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Trump Fiddles While Rome Burns

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.

Cartoon: Wall built of investigations into TrumpAs 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.

Cartoon. Text: We're being tweeted out of SyriaPerhaps 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.

 

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:

 

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:

 

That tweet was where I got the inspiration for the title of this post.

 

The Consequences of the Trump Decision

Cartoon: Mattis walking away from his side of a see-saw. Trump side above a cliff.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.”

Cartoon: Kelly and Mattis leaving Baby Trump(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.

Cartoon: A soldier in Syria telling another, "We're being redeployed to Texas."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.

Cartoon: Trump standing on a lit bomb labelled ISISObama’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.

Pew Data: Atheists/Agnostics and Jews score best in religious knowledge survey. Hispanic Catholic score lowest.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.

Map: Manbij/Syria

Location of Manbij, Syria (Source: www.alaraby.co.uk Click pic to go to source.)

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

16) ISIS

“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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17 Responses to “Trump Fiddles While Rome Burns”

  1. Glenda Palmer says:

    Thank you for the well developed summary on Agent Orange’s latest activities.

    Hope you are feeling well and enjoying the holiday season.

    Glenda

  2. Mike says:

    The biggest fear now that Gen Mattis has left, is there is no barrier within the Nuclear Launch Chain of Command. Mattis inserted himself within that as a bulwark against the Orange one’s likely issuance of a Nuclear Attack order. Let’s hope that there’s someone nearby prepared to prevent the implementing of such an order, by whatever means. It doesn’t help when the Key posts in the chaotic Administration are held by people woefully underqualified or with extremist views, or both,e.g. John Bolton, or Pompeo a man who believes in the Rapture. Crazy doesn’t come close.

    • Apparently there’s a general who was sacked because he asked how would he know if the president was sane when he gave an order to launch a nuclear attack? I don’t know whether that’s urban myth or a real thing, but it could be argued that anyone who launches a nuclear attack is insane.

      Here are a couple of YouTube videos. The first is about the US nuclear football. The second is a very sobering TED Talk about the effects of nuclear war.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7hOpT0lPGI

  3. Lee Knuth says:

    Too bad his supporters still fall for his lies and the rest of us have to suffer. The GOP is a disgrace for caving in to him. Unless they gain a backbone this travesty will continue. One can only hope the Mueller investigation leads to his downfall.

  4. nicky says:

    Thank you for an excellent post.
    However, the YPG and Peshmerga are very different. The latter is first and foremost a Kurdish Nationalist movement, with tribal affiliations, quite traditionalist and militarily speaking quite strong.
    The YPG is a Kurdish socialist democratic movement, militarily much weaker (or should I say less well equipped in hardware), not traditionalist, very secular for ME standards, and predominantly found in Syria (the situation is much more complex, but as a broad picture I think this is fairly accurate).
    As said earlier, I think this withdrawal from Syria is a way to serve Mr Putin, and his whole wall story and shut-down is a smokescreen to divert attention.
    It was mainly the YPG who defeated the IS Caliphate as a ‘territorial power’ . Of course that does not mean they were destroyed or ceased to exist, they just don’t have a ‘state’ anymore. In Syria the YPG was basically the US’s only ally.
    We’ll have to see what happens, but this withdrawal gives Turkey a sign it can go ahead. A genocide waiting to happen.
    The US is indeed notorious for abandoning it’s allies, and with Mr Trump at the helm that impression, nay fear, is only increasing. Mr Trump’s ways do untold damage to the ‘Western Alliance’ (a bulwark of stability the last 6 decades or so), exactly what Mr Putin, whose objective is to restore the Russian empire (cf former USSR), wants.
    Mr Mattis was right to resign, but, as said, there is no more adult in the play-pen.
    I cannot think of a more clear example of the Dunning-Kruger effect than Mr Trump.
    The more I think of it, the more I think Mr Trump should be impeached. For domestic US purposes a president Pence maybe worse (Ms Omarosa: “If you think Trump is a bad president, wait until you have a president Pence”), but in international politics he would be better, at least not Russian shill.

    • Jenny Haniver says:

      Speaking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I found this amusing video compilation, “The 15 times Trump bragged about his intelligence” https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/10/10/times-trump-bragged-about-intelligence-orig-alee.cnn.

      Re the Kurds in Syria, I hear this a.m. (Sat, Dec. 29 in the US) the Syrians made a deal with the Kurds (which group?) and the Syrian army is massing at Manbij to defend the Kurds from the Turks. I don’t know what to make of this. So very confusing.

      • I should have made it clear about the different Kurdish military groups and not lumped them all together. The group that’s made the deal with Syria is the YPG.

        • nicky says:

          The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD (Democratic Unity Party), which is allied to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been outlawed in Turkey.
          The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northern Iraq is dominated by the KPD, which is led by the Barzani clan (which are Iranian Kurds).
          The PKK and the Barzanis (KPD) are not really lovebirds, to put it mildly.

  5. Randall Schenck says:

    Excellent review of the latest Trump disaster. The basket case we call Syria will continue downhill thanks to U.S. leadership and a lack thereof. Further proof there is nothing that Trump cannot screw up. I have to wonder what the folks in Israel think of this dummy now? They seem to not be saying but I notice they are making a few more missions to Syria. This is where we stand at the end of 2018 and we only know that it will get worse in the next.

    The only light we have is a big change in congress and I think the beginning of the end for Trump LLC. As you covered, there are 17 different investigations going and some of these will hit the house of representatives soon. The Mueller investigation also continues and we should have more on this soon. If, and it’s a big if, we are not taken into a misguided war by this idiot, I suspect we may get rid of him by the end of 2019.

  6. Randall Schenck says:

    I should have mentioned two of his latest moves in the wages area. He lied directly to the GIs saying they had not had a raise in ten years (they have had one every year) and they were going to get a 10% raise this year (another lie). Then to top it off he froze federal wages and that means the federal employees will not get the 2.6 percent raise they were going to get. So many federal employees not only are not getting paid at all during the shut down, they also get no raise.

  7. Mark R. says:

    This should be required reading for all Trump supporters. Heather’s Homilies isn’t known for quantity, but I can always count on quality.

    And when it comes right down to it, I wonder if Trump even knows why he pulled the US out of Syria. Or perhaps it’s as simple as Putin or Erdogan “asked” him to.

    I’d like to add that Mattis was to leave at the end of February, but after Fox explained to Trump the implications of the letter, he ended Mattis’ post Jan. 1.

    I know Trump has said he likes chaos and likes to be the center of chaos, but I think the chaos is beginning to crack him like an egg. Add to his Syria debacle: Mueller, Individual 1, Pelosi, government shutdown, children dying at the border (which he is tweet blaming democrats for…wtf?), an unstable and perhaps bear stock market, a massive staffing problem, a massive lawyer problem (namely he can’t get any good ones), no f’n wall ever, his lowest approval rating/highest disapproval since Charlottesville, Trump Foundation gone (will his ugly portrait end up in the WH?), Democratic House and the impending investigations (though I’m not sure Trump understands how screwed he is yet)…this is not going to end well for any of us,

    President Trump sat on a wall,
    President Trump had a great fall.
    All his cult members
    And all his henchmen
    Couldn’t put Trump together again.

    • Thanks for mentioning that about Mattis being told he has to go on 1 Jan. I meant to add it into the post and forgot.

      I like the H-D version. I’ve got a cartoon somewhere with Trump as Humpty Dumpty and another version. The trouble is Trump is such a good target for the cartoonists I have literally thousands of cartoons saved now and finding it would be a mission in itself. I save them according to what they were about rather than what the pic is. I nearly couldn’t find the one at the bottom of this post, then I remembered is was under “Mattis” (along with about 10 others on the subject).

  8. Jenny Haniver says:

    As for Alexander Pope, I think it’s time for me to reread the “Dunciad.”

  9. nicky says:

    Since you mention executive orders, an interesting trivium (trivia?):
    Who is the US president that issued the least executive orders per year since 1901?
    Yes, you guessed it: Mr Barack Obama at just under 34.6 per annum.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_federal_executive_orders

    • I remember that statistic being repeated frequently by CNN every time a Republican complained about his EOs. The thing that annoyed me the most is that he was only using them because the GOP in general, and Mitch McConnell in particular, refused to negotiate with him because they didn’t want him having any wins. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that McConnell speech about the GOP’s primary job being to make sure Obama was a one-term president. Absolutely appalling. So much for governing the country!

      • nicky says:

        Didn’t know about CNN, thought I was posting something quite unknown.
        If you hear his opponents, one would get the opposite impression, as if he issued more EO’s than any other president. In fact I was shocked to learn it just because of these opponent telling blatant lies, something so easily checked as being false.

        • As I’m sure you already know, that’s the problem so often, especially with those who use opinion journalists on Fox as their only news source. (The proper journalists on Fox are actually okay, but they don’t get a lot of air time.) Someone like Tucker Carlson, Jesse Walters etc says something and their viewers assume it’s true, and they repeat it. Because of the source, no one checks the facts. That’s what makes Sean Hannity and Judge Janine et al so dangerous. They speak with authority and are trusted by those who listen to them. Often too the people who watch Fox talk amongst themselves and the false info gets reinforced that way.

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