BY JEFF MACKLER
President Trump’s unexpected December 19 twitter announcement ordering a 30-day timetable for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria and 7,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan provoked a bipartisan panic in Washington. Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” James Mattis, “the butcher of Fallujah,” resigned in protest stating, according to the New York Times, that “Leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State, betray our Syrian Kurdish Arab allies on the ground, and cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.”
The former commander of American-led troops in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, General Stanley McChrystal, warned that “Trump’s approach to national security was reckless.” Eight years earlier the same McChrystal, working under the Obama administration, pilloried then Vice President Joseph Biden for publicly revealing that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other Gulf State monarchies had systematically provided weapons to and trained Al Qaida and other terrorist groups to invade Syria for the purpose of removing the Bashar Assad government. Biden soon after apologized for his “indiscrete” statements but never repudiated their validity.
Brett McGurk, U.S. representative to the so-called global coalition fighting ISIS, also resigned from Trump’s team stating “Fighters with ISIS were on the run, but not yet defeated as Trump had said.”
Pressing the panic button to the hilt, New York Times reporter, Vivian Lee opened her December 26 article with: “Turkey is threatening to invade Syria to eradicate Kurdish fighters. Syrian forces are rolling toward territory the Americans will soon abandon. Israel is bombing Iran-backed militias deep inside Syria and Russia could soon move to crush the last vestige of the Syrian anti-government insurgency.”
Joining the chorus of Trump naysayers was none other than former State Department Director of U.S. Policy Planning,
Richard N. Haass, today president of the ruling class’s top think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Haass tweeted his doomsday language worst-case scenario: “Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Saudi continuation of the war in Yemen, Turkey preparing to attack Syrian Kurds, Assad in power and ISIS anything but defeated, Iran expanding its regional reach, Russia the most influential external power: welcome to the post-American Middle East.”
Ruling class policy making
The warmongering Democrats joined their Republican counterparts along with a host of generals, past and present, to signal Trump that in the United States presidents really don’t make fundamental policy. This remains the exclusive prerogative of the capitalist trillionaire corporate ruling class elite, who own and control the nation’s wealth, resources, dominate the government’s central institutions and engineer major policy decisions through their secret and private channels. Trump’s former Secretary of State and past CEO of Exxon Mobile, Ross Tillerson is a case in point when he called Trump a “fucking moron” after Trump had left a National Security Council meeting where Trump had advocated a hundred fold increase in the quantitiy of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.
Within days of Trump’s Syria withdrawal tweet these forces, through their myriad connections, signaled that Trump notwithstanding, there would be no withdrawal in 30 days, if at all. Declining to name names, the NYT postulated, “Some analysts said they believed Mr. Trump’s orders would not even be carried out — at least not on the 30-day timetable he imposed for Syria. The Pentagon has slow-walked his orders before, and already there is talk of a more gradual withdrawal given the complications that would probably arise from a hasty pullout. (Emphasis added.)
Trump’s extreme rightwing former top policy adviser, Stephen Bannon, chimed in, “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”
But it was not really “done.” In less than a week Trump got the word.The Times headlined, “Trump to Allow Months for Troop Withdrawal in Syria, Officials Say.” Their Dec. 31 article affirmed that, “Mr. Trump confirmed on Twitter that troops would ‘slowly’ be withdrawn, but complained that he got little credit for the move after a fresh round of criticism from retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and reports from the departing White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, himself a retired Marine general, about the president’s impulsive decision-making.”
Trump tweeted, “If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”
Trump’s real intentions
In truth, Trump has no intention of ending the U.S. war against Syria, an imperialist slaughter that has taken the lives of some 350,000 to 500,000 Syrians and led to the tragic exodus of almost half the population. Trump stated as much during his Iran visit in late December when he reported that the 2,000 U.S. Special Forces troops – trained killers – would be moved across the border to neighboring Iraq. He implied that the U.S. al-Asad air base in Qatar would be on the ready to bomb Syria at his command, as it has innumerable times over the past years. He made no mention of the thousands of additional U.S. forces stationed on the U.S. flotilla offshore Syria in the Mediterranean Sea.
A week latter, relatively quiet to date, John Bolton, Trump’s chief National Security/military adviser, told the media that his assignment was to “reverse engineer” Trump’s one-month withdrawal timetable. This was followed by The Times, mysteriously and daily quoting and invoking the authority of some dozen unnamed government “officials” to the effect that a U.S. Syrian withdrawal was on no one’s agenda. The finger on the ruling class panic button was relaxed, for the time being at least. Two weeks after his December 26 NYT end of the world-like assessment of Trump’s withdrawal tweet, CFR president Richard Haass stated on January 11, “We have got to find a middle ground between trying to transform the Middle East and increasingly walking away from the Middle East. We want to wash our hands of it, but history suggests that the Middle East won’t let us.”
The truth about U.S. Syria policy
Nevertheless, the hoopla over Trump’s announcement has revealed some truths that have usually been denied by all previous U.S. administrations as well as by significant portions of the U.S. left. Joseph Biden’s original statement, for example, that the Gulf State monarchies have been systematically arming, training and directing Al Qaida and related terrorists/jihadist groups to overthrow the Assad government has been fully confirmed today. Further, no one denies that the so-called Free Syrian Army, previously touted as representing “moderate rebels” is or has even been anything other than the creation of the U.S./NATO and Turkey. In the same vein, the so-called remaining Al Qaida/Nusra Front/Free Syrian Army imperialist “coalition” armed fighters in the northern province of Idlib, 30,000 or more, are the same U.S./NATO/Gulf State monarchy-financed and directed forces who exist today only at the discretion of and under the protection of the U.S. imperialism. When Syrian Army troops in early October made some initial moves to re-take, or better, liberate Idlib from its imperialist-backed occupiers, they were warned by the top UN diplomats from the U.S., France and Britain, that the full force of world imperialism would be launched against them. How dare the Syrians invade the land they were born in was the united refrain of the world’s superpowers! Worse still, neither Trump nor any other elements in ruling class circles has suggested in any form that these 30,000, perhaps 50,000 imperialist-backed troops be withdrawn from Idlib. None have suggested that imperialism’s chief cop in the region, Israel, cease its relentless bombing of Syria. And none have suggested that one cent of the $5 billion annually granted to the chief U.S. “enforcers” in the region, Israel and Egypt, be terminated. On the contrary, the unfolding post-Trump tweet scenario includes that the U.S. will send new forces to southern Syria, that it will never leave until “all Iranian forces leave,” and that if the U.S., ever leaves it will part of a U.S.-imposed “negotiated” settlement that meets the needs of U.S. “national security” interests.
Again echoing the real positions of the U.S. ruling class The Times and its quoted sources repeat ad nauseam that a U.S. withdrawal would “cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Imagine that! The Syrian government would regain the 30 percent of Syria now controlled by U.S. imperialism! And what would the Syrian government do with this regained region? All sources have concluded that the Syrians would use this oil rich and fertile land to rebuild, with Russian and Iranian assistance, their devastated nation!
U.S. fossil-fuel imperialism
We should note here that over the past years when ISIS controlled the same oil resources, the complicit U.S. military consciously ignored the endless ISIS truck caravans that openly transported Syria’s stolen oil to Turkey where it was sold to finance ISIS operations. Oil, the central fossil fuel resource that powers the world capitalist economy and the same resource whose continued use threatens life on earth itself, has always been central to U.S. policy. As with the U.S.-backed fascist-led coup in Ukraine, where a key U.S. objective was to substitute U.S. pipelines and fracked eastern Ukrainian natural gas, for Russia’s equivalent, oil pipeline access from the Gulf States through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean has also been factored into U.S. policy, in Syria and the entire Middle East. The January 11 NYT had it’s own speculative commentary on this issue, Staff writer Ben Hubbard explained, “American protection is no longer necessary to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, for example, and a boom in domestic production has made the United States less dependent on Middle Eastern oil anyway.” Less dependent or not, the production, transport and control of oil produced by U.S. competitors, whether they be Russia, Iran, Venezuela, or even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State monarchies, has always been a central factor in U.S. foreign policy.
Trump had been skewered by Democrats for his 2016 campaign advocacy that the U.S. leave Syria. Indeed, in a one-on-one campaign debate with Hillary Clinton, who argued that the U.S. was winning in Syria and should continue its war, Trump countered, briefly, and without references, that the U.S. had already lost the war there. The fact that his campaign published a full-page ad in the NYT featuring a long list of retired generals and other top military officers served to indicate that Trump was not without full knowledge of the facts on the ground that informed him that only forces the U.S. could muster in their efforts to remove the Assad government were those bought and paid for by the U.S.-led “coalition.”
U.S. policy: Variations on a common theme
Today, the imperialist-promoted myth of an ongoing popular democratic insurgency against the Syrian government has been abandoned by virtually everyone. Yet, as in Vietnam, “knee deep in the big muddy, the big fool presses on.” This is not the first time when ruling class divisions over imperialist war policy have been brought to public attention. With regard to Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, debates over whether to bomb the nation in question “back to the stone age,” or consider other options like imposing U.S. imperialist will by more subtle means, including behind the scenes negotiations, or embargoes, sanctions, etc., have always been on the table. In Afghanistan, for example, U.S. troop withdrawals have been accompanied by the sending of the largest privatized army in U.S. history – 50,000 troops – to accomplish the same imperialist ends. In Nicaragua, it was the U.S.-organized and funded Contras, operating out of Honduras; in Cuba it was a U.S.-trained army in the Dominican Republic that invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The blustering bully warmaker Donald Trump, whose military budget exceeds all others in world history, and who is fully is aware that U.S. death squads, sanctions, drone wars, embargo wars and never-ending real wars wreak death and destruction across the globe, was stupid enough to believe, for a moment at least, that he could tweet U.S. war policy on his own authority. No doubt he has now been convinced otherwise.
Kurds open talks with Assad
A few days after Trump’s 30-day pullout announcement the NYT headlined, “Syria’s Kurds Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection.” The article read:
“American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.
“The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.”
To the horror of U.S. officials the Y.P.G. invited President Assad to visit areas under their control and to discuss a resolution of Kurdish demands for a form of federated participation in Syria wherein Kurdish majority regions would be granted greater autonomy and local control.
This was not the first time that Kurds have called on the Syrian government for aid against Turkish onslaughts in areas in the northern border regions where Kurds predominate. In the recent past, whenever the joint forces of the Syrian Army and the Kurdish militias approached areas where the U.S. was present, U.S.-backed warplanes were deployed against both. The same U.S. forces have been repeatedly deployed against the Syrian Army when it sought to re-take regions held by ISIS in the northeast and by other U.S.-backed terrorist forces.
The Kurds, for their part, have always rejected participation in the U.S./NATO-orchestrated conferences in Riyadh, Geneva and elsewhere when U.S. imperialism sought to unite its divergent coalition stooges for the purpose of partitioning Syria in accord with U.S. “interests.”
Syria withdrawal speculation
Today’s invented talking points regarding whether the U.S. will consider any form of a future withdrawal from Syria include an assortment of speculating officials who publicly wonder what to do with the $billions in remaining U.S. weaponry. Leaving some for the “U.S.-allied Kurds,” for example, is considered risky since the Kurds may well use these against the NATO-allied Turks. Or perhaps, the Kurds might simply turn the weapons over to the Syrian Army directly! Or, perhaps, the Arab component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, might turn over their U.S. weapons to Al Qaida or ISIS. In past years U.S.-trained forces under the U.S. Special Operations, that is, illegal and secret operations expert, General Michael Nagata, ended up turning their U.S. weapons over to Al Qaida and related jihadist forces. The Pentagon expended over $1 billion for this “failed” operation. But perhaps it wasn’t a failure after all, since the weapons and most of the U.S.-trained Arab troops ended up aiming their fire at the Syria government, that is, at President Assad’s overthrow. Others ended up in the pay of the highest bidder, including going to war against the U.S. itself! (See: “Syria: Anatomy Of Another U.S. Imperialist War” by Jeff Mackler). In truth, however, there are zero forces in Syria today that have any desire or interest in fighting for the U.S. imperial behemoth. Close to all those who have done so in the past have been the creation of the U.S./NATO-orchestrated Gulf State monarchy “coalition.”
Today, the Zionist colonial, settler state of Israel, backed to the hilt by the U.S., has, according to the Dec. 26 NYT, “made clear it will not tolerate an increased threat from Syria, which the Israelis demonstrated on Tuesday [Dec. 25] with airstrikes near Damascus.” Israel too, with U.S. support, occupies a portion of Syria that it annexed in the Golan Heights region in the 1967 war. Israel’s periodic and numerous bully bombing attacks on Syria in support of various terrorist forces have been painfully ignored by the Syrian government to avoid providing a pretext for a full-scale Israeli attack.
Trump’s tweeted withdrawal has proved to be a mere episode in the ongoing U.S. war and occupation of Syria. But it served well to reveal much of the truth about this eight-year savage assault on Syria’s fundamental right to self-determination and the U.S.-led mass destruction of Syria itself. It also revealed that despite the abject failure of overall U.S. war policy in Syria, and its not too dissimilar failures in Afghanistan over the past 18 years, the imperialist beast presses on with impunity and with a cynicism stemming from a belief that there are still “benefits” to be gained, whether in the form countless billions in profits to be registered by the “war is good for business” military-industrial complex or in the cynical supposition that “victory” can or will eventuality be achieved by reducing Syria to ashes and demoralizing its government to the point that it will, in time, accept virtually any settlement offered by its would-be conquerors. Such are the exigencies of the U.S. warmakers.
U.S. Out Now!
In the U.S., challenging the U.S. war machine in Syria and the world over requires the construction of an independent massive and united antiwar movement capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousand and more in the streets to unequivocally demand, U.S. Out Now! Self-determination for Syria and all oppressed peoples and nations! and No to all U.S. wars at home and abroad! The nationwide antiwar protests initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and joined by hundreds of antiwar and social justice organizations for a March 30 march and rally in Washington, D.C. and other cities is an excellent starting point. Contact UNAC at: firstname.lastname@example.org