave them so weak the Kurds are no longer a political threat to him. The Peshmerga are currently under the protection of the US. This obviously makes it difficult for Turkey to launch an attack against them. However, if the US is no longer present that will no longer be the case. They cannot withstand an attack by the Turkish military, who have better arms and outnumber them.
(The Turkish military has conscription. It’s estimated over 35 million men and women are physically fit enough to serve and in the correct age range at any one time. According to Wikipedia, “The estimated [worldwide] population [of Kurds] is 35 million. A rough estimate by the CIA Factbook has Kurdish populations of 12 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, about 5 to 6 million in Iraq, and less than 2 million in Syria, which adds up to close to 28 million Kurds in Kurdistan and adjacent regions.)
There are other people who approve of Trump’s decision besides Erdoğan. The presidents of Russia (Putin), Iran (Rouhani), and Syria (Assad), are also praising the move. That alone should tell Trump something!
Incidentally, Trump is also trying to facilitate Erdoğan’s long-time extradition request. Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen took refuge in the US in 2013. Erdoğan has been trying to get him back ever since. If this happens, the likely result for Gülen is death – judicial or extra-judicial.
As CNN diplomatic and military analyst John Kirby (former Rear Admiral, US Navy) says, Turkey cannot be trusted to look out for US interests in the region. Erdoğan has made the promise to Trump that he can wipe put DAESH/ISIS. However, Turkey’s primary goal is wiping out the Kurds. That will always take precedence over attacking DAESH/ISIS.
The Results of Trump’s Decision Are In …
… and it’s bad. As I said above, the US withdrawal means the Kurds face slaughter at the hands of the Turks. Naturally they want to survive. It’s been over a week since Trump’s announcement and there are no signs he’s changing his mind. (Once before he said he was leaving but that time was persuaded to change his mind.) Therefore, the Kurds are making the only decision they feel they can – they are reaching out to Assad and the Russians for protection.
The showdown with Turkey is likely to take place in Manbij in northern Syria. The Kurds currently hold it, previously with US support. Turkey says it needs “liberating” from the Kurds, but previously did nothing about it. With the US decision to withdraw, their military began the move south to carry out that “liberation”.
Now, suddenly, the Kurds are flying the Syrian flag in Manbij. The Turks, on the other hand, are allying themselves with the Syrian rebels in the area (far-right extremists). The Syrian Army are also on their way to Manbij, in their case from the south. They, of course, have support from the Russians.
The original reason the US military was in Syria was to support the moderate rebels. Those rebels wanted democratic elections. President Assad wasn’t going to let those elections happen because he knew he and his Ba’ath party would suffer defeat. That’s why the civil war broke out in March 2011.
The Kurds are part of the moderate opposition to Assad, which is why the US were allying themselves with them. However, as a result of Trump’s appalling decision to desert the Kurds, they, in order to survive, have had to make the decision to go over to Assad. All the deaths of US and Kurdish soldiers over the last 7 years and nine months have gone to waste.
Trump says he trusts his gut more than his expert advisors. Specifically, he told the Washington Post (video) on 27 November this year:
… I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.
On that occasion he was speaking about the economy, but we’ve all heard multiple comments about his genius in multiple areas over the years. Towards the end of 2016, the Washington Post made a list of all the areas of knowledge in which Trump says he knows more than anyone else up until then. Three of them related to the military:
15) The military
“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” — June 2015
“I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me.” — November 2015
17) Defense — and offense
“So a general gets on, sent obviously by Obama, and he said, ‘Mr. Trump doesn’t understand. He knows nothing about defense.’ I know more about offense and defense than they will ever understand, believe me. Believe me. Than they will ever understand. Than they will ever understand.” — July 2016
Alexander Pope’s 1709 poem, ‘An Essay on Criticism’ is one Trump ought to read, or maybe someone could read it to him. That’s where we find the gem:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
When it’s the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military in the world, and president of the strongest country in the world, whose brain is intoxicated by the shallow draughts of a little learning, it’s the whole world that suffers.
People are literally dying because of Trump’s failure to take advice from those who know what they’re talking about, and not just in Syria. At this stage, all we can do is hope that the damage of yet another appalling decision will be limited.
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