Trump’s move came only after he had finally rid himself of that mustachioed popinjay John Bolton, a primary architect of America’s vastly destructive Middle East policy. Bolton and his collaborators, who have the blood of countless innocents on their hands, have done everything they could to impede fulfillment of Trump’s campaign promise to bring an end to endless wars in the Middle East, which have accomplished nothing but the waste of thousands of American lives, the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, millions of refugees, and trillions of dollars in worse-than-useless American military expenditures.
I wasn’t going to write on this subject until I watched a pair of bottle blonds dressed like call girls pontificating on Fox News about America’s duty to “stand by the Kurds.” It was just too much to bear: a pair of chatty women in a TV studio 7,000 miles from the Syrian disaster, of which they appear to know little or nothing beyond the fleeting newsroom tropes of the day, blithely advocating the sacrifice of still more American lives to defend an ethnic group thousands of miles from home in the midst of its never-ending conflict with other ethnic groups thousands of miles from home. A resulting unhealthy build-up of bile requires venting on these pages. I hope the reader will indulge me.
First of all, what does it mean to “stand by the Kurds”? Against what exactly are we standing with them? None other than Turkey. But Turkey has been a United States ally since it joined NATO in 1952. Accordingly, the US has two Turkish airbases (at Incirlik and Izmir), including nuclear bombers. The US can hardly embroil itself in the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish border dispute, which is none of our business but is certainly Turkey’s business.
For decades Turkey has been battling cross-border incursions into Turkish territory by Syria-based Kurdish insurgents who are attempting to create an autonomous Kurdish state-within-a-state in northern Syria abutting the Turkish border. The Kurdish independence movement in Syria is an element of the multi-sided Syrian civil war, raging since 2011, in which various forces opposing the Assad regime, including ISIS, have attempted to overthrow Assad.
The Syrian government receives political, logistical and military support from Iran and Russia while the anti-Assad Syrian rebels have been supported by the United States (along with Britain and France) in yet another of Imperial Washington’s unconstitutional foreign wars in the Middle East during the Bush-Obama years. American political and military meddling in Syrian affairs has involved CIA agents and US Special Forces providing training and logistical support to thousands of anti-Assad rebels at the cost of many billions of dollars.
The human cost of this disaster has been immense. The Syrian civil war, which the Obama administration deliberately fanned into a fiery catastrophe, has claimed 500,000 lives and driven more than three million refugees into Turkey, with millions more internal refugees in Syria proper. Yet Assad, with Russian and Iranian support, has all but won the war despite US efforts to topple him while the War Party disingenuously disavows any policy of regime change. Short of igniting World War III, the US now has absolutely no prospect of preventing Russian and Iranian influence in Syria. Even the War Party knows it, yet still they clamor for an endless engagement in Syria, which was supposed to have been limited to 90 days for the limited purpose of eliminating the ISIS “caliphate.”
Furthermore, what is the US supposed to do about the existence of the Turkish-backed “Free Syrian Army” (now the Syrian National Army) composed of non-Kurdish Syrian rebels (Arabs and Turks with Syrian citizenship) that since 2017 has been conducting “Operation Euphrates Shield,” whose aim is to enforce a “safe zone” at the Syria-Turkey border to which Syrian refugees can be repatriated? Should the US “stand with Kurds” against the Free Syrian Army and thus against Turkey, even though the US armed and trained that same army as part of its incoherent and calamitous Middle East policy? (Stockman calls it the “John McCain Memorial Brigade”).
ISIS having been routed in Syria, just as Trump promised, it was high time for him to deliver on his campaign promise to get the US out of Syria and the Middle East as a whole, in which Washington should never have intervened in the first place. Indeed, it was only US support for anti-Assad rebel forces that allowed the Syrian wing of ISIS to survive as long as it did—another example of how the War Party creates one Middle East conflagration after another that it uses as justification for yet another undeclared war in the region. Meanwhile, the warmongers in Congress clap like seals while avoiding any vote to authorize the wars—and the consequent death and destruction—they clamor for.
But, say the bottle blonds along with the whole chorus chanting “Stand by the Kurds,” it was the Syrian Kurds who, armed and trained by the US under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were instrumental in destroying the ISIS caliphate. Now, so the argument goes, we must stand by the Kurds because of their admittedly key role in defeating ISIS.
If only it were that simple. Turkey, with good reason, regards the SDF as a terrorist group that is merely the military arm of the PKK, the Kurdistan Socialist Workers Party, whose declared aim is to erect a Kurdish socialist state within Syria while overthrowing the Erdogan regime through “The Peoples’ United Revolutionary Movement.” Even the United States recognizes that at least the PKK is a terrorist organization, while claiming that other elements under the SDF umbrella are “moderate” despite their undeniable links to the PKK. (Where have we heard the “moderate rebels” narrative before?)
In view of these facts, why on earth should America be “standing with the Kurds” against Turkey, which would involve—absurdly enough—US military operations emanating from the US airbases Turkey hosts pursuant to the NATO treaty? And where is it written that America, having directed Kurdish forces in the victory over the ISIS caliphate, is now obliged to underwrite further Kurdish military and political adventures of any sort?
The insufferable Chris Wallace of Fox News rudely interrogated acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on why Trump will not allow US troops to remain in the affected Syrian border region as a “tripwire” to deter a Turkish incursion—apparently forever. Wallace did not think it necessary to explain why American soldiers should be deployed in a deadly game of chicken with Turkey in its conflict with Syrian rebels intent on overthrowing the Turkish government in league with their Turkish comrades. Esper responded with the simple truth: “We are not going to go to war, another war in the Middle East, against Turkey. ... That’s not what we signed up for.”
In response to Esper’s claim that Turkey intended to enter the contested Syrian border region regardless of the presence of American soldiers and that “There is no way we could have stopped 15,000 Turks,” Wallace huffed that there was no way Turkey would have risked “creat[ing] a conflict with the United States if we had stood firm…”. But why is the United States obliged to stand firm against its NATO ally, Turkey, in defense of Syrian rebels who are enemies of the Turkish government and have repeatedly staged attacks in Turkish territory? No rational answer was forthcoming. There was only Wallace’s mindless incantation of a non-existent duty to embroil Americans in another Middle East conflict in which America has no real stake.
Now that the US has withdrawn from Syria’s northeast border, however, there is a real possibility that peace can break out despite the War Party’s best efforts to keep the war going. Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo negotiated a five-day cease fire between Turkey and the Kurdish militia known as the YPG under which the YPG withdrew from the zone of conflict.
Trump announced today (October 23) that the ceasefire has been made permanent although there is always the possibility of further hostilities, this being the Middle East, a nexus of ceaseless sectarian conflict. The Turkish incursion has thus been halted and thousands of potential deaths avoided. In fact, General Mazloum Abdi, head of the SDF, has since thanked Trump for his efforts which “stopped the brutal Turkish attack and jihadist groups [sic] on our people” and has further reported that “President Trump promised to maintain partnership with SDF and long-term support at various spheres” Evidently, the SDF doesn’t think that Trump has “abandoned the Kurds.”
Being now without US military support, the Kurds quickly struck a deal with Assad for joint defense of the Syrian border, including the semi-autonomous Kurdish regions, against Turkey. As this column appears, Syrian troops, supported by Russia, have joined the Kurds in taking up defensive positions in northeast Syria while still leaving the political administration of the region to the Kurds. Trump further announced that a safe zone is being established along the contested border.
In short, the situation in Syria seems to be sorting itself out now that the United States, thanks to Trump, has ceased its stupid and destructive meddling and simply gotten out of the way. (For a full appreciation of the utter lunacy of US policy in Syria before Trump, read this expansive article by David Stockman.)
The warmongers on the Right and the suddenly pro-war-because-anti-Trump Left are united in outrage. Before the ceasefire was negotiated, NBC News trotted out one Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics, who sounds the main theme of the outrage: In Syria “A new regional order is in the making” and Trump’s decision has “hammered a deadly nail in the coffin of the Kurdish dream. The Kurdish territories fell like ripened fruit into Assad’s mouth.”
What business does the United States have promoting the “Kurdish dream” of an independent border state within Syria that our supposed NATO ally Turkey views as a direct threat to its national security? None whatsoever. On the contrary, the US has a duty not to assist in the creation of any such entity given our relations with Turkey. And who says the “Kurdish territories” within Syria’s borders belong to the Kurds and not to Syria as a whole? Only the Kurds and the War Party in Washington. Yet it is the Kurds themselves who have just cut a deal with Assad and Putin, who is still depicted as the font of all evil by the lying media and their DNC partners while Xi Jinping circles behind us for the kill.
The US withdrawal from northeast Syria, says the professor from his armchair, “represents a win for Russia and Iran” and “will also further cement Assad’s hold over the war-ravaged country.” Yes, and so what? What’s it to us? Nothing at all. The recognition of that simple truth is the essence of Trump’s Middle East policy. Neither Assad, nor his relations with Russia and Iran, poses any threat to our national security or legitimate national interest. The United States simply has no stake in that regional game.
The professor further frets that now “Putin, and not Trump, [is] in control of Syria and beyond.” First of all, Trump was never “in control” of Syria. On the contrary, Assad has prevailed in the civil war with Russia’s assistance and despite American support for the rebels. Secondly, as Pat Buchanan has pointed out, Putin will not be “in control” of Syria any more than Trump was, even if his influence in the region will be greater. And so what if it is? The United States has no legitimate national interest in bragging rights to Syria. On the other hand, there is a very real national interest in good relations with Russia, but these have been precluded for the past three years by the Russian Collusion Hoax concocted by the Clinton-DNC-Deep State-Fake News complex in a failed conspiracy to undo the 2016 election (with the assistance of Australian, British and Italian intelligence operatives).
Exhibiting their usual hysteria, the same crowd that bamboozled America into the Iraq War with phony intelligence, now screams that all the ISIS prisoners will escape from the jails in which they were confined, and the caliphate will rise again. Is the United States to be the permanent prison warden of some 10,000 ISIS prisoners in Syrian jails and the permanent anti-ISIS police patrol in a region 7,000 miles from our shores, while neither Syria nor Turkey has any responsibility to handle ISIS in their own territory? And what of our supposed European allies, which have refused to take custody of the ISIS fighters who are EU citizens that went to Syria to wage war on Assad?
As Buchanan observes:
“al-Qaida and ISIS are in many more places today than they were when we intervened in the Middle East. Must we fight forever over there — to be secure over here? Why cannot Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States deal with ISIS and al-Qaida in their own backyard? Why are ISIS and al-Qaida over there our problem over here?”
Again, no rational answer is forthcoming. There are only Republican war whoops now seconded by Trump-hating Democrats who applauded Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq but now love the idea of more warfare in the Middle East simply and only because Trump wants to end it. As for Trump, he observed in his address today that Syria and Turkey are responsible for policing their own neighborhood—simple common sense that is anathema to the “boomerhawks” (Stockman’s term) of the War Party.
The iconic rightwing warmonger Lindsey Graham, that great lover of all Middle Eastern warfare, fatuously proposed that unless the US remains in Syria—preferably until the end of time—there will be another 9-11 attack in America. He said the same thing about any possible withdrawal from the never-ending war in Afghanistan—now in its nineteenth year—and the same thing about Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq. No effort is made to explain how stationing troops in Syria and Afghanistan forever, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, will prevent a terrorist attack in America. This is a variant of the laughable argument that “if we don’t fight them over there, we will have to fight them here”—as if armies of terrorists would journey 7,000 miles to wage war on American soil if we left them behind to clash with each other endlessly in the Middle East. If anything, it is our never-ending bellicose presence in the region that makes another 9-11 more likely.
But, mirabile dictu, it is none other than Lindsey Graham who suddenly changed his tune as the ceasefire Trump obtained holds and the Kurds ally with the Assad regime. Having spoken to Trump on the telephone, Graham declared even before the extension of the ceasefire had been announced that:
“I am increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years if we play our cards right…. I am increasingly optimistic that this could turn out very well…. I see a way forward now that really quite frankly is historic. Historic security for Turkey. Historic security for the Kurds. A plan to keep ISIS down and out forever… That would be a hell of an outcome….”
Once again, Trump’s common sense threatens to make fools of the American political establishment, including that pompous ass Bolton, who is preparing to cash in with yet another tell-all book by a disgruntled ex-Trump administration official. Indeed, the “revolving door” in the White House has served Trump well as he eliminates the Washington insiders in favor of his own counsel. Trump may succeed in demonstrating the truth of William F. Buckley’s famous observation that America would be governed better by names selected at random from the phone book than by its permanent ruling class. It is that very prospect that induces rage in the forces arrayed against him.