I hate to say I told you so, but well … as predicted, in the wake of Trump’s commanded military withdrawal from northeast Syria, the once U.S.-backed Kurds cut a deal with the Assad regime. (And Vice President Mike Pence has now brokered a five-day cease-fire.) Admittedly, Trump the “dealmaker” ought to have brokered something similar before pulling out and before the Turkish Army—and its Sunni Arab Islamist proxies—invaded the region and inflicted significant civilian casualties.
One must admit that a single phone call between Trump and President Erdogan of Turkey has turned the situation in Syria upside down in just over a week. The Kurds have requested protection from Assad’s army, Russian troops are now patrolling between the Kurds and invading Turks, and the U.S. is (for once) watching from the sidelines.
The execution has been sloppy, of course—a Trumpian trademark—and the human cost potentially heavy. Nonetheless, the U.S. withdrawal represents a significant instance of the president actually following through on campaign promises to end an endless American war in the Mideast. The situation isn’t simple, of course, and for the Kurds it is yet another fatalistic event in that people’s tragic history.
Still, while the situation in Northeast Syria constitutes a byzantine mess, it’s increasingly unclear that a continued U.S. military role there would be productive or strategic in the long term. After all, if Washington’s endgame wasn’t to establish a lasting, U.S.-guaranteed Kurdish nation-state of Rojava, and it hardly appeared that it ever was, then what exactly could America expect to accomplish through an all-risk, no-reward continued stalemate in Syria?
What’s truly striking, though, and increasingly apparent, is that President Trump possesses—as a foreign policy autocrat, of sorts—the power to derail the Democrats and place 2020 hopefuls in an awkward position of defending U.S. forever wars. It’s already happening, at least among mainstream “liberal” media and political personalities who’ve flooded the networks with anti-Trump vitriol since the Syria withdrawal.
Lest we confuse Donald Trump with a consistent antiwar dove, it’s important to remember that his behavior is erratic and often turns on a dime. Take, for example, his decision to impose sanctions on Turkey right after greenlighting the very invasion he now seeks to punish. He’s also prone to contradictory moves. Also, just as he pulled troops from Syria, he added an even larger number to Saudi Arabia, justifying the move on the grounds that the Saudis will foot the entire bill, making rather official the U.S. military’s gradual transformation into a mercenary force ready to serve the highest bidder. Trump has also surpassed, in his first two years, the number of drone strikes his predecessor Barack Obama launched overseas during the same phase of Obama’s presidency.
Nonetheless, Trump’s Democratic opponents have bet big on using Syria to attack the president without providing any real alternatives to withdrawal. In doing so, they might just hand Trump a winning hand for 2020. In fact, I haven’t seen so much foreign policy coverage of a U.S. war by the establishment media for over a decade, at least since Democrats finally turned against Bush’s failing war in Iraq as a tool for midterm electoral success.
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