In 2013 MSNBC host Rachel Maddow authored a book titled “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.” The book explores America’s steady march towards perpetual war, one that has echoes of George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 in which propagandized citizens recite that, “we are war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia.” Maddow’s book warns about the rise of executive power in waging war and how the public has become strangely comfortable with the notion of fighting a forever war that feeds a small segment of our youth into the meat grinder indefinitely.
When President Trump announced that the US military would be withdrawing from Syria within thirty days, Maddow along with many other journalists, pundits, and commentators took to their outlets and platforms to decry this seemingly reckless decision. Republicans, neo-conservatives, liberals, and progressives were livid about the decision to pull out of Syria. For her part, Maddow ran segments about how the withdrawal is irresponsible, was done without consulting his advisors, and that he was attempting to “wag the dog” in order to alter the news cycle. George W. Bush wagged the dog when he had the military invade Iraq under false pretenses. Now Trump was wagging the dog by bringing troops home.
The narratives have changed so quickly, the ideological convictions have shifted so suddenly, that one can hardly keep track of them. One has to wonder if the progressive left has not completely abandoned their anti-war values without realizing it, simply because they are opposed to any action taken by our current President. As it stands, there is no anti-war movement in America — which is something that should give us reason to pause.
Also exposed in this media fanfare has been the fact that the US presence in Syria is not, and never has been, about ISIS. It was always about regime change, countering Iran, and standing up to Russia. As others have pointed out, the reason why there is no concrete US military strategy in Syria is because there are no concrete US national interests there. As in the Cold War, one has to remember that not every anti-Russian action is a pro-American one. If America wants to have a contest of strength, wills, or cunning, we should choose an arena where we can win as opposed to a quagmire where we will surely lose, as evidenced by our war next door in Iraq.
There were, and are, legitimate concerns about American forces making a rapid withdrawal from Syria. The result could be a power vacuum. American forces in Syria acted as a deterrent, somewhat in the same way that American soldiers are stationed in South Korea or Latvia. If a hostile power attempts to invade, they know they will be fighting American soldiers, and that the full might of the American war machine will be brought down upon them. This kept Russian, Iranian, and more importantly, Turkish forces out of the Kurdish region of northern Syria known as Rojava.
NEWSREP suggested at the time that one Special Forces company (about 100 men) be left in Syria with the mission of facilitating the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the umbrella organization that the Kurds and allied Arab militias fight under, in negotiating with the Assad regime for Rojava’s re-entry into the Syrian state. In conversations with members of the YPG and PKK, it has become clear that the Kurds understand that Rojava will not become its own mini-state within a state. They are pragmatic enough to know that they would have to rejoin Syria, but hoped to do so as semi-autonomous cantons which would respect Kurdish rights. Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Kurds were second class citizens who could not speak their language, hold a Syrian passport, or legally work.
After a very successful alliance with the SDF, a ill-planned withdraw could plunge the region right back into chaos. Instead, the announcement had the opposite effect. Now understanding that America would not be the security guarantor of northern Syria, the SDF and the Assad regime are forced to open a dialog with one another. The details any agreements reached have not been publicly announced as of yet, but Syrian troops have already entered areas such as the SDF held city of Manbij.
In making the decision to withdraw, President Trump does indeed appear to have blown off the suggestions of his advisors, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Special Envoy Brett McGurk, both of whom resigned over the decision. During his recent visit with American troops stationed in Iraq, President Trump commented on the drawdown explaining that his Generals asked for another six months in Syria, then another six months, followed by another six months. “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time,” Trump said.
In short, Trump called bullshit on the forever war, or at least one aspect of it. He has also announced plans to slash the US troop commitment in Afghanistan by half.
For seventeen years American citizens have been told that the war is just about to turn a corner in Afghanistan. They have been told the enemy is on their heels, when they were not. “We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous,” Trump said to the press pool. Trump likely regards the Global War on Terrorism as a burden on his administration, a costly entanglement that he feels no obligation to perpetuate. When it came to Syria, he blew off hand-wringing from the Generals.
Like it or not, Trump got this one right.