Monday, April 09, 2018

Syria, Turkey, Kurds

I was suggesting on Facebook to someone writing about Trump's announced Syria withdrawal that speculating on Trump's motives for a particular foreign policy decision like the Syria pullout announcement is very tricky, since he likely doesn't know the motive of some of them himself. Given what we know about him, it's entirely believable that his buddy Vlad called him up and told him to pull the troops. It's also easy to imagine it's because he met with one of his FOX News kitchen cabinet who told him, "Bashar Assad is a big ole poopy-head."

It turns out that the pullout wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

Patrick Cockburn reports US troops will remain in Syria despite Trump telling rally he ‘wanted’ to bring them home Independent 04/06/2018:
Donald Trump has decided to keep US forces in Syria for a limited period, ending speculation about an immediate pull-out fuelled by the president himself. He agreed at a National Security Council meeting that the 2,000 US troops backed by massive airpower should stay in Syria where they support the Kurds in the east of the country. ...

The one big aim uniting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in their approach to the Syrian conflict is that they all want US forces out of Syria, though their motives differ. Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani want Mr Assad’s forces to extend their control to the east and north of the country, while Turkey wants to destroy the Kurdish quasi-state, which the Syrian Kurds call Rojava, which has grown up east of the Euphrates during the war against Isis.

Gregory Shupak takes a critical look at the kinda-sorta pullout announcement and the unimpressive mainstream media response to it in US Isn’t Leaving Syria — but Media Lost It When Possibility Was Raised FAIR 04/06/2018

US Middle East policy has been such a disaster, especially since the Iraq War, that it's hard to imagine that anyone looking at foreign policy pragmatically would advocate sustained US military involvement in Syria, much less an Iraq War.

Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center writes about why it's Time to Get Out of Syria DefenseOne 04/05/2018. Speaking of the widespread pushback from Republicans, Democrats, and the media to the kinda-sorta pullout announcement, Admas observes:
This criticism perpetuates a long tradition of American hubris about our ability to make things happen in the Middle East, especially using military force. But those days are long, long gone, if they ever existed. A stake went through the heart of American Middle East hubris the day President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Whatever the invented justification – a nuclear program, terrorism support, revenge for the Bush 41 assassination attempt, moral judgement against a nasty regime – the 2003 invasion and the eight years of conflict and nation-building failure that followed undermined what little was left of our capacity to influence events in the region.

The invasion also set in motion a regional security landslide that had been waiting to happen and has been rumbling downhill ever since. Along with the ill-advised effort to expand democracy in the region, under Presidents Bush and Obama, the underlying entropy that infects Middle East politics — inter-state tensions, conflict of Islamic sects, Arab-Persian tensions, the unresolvable Kurdish problem — simply spun out of control, never to return.
I think pulling US troops out of Syria would be a good decision. I was ready to credit Trump's pullout comment as an instance of the Rick Perry Principle, that even a stopped clock is right once a day.

But managing subtlety really doesn't seem to be Trump's forté.

Backing Kurdish separatists is consistent with the policy we followed in Iraq. But there are a lot of ways that can go wrong. Among other things, they are the enemy of Turkey, which is one of our NATO allies. Putin and Turkey's Erdoğan are courting each other pretty heavily right now, so pushing Turkey more in that direction has real risks for the US.

Turkey is also a huge part of the EU's current solution to the refugee crisis. If Turkey decided to send the refugees in their camps to Europe, that would cause some problems, to put it mildly, and likely benefit the populist right parties in the short run.

But that saying about "fools rush in where angels fear to tread" is inoperative in media mainstream and in much of the foreign policy establishment. The bold Maverick McCain is back doing what he does best, mongering war:

Rosei Perper, McCain: Trump 'emboldened' Assad days before suspected chemical attack by saying he wanted to withdraw US troops from Syria AOL/Business Insider 04/09/2018.

The Morning Zoo crowd is champing at the bit to escalate US military involvement in Syria, US Military Works To Build Options In Syria Morning Joe/MSNBC 04/09/2018:

Über-realist Stephen Walt gives us some things to watch for in How to Start a War in 5 Easy Steps Foreign Policy 04/02/2018 (the mainstream media is half way there already when it comes to war on Syrian and Iran):

  • The danger is grave and growing.
  • War will be easy and cheap (but only if we act now).
  • War will solve all (or at least most) of our problems.
  • The enemy is evil. Or crazy. Maybe both.
  • Peace is unpatriotic.

Not so long ago, we used to hear some cliches about war all the time that we don't hear much these days. Like, "War is always a failure of foreign policy." And, "The only justification for going to war is to produce a better peace."

The American discussions of military involvement these days often seems stuck at, "Who do we bomb next?" And for the news media, "If we have a war, our ratings will go up."

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