Troops Out of Syria

It is better to listen to someone who is on the ground and knows what is going on. I might have a better sense than many of those in Washington after living in the region (Turkey and Cyprus) for more than twenty-five years. There is extensive analysis in the Turkish media from those on the ground in Syria. Cockburn knows what is going on in the region and is quite authoritative on the Middle East.
Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Is a Simple Case of Foreign Policy Realism

President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is being denounced by an impressive range of critics claiming that it is a surrender to Turkey, Russia, Syria and Iran – as well as a betrayal of the Kurds and a victory for Isis.

The pullout may be one or all of these things, but above all it is a recognition of what is really happening on the ground in Syria and the Middle East in general.

This point has not come across clearly enough because of the undiluted loathing for Trump among most of the American and British media. They act as a conduit for the views of diverse figures who condemn the withdrawal and include members of the imperially-minded foreign policy establishment in Washington and terrified Kurds living in north-east Syria who fear ethnic cleansing by an invading Turkish army.

Opposition to Trump’s decision was supercharged by the resignation of Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis which came after he failed to persuade the president to rescind his order. Mattis does not mention Syria or Afghanistan in his letter of resignation, but he makes clear his disagreement with the general direction of Trump’s foreign policy in not confronting Russia and China and ignoring traditional allies and alliances.

The resignation of Mattis has elicited predictable lamentations from commentators who treat his departure as if it was the equivalent of the Kaiser getting rid of Bismarck. The over-used description of Mattis as “the last of the adults in the room” is once again trotted out, though few examples of his adult behaviour are given aside from his wish – along with other supposed “adults” – to stay in Syria until various unobtainable objectives were achieved: the extinction of Iranian influence; the displacement of Bashar al-Assad; and the categorical defeat of Isis (are they really likely to sign surrender terms?).

In other words, there was to be an open-ended US commitment with no attainable goals in an isolated and dangerous part of the world where it was already playing a losing game.

It is worth spelling out the state of play in Syria because this is being masked by anti-Trump rhetoric, recommending policies that may sound benign but are far detached from political reality. This reality may be very nasty: it is right to be appalled by the prospects for the Syrian Kurds who are terrified of a Turkish army that is already massing to the north of the Turkish-Syrian frontier.

There is a horrible inevitability about all this because neither Turkey nor Syria were ever going to allow a Kurdish mini-state to take permanent root in north-east Syria. It existed because of the Syrian civil war in which Assad withdrew his forces from the Kurdish-populated regions in 2012 in order to concentrate them in defence of strategically vital cities and roads. Isis attacked the Kurdish enclave in 2014 which led to a de facto alliance between the Kurds and the US air force whose devastating firepower enabled the Kurds to capture a great swathe of Isis-held territory east of the Euphrates.

Turkey was never going to accept this outcome. Erdogan denounced the Kurdish political and military forces controlling this corner of Syria as “terrorists” belonging to the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984.

This is a good moment to make a point about this article: it is an explanation not a justification for the dreadful things that may soon happen. I have visited the Kurdish controlled part of Syria several times and felt that it was the only part of Syria where the uprising of 2011 had produced a society that was better than what had gone before, bearing in mind the constraints of fighting a war.

I met the men and women of the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) who fought heroically against Isis, suffering thousands of dead and wounded. But I always had a doomed feeling when talking to them as I could not see how their statelet, which had been brought into existence by temporary circumstances, was going to last beyond the end of the Syrian civil war and the defeat of Isis. One day the Americans would have to choose between 2 million embattled Kurds in Syria and 80 million Turks in Turkey and it dd not take much political acumen to foresee what they would decide.

Turkey had escalated its pressure on the US to end its protection of the Kurds and this finally paid off. A telephone conversation with Erdogan a week ago reportedly convinced Trump that he had to get US soldiers and airpower out of Syria. Keep in mind that Trump needs – though he may not get as much as he wants – Turkey as an ally in the Middle East more than ever before. His bet on Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Saudi Arabia as the leader of a pro-American and anti-Iranian Sunni coalition in the Middle has visibly and embarrassingly failed. The bizarre killing of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi team in Istanbul was only the latest in a series of Saudi pratfalls showing comical ineptitude as well as excessive and mindless violence.

Critics of Trump raise several other important questions in opposing his withdrawal decision: is he not letting Isis off the hook by prematurely announcing their defeat and thereby enabling them to make a comeback? There is something in this, but not a lot. The Islamic State, that once held territory stretching from the Tigris River in Iraq to Syria’s Mediterranean coast, is no more and cannot be resurrected because the circumstances that led to its spectacular growth between 2013 and 2015 are no longer there.

Isis made too many enemies because of its indiscriminate violence when it was at the peak of its power. Trump is right to assume in a tweet that “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others…will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us”. Isis may seek to take advantage of chaos in eastern Syria in the coming months, but there will be no power vacuum for them to exploit. The vacuum will be filled by Turkey or Syria or a combination of the two.

A further criticism of the US withdrawal is that it unnecessarily hands a victory to Vladimir Putin and Assad. But here again, Trump’s manoeuvre is more of a recognition of the fact that both men are already winners in the Syrian war.

Nor is it entirely clear that Russia and Iran will have greater influence in Syria and the region after the US withdrawal. True they have come out on the winning side, but as the Syrian state becomes more powerful it will have less need for foreign allies. The close cooperation between Russia and Turkey was glued together by US cooperation with the Kurds and once that ends, then Turkey may shift – though not all the way – back towards the US.

By denouncing Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, his opponents are once again making the mistake of underestimating his instinctive political skills.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)

Failing US Empire: End the Wars

We Can End the US War on Syria

The US war against Syria was one that people almost stopped. President Obama was unable to get Congress to authorize the war in 2013, but the Pentagon and foreign policy establishment, who have long wanted to control Syria, pushed forward with war anyway.

It has been a disaster. The war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries as well six million people displaced within the country and five million people who have fled the country.

The people were right, and the military was wrong. The war on Syria never should have happened and now must end.

President Trump announced withdrawal from Syria this week. This creates an opportunity to end the war on Syria. We have work to do to make peace a reality.

The People Almost Prevented the US War in Syria

In 2013, amidst highly-doubted, unproven allegations of a chemical attack by Syrian President Assad (debunked a year later), the threat of war escalated, and so did opposition to the war. Protests against an attack on Syria took place around the world. In the the US, people were in the streets, and speaking out at town halls. Obama was forced to bring the issue to Congress for authorization.

Congress was barraged with a Peace Insurrection encamped outside its doors, sit-ins in Congressional offices, and a massive number of phone calls with 499 to 1 opposing the war. Obama could not get the votes to support the war. Harry Reid surrendered to the public by never holding a vote.

The other superpower, the people, had stopped a war. Obama became the first president to announce a bombing campaign who was forced to back down by the people. But the victory would be temporary, neocons and militarists continued to push for war. Based on new fake terror fears, and false chemical attack allegations, the ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Syria proceeded.

WSWS described how the war escalated under Obama, writing, “The illegal US occupation of Syria, begun under the Obama administration in October 2015 without authorization from either the United Nations or the Syrian government.” There was a shift from CIA support for Al Qaeda-linked militias to war to bring down the Assad government. US troops coordinated a campaign of airstrikes that reduced the city of Raqqa and other Syrian communities to rubble. Amnesty International, after conducting field investigations, reported the US has committed war crimes in Syria. Vijay Prashad described the US creating “hell on Earth” in Syria.

Despite this, the US was losing the war in Syria. With Russia coming to the aid of its ally, Assad was not going to be removed.

Trump escalated and drove the US deeper into the Middle East quagmirebetraying the noninterventionist base who elected him. The corporate mediapraised Trump was as ‘becoming president’ for bombing Syria based on another unproven chemical attack. Later, even General Mattis admitted there was no evidence tying Assad to chemical attacks.

Early this year, the Trump administration was talking about having a permanent presence in one-third of Syria with 30,000 Syrian Kurds as the ground forces, US air support and eight new US bases. Protests continued against the bombing of Syria throughout the spring in the US and around the world.

Now, as Andre Vltchek describes, the Syrian people have prevailed and most of the country is liberated. People are returning and rebuilding.

Trump Announces Withdrawal

President Trump’s announcement that he is withdrawing from Syria over the next 60 to 100 days has been met with a firestorm of opposition. Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Russia is drawing down its military activities with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu reporting Russia was carrying out 100 to 110 flights per day at its peak and now they do no more than two to four flights per week, chiefly for reconnaissance purposes. Putin agreed that ISIS had been defeated and supported Trump’s decision but cast doubt on Washington’s plans, saying, “We don’t see any signs of withdrawing US troops yet, but I concede that it is possible.”

There has been very little support for withdrawal from elected officials. ManyRepublicans and the corporate media are criticizing Trump. The first two Democrats to step forward to support the removal of troops were Rep. Ted Lieu, a frequent Trump critic who applauded the action, and Rep. Ro Khanna. But, the bipartisan war Congress opposes Trump.

Secretary of Defense Mattis resigned after Trump’s announcement. In his resignation, he expressed disagreements with Trump over foreign policy. The media is mourning the exit of Mattis, neglecting his history as a likely war criminal who targeted civilians. Ray McGovern reminds us Mattis was famous for quipping, “It’s fun to shoot some people.”

Mattis is the fourth of “My Generals,” as Trump called them, to leave the administration, e.g. Director of Homeland Security and then Chief of Staff, John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This leaves neocon extremist John Bolton and pro-militarist Mike Pompeo as the biggest influences on Trump’s foreign policy.

Popular Resistance supports the withdrawal of troops from Syria.

We are not alone in supporting Trump’s withdrawal announcement. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK described the withdrawal as “a positive contribution to the peace process,” urging “all foreign powers that have been involved in Syria’s destruction, including the United States, take responsibility for rebuilding this nation and providing assistance to the Syrian people, including the refugees, who have suffered so tragically for over seven years.”

Veterans for Peace supports the withdrawal saying the US has “no legal right to be [there] in the first place” and describing the brutal destruction caused by US bombs.

Black Alliance for Peace supports the withdrawal writing the war”should have never been allowed in the first place.” They denounce the corporate press and members of the political duopoly for opposing the withdrawal. BAP also recognizes that the foreign policy establishment will fight this withdrawal and promises to work to end all US involvement in Syria and other nations.

New York Times reports the coup which overthrew the country’s democratically elected government. Stephen J. Meade, the U.S. assistant military attaché was a CIA officer, worked with the Syrian chief of staff, Husni Zaim, to plan a coup. The US was concerned about Syria’s stance on Israel, border disputes with Turkey, and oil pipelines, and worried that the left was growing in power and that the government was growing friendlier to the Soviet Union.

Will the Long History Of US Regime Change In Syria End?

Trump is being fought because the US has a long history of trying to control Syria dating back to the 1940s. CIA documents from 1986 describe how the US could remove the Assad family.

While the bulk of destruction of Syria occurred during the Obama administration, plans for the current war and overthrowing Assad date back to the George W. Bush administration. A State Department cable, “Influencing the SARG In The End Of 2006”, examines strategies to bring about regime change in Syria.

This is not the first time President Trump said the war on Syria would be ending. He did so in March, but in April, Mattis announced expanding the US military in Syria. As Patrick Lawrence writes in Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria, “By September the Pentagon was saying. . .U.S. forces had to stay until Damascus and its political opponents achieved a full settlement.“

In response to Trump’s newest announcement, the Pentagon announced it will continue the air war in Syria. They would do so at least for as long as troops were on the ground, adding “As for anything post-US troops on the ground, we will not speculate on future operations.” The Pentagon has not given any details on a withdrawal timeline, citing “force protection and operational security reasons.”

Trump’s removal of US troops from Syria challenges the foreign policy establishment, which seemed to be planning a long-term presence in Syria.

The People Must Ensure the End of the War on Syria

The peace movement should do all it can to support Trump’ call for withdrawal because he needs allies. Patrick Lawrence describes the experience thus far during the Trump administration:

“As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call ‘the deep state’ will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.”

We saw this scenario play out earlier this month when Trump complained about the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and pledged to cut it. As Lawrence points out, just days later the president met with Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and announced that the three had agreed on a 2020 defense budget of $750 billion, a 5 percent increase.

Trump has made no progress on North Korea since their first meeting and has been prevented from making progress on positive relations with Russia. The foreign policy establishment of the Pentagon, State Department, Intelligence Agencies, Weapons Makers and Congressional hawks are in control. Trump will need all the help he can get to overcome them and withdraw from Syria.

We should urge Trump to be clear that ALL troops are leaving Syria. This should include not only the troops on the ground but the air force as well as private contractors. The CIA should also stop its secret war on Syria. And the US should leave the military bases it has built in Syria. Similarly, the movement should support Trump’s calls to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The US has done incredible damage to Syria and owes restitution, which is needed to help bring Syria back to normalcy.

Syria and Afghanistan join the list of failed and counterproductive US wars. These are more signs of a failing empire. The people of the United States must rise up to finish the job we started in 2013 — stop the war on Syria, a war that never should have occurred.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers co-direct Popular Resistance. Kevin Zeese is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation. This article first appeared as theweekly newsletter of the organization.

War-Loving Washington: How the Traditional Conservatives are Getting it Right

Washington Melts Down Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal

Their obsession with Vladimir Putin misses the point and obscures the hard costs of our military misadventures.

He’s a wily one, that Vladimir Putin. Consider all that he’s managed to accomplish over the last 24 hours, according to the geopolitical wizards on Twitter. At Putin’s behest, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a withdrawal of American troops from Syria. That’s now cleared the path for Russia to exert control over Damascus, the Middle East, indeed the world itself, because Moscow has at last secured the jewel in its neo-Soviet empire…a strip of chaotic desert in northeastern Syria.

If that’s actually Putin’s thinking, then he’s not playing checkers or chess so much as 13 Dead End Drive right before the chandelier falls on his head. Yet that was the gist of the analysis from America’s smart set yesterday. Think tank functionaries and journalists and right-wing radio hosts were all united in furious opposition to Trump’s Russia-influenced absconding from Syria. Somehow they’ve yet to muster similar unanimous outrage over our massive national debt or our loneliness-cum-opioid crisis, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time. Until then, the Syria page of Washington’s mad-lib book yields all the usual buzzwords: “adversaries,” “strength,” “surrender.”

So far as Putin goes, he isn’t trying to flip Syria behind some newly hung Iron Curtain. His aim is a return to the pre-civil war status quo: a friendly Assad regime, a safe Russian naval base in Tartus, and an end to jihadist-fueled instability across Syria. That latter one is especially important to understanding the Russian psyche. Putin fears nothing more than a weak state besieged by armed rogues, a result of his formative experiences in chaotic Dresden after the Berlin Wall came down and later amid uprisings in Chechnya. Hence the desire to protect Assad, who will keep the mob from the Tartus door. The real disruptive change, then, won’t come if Putin “wins”; it will come if the United States were to somehow realize its original delusion of overthrowing Assad, which would (further) tear open a power vacuum that would be filled at least in part by jihadists.

And what about if the United States withdraws? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to attack the Kurds, which he sees as a threat to his homeland. (Though even there, the crystal ball is murky. As Joshua Landis pointed out on Twitter yesterday, the Kurds helped fight off Arab rebel militias, and Assad may decide he needs them as allies in post-war Syria.) Some combination of Assadists and Russians will then move in against the straggling rebel and ISIS remnants, the latter of which are still committing horrific atrocities but largely defeated and shut out of major population centers. Syria after that will be changed, tense, bloodstained, aggrieved. But it will be more stable, at least, than it was during the war, perhaps enabling the trickle of refugees returning home to become a gush. And even if that scenario proves too rosy, even if Turkey and Syria somehow end up skirmishing, what is America supposed to do? What justifies the expenditure of another dollar or soldier in a conflict as intractable as that? What net good do we accomplish by planting ourselves in front of a powerful NATO nation on the other side of the globe?

We’ve heard a lot this week about the capital we’re sacrificing by pulling out of Syria: in power, in allies, in something called “credibility” that hawks seem to think functions like Monopoly money. But what about those two resources I just mentioned: dollars and lives? Why do those get so little attention? The United States since 2001 has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs. In Syria, that money has often gone towards gilded banana peels that we then promptly trip over, including two plans to arm rebels that ended up feeding weapons to jihadists and a $500 million program to train fighters that produced about five graduates before being shut down. Meanwhile, America’s infrastructure crumbles. Why shifting money into domestic needs at times such as this is considered “populist” rather than just commonsense, I will never understand.

Then there’s the toll in blood. American soldiers have been killed in Syria, have been put in harm’s way, all for a mission that is both unclear and undeclared. So stark is the contrast between the vague purpose of our wars and their real human losses that it’s become a paramount political issue. Don’t forget what J.D. Vance said to our own Rod Dreher back in 2016 about why working-class voters were swooning for Trump: “Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate. Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy?” We can’t be sure how great a role our failed wars played in Trump’s election but they were certainly a factor. I’ll never call it “war weariness,” which has always seemed to me to contain a grain of condescension: just take a nap, dear, and you’ll be ready to nation-build again. But certainly we are fed up with a foreign policy elite that never accomplishes its missions yet whose appetite for military action seems only to grow.

That’s why the silliest thing anyone has written about Syria this week came on Wednesday in a Commentary column by Noah Rothman. Condemning Trump’s troop pullout, Rothman pronounced, “Political commentators and anti-interventionist ideologues will note that withdrawing America’s modest footprint from Syria is popular with the public. But what would you expect? Precisely no one in the political class is making a case for sustained and substantial American intervention in this conflict zone.” Ummm. Maybe I’m just high on the sweet, sweet appeasement, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush argued for intervention in Syria during the Republican presidential primaries; they were crushed. Hillary Clinton went hawkish on Assad; she lost. Their vanquisher, Donald Trump, promised instead to smash ISIS and then get out. You don’t have to like Trump (I don’t) to understand the frantic signal flare that his voters were trying to send up.

Yet on and on the elite freak-out goes, deaf to any message that contradicts its line. “Why didn’t Trump listen to the generals?!” they wail. Because we have a civilian executive, for one, not a military junta. But let’s re-ask that same question, only slightly expanded: “Why doesn’t Trump listen to the military men and women who have fought the wars of the past 17 years?” Were he to, he would find disdain for overseas nation building—55 percent of active duty troops oppose more of it, according to a Military Times poll from 2016. He would hear stories of disillusionment and confusion. He would read laments like that of Dan Grazier, who served in both Fallujah and Afghanistan: “Looking back after more than a decade, it is hard to convince even myself that my platoon helped achieve any lasting contribution in a strategic sense.”

Shouldn’t our poor track record in Afghanistan and Iraq inform our thinking in Syria and lead us to limit the mission? Absolutely not, according to the war pamphleteers, who insist we must blunt a Russia/Iran/Assad axis, which isn’t much of an axis to begin with and which amounts to taking sides in a Muslim sectarian struggle that isn’t any of our business. Also we need to maintain that “credibility” with our allies—funny how that was never an issue when Trump was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. And looming above it all, like Andross, is Vladimir Putin. Such a menace is his Italy-sized economy and osteoporotic aircraft carrier that we can’t ever withdraw from Syria, as we did from Vietnam and Iraq the first time around. We must stay put, as Winston Churchill would have intended, forever and ever, amen. I am glad Trump rejected this nonsense and hope he will continue to.

Matt Purple is the managing editor of The American Conservative.

Best Christmas Gift: Get Out

Trump’s Decision to Leave Syria Was No ‘Surprise’

To say it was impulsive, or that the entire military opposes it, would be grossly misreading the situation.

President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan at the NATO meetings in July 2018. (NATO/public domain)

In 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Vermont Senator George Aiken recommended that President Lyndon Johnson simply “declare victory and get out.” While what Aiken actually said was more complex (because the U.S. couldn’t win militarily, he implied, it should stop deploying troops and start deploying diplomats), his statement is commonly cited as an example of foreign policy wisdom—then, as now, a much depleted currency in Washington.

While it’s doubtful that President Donald Trump has studied Aiken’s views (or even heard of him), his decision on Wednesday to order the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is one of the few “Aiken moments” in American history. Not surprisingly, given Trump’s inclinations, the news came in a tweet posted by the president on Wednesday morning: “We have defeated ISIS on Syria,” Trump announced, “my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” U.S. officials later said that all U.S. troops would be removed from Syria over the next 60 to 100 days.

While the announcement took much of official Washington by surprise, The American Conservative has learned that a select group of administration officials, as well as a handful of senior military officers, knew of Trump’s decision as early as Saturday morning. According to these officials, all of whom required anonymity in exchange for the information, Trump’s decision came as a result of a lengthy telephone exchange he had had with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday. Everything that Trump announced today, we have been told, was decided in that call.

That telephone discussion, as one of these officials told us, was the latest in “a series of conversations the two have had over the last weeks on a host of issues,” including the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Erdogan’s insistence that the U.S. extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey, U.S. worries about Iranian meddling in the region—and continuing U.S. support for Kurdish forces operating in Syria (led by the People Protection Units—the YPG), which Turkey views as a terrorist organization. It was this last issue that was the focus of Friday’s telephone call, spurred by Erdogan’s public pledge 48 hours earlier that he was prepared to order his military into Syria to take on the YPG despite U.S. backing.

“We will begin our operation to free the east of the Euphrates [river] from the separatist organization within a few days,” Erdogan had said on Wednesday. “Our target is not American soldiers, it is the terror organizations that are active in the region.”

During Friday’s telephone call, Erdogan once again took a hard line against the Kurds, and the administration’s support for them. A part of his argument was that the U.S. had said it was allying with the Kurds to destroy ISIS which, as Erdogan argued, had been accomplished. Nor was Erdogan influenced by Trump’s contention that the U.S. needed to remain in Syria in order to check Iranian influence in the region. Erdogan, we have been told, was ready for the argument: the best hedge against Iran, he told Trump, was not the Kurds, or even the Saudis, but Turkey.

Erdogan, as it turns out, wasn’t the only one making that argument. As reported in these pages last April, senior U.S. military officers, including Gen. Curtis Michael “Mike” Scaparrotti (the highly respected head of the U.S. European Command), warned that the U.S. “marriage of convenience” with the YPG in its fight against ISIS in Syria was poisoning its relationship with Turkey—a NATO ally. Turkey, as Scaparrotti told James Mattis in March, was particularly angry that the U.S. was supporting the YPG’s deployment to Manbij, threatening Turkish forces some 70 miles away. So what is more important, Scaparrotti asked Mattis, our relationship with the Kurds, or our relationship with Turkey? Gen. Jospeh Votel, the head of Centcom, pushed back against Scaparrotti, saying that America’s “marriage of convenience” was “temporary, tactical and transactional” and essential to defeating ISIS.

And so it was that the Scaparrotti-Votel debate was both postponed (with the administration supporting Votel’s position until ISIS could be decisively defeated) and papered over—with the Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issuing regular reassurances to Turkey that the U.S.-YPG relationship was only temporary. Now, with Trump’s decision, the debate has been resolved. “Somewhere, you can bet, Joe Votel is absolutely spinning his head into the ceiling,” a senior military officer told me. “I don’t know what to call this—but it sounds like Scaparrotti’s revenge.” Perhaps, but for Syria experts and for those in the military who supported Votel’s position, while Trump’s decision on a full U.S. withdrawal came as a surprise, it might have been predicted.

“Yes, I was surprised,” Joshua Landis, the head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says, “but I suppose I should not have been. After all, we could see this coming. Our relationship with Turkey is much, much more important than our relationship with the Kurds. Then too, if the Trump administration wants to pin Iran’s ears back in the region, it’s not Kurds, or the Saudis or the Emiratis who are going to do it. It’s the Turks.”

John Allen Gay, an Iran expert and executive director of the John Quincy Adams Society, agrees. He argues that Trump’s decision confirms what everyone has quietly admitted for at least the past year: that keeping U.S. forces in Syria to counter ISIS was starting to look like a way for administration interventionists to argue that we should take on Iran.

“Keeping the troops there post-ISIS was in part natural mission creep, but it was also a stalking horse for hawks in the administration who want to take on Iran,” he told TAC.

“Yet dangling a few thousand guys in between Turkish forces on one side and Iranians, Russians, and Syrians on the other was never going to be decisive on Iran’s regional role, and it came with real risks and no endgame,” Gay added. “I just don’t think there’s any appetite in the American public for a big fight with Iran anywhere, let alone over Eastern Syria.”

Gay may well be right, at least according to a number of U.S. military officers with whom we’ve talked.

“We need a respite,” a senior military officer told us in the wake of the Trump decision, “and that’s especially true for the Air Force. Those guys have been in the air over the Middle East since Operation Enduring Freedom, back in 2001. These guys are running on fumes.”

Nor, as we’ve been told, are senior military officers concerned that the announced U.S. withdrawal from Syria gives Putin a victory. “Complete and absolute nonsense,” a very senior officer who served multiple tours in the region told us. “I hate to put it this way, but I think it’s true. We can’t repair Syria—and it’s not our job to do it. If Putin wants to inherit it, that’s fine.”

Which is not to say that Trump’s decision has been greeted unanimously. In the wake of his Friday decision, the administration’s foreign policy triumvirate of James Mattis, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo pushed back, arguing that keeping U.S. troops in Syria was essential, if for no other reason than to keep a high U.S. profile in the region. Their arguments were predictable, if outspoken: ISIS isn’t really defeated, Iran is on the march, the U.S. needs to show solidarity with its Kurdish allies.

Trump, channeling Erdogan, pushed back on each of them—ISIS is finished, Iran could be countered in other ways and, as Erdogan had told him, the Kurds were already talking with the Assad government about an accommodation that would keep them in northeastern Syria. In truth, as we were told by a senior Turkish diplomat who was privy to the Trump-Erdogan exchange, the decision had been made on Friday, when Trump told Erdogan that he agreed that the U.S. could withdraw its troops from Syria. When can you do that? Erdogan had asked. Trump wasn’t sure, so he turned to his national security adviser, who was listening in on the conversation.

Can we do it today? Now? Trump asked. Bolton nodded: “Yes,” he said.

Mark Perry is a contributing editor at The American Conservative and the author of  The Pentagon’s Wars. He tweets @markperrydc.

Afghanistan Debacle

America Is Headed For Military Defeat in Afghanistan

It is time to acknowledge this is more than political. We can lose on the battlefield, and it’s happening right now.

Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, sprint across a field to load onto a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during a mission in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 4, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan / released)

There’s a prevailing maxim, both inside the armed forces and around the Beltway, that goes something like this: “The U.S. can never be militarily defeated in any war,” certainly not by some third world country. Heck, I used to believe that myself. That’s why, in regard to Afghanistan, we’ve been told that while America could lose the war due to political factors (such as the lack of grit among “soft” liberals or defeatists), the military could never and will never lose on the battlefield.

That entire maxim is about to be turned on its head. Get ready, because we’re about to lose this war militarily.

Consider this: the U.S. military has advised, assisted, battled, and bombed in Afghanistan for 17-plus years. Ground troop levels have fluctuated from lows of some 10,000 to upwards of 100,000 servicemen and women. None of that has achieved more than a tie, a bloody stalemate. Now, in the 18th year of this conflict, the Kabul-Washington coalition’s military is outright losing.

Let’s begin with the broader measures. The Taliban controls or contests more districts—some 44 percent—than at any time since the 2001 invasion. Total combatant and civilian casualties are forecasted to top 20,000 this year—another dreadful broken record. What’s more, Afghan military casualties are frankly unsustainable: the Taliban are killing more than the government can recruit. The death rates are staggering, numbering 5,500 fatalities in 2015, 6,700 in 2016, and an estimate (the number is newly classified) of “about 10,000” in 2017. Well, some might ask, what about American airpower—can’t that help stem the Taliban tide? Hardly. In 2018, as security deteriorated and the Taliban made substantial gains, the U.S. actually dropped more bombs than in any other year of the war. It appears that nothing stands in the way of impending military defeat.

Then there are the very recent events on the ground—and these are telling. Insider attacks in which Afghan “allies” turn their guns on American advisors are back on the rise, most recently in an attack that wounded a U.S. Army general and threatened the top U.S. commander in the country. And while troop numbers are way down from the high in 2011, American troops deaths are rising. Over the Thanksgiving season alone, a U.S. Army Ranger was killed in a friendly fire incident and three other troopers died in a roadside bomb attack. And in what was perhaps only a (still disturbing) case of misunderstood optics, the top U.S. commander, General Miller, was filmed carrying his own M4 rifle around Afghanistan. That’s a long way from the days when then-General Petraeus (well protected by soldiers, of course) walked around the markets of Baghdad in a soft cap and without body armor.

More importantly, the Afghan army and police are getting hammered in larger and larger attacks and taking unsustainable casualties. Some 26 Afghan security forces were killed on Thanksgiving, 22 policemen died in an attack on Sunday, and on Tuesday 30 civilians were killed in Helmand province. And these were only the high-profile attacks, dwarfed by the countless other countrywide incidents. All this proves that no matter how hard the U.S. military worked, or how many years it committed to building an Afghan army in its own image, and no matter how much air and logistical support that army received, the Afghan Security Forces cannot win. The sooner Washington accepts this truth over the more comforting lie, the fewer of our adulated American soldiers will have to die. Who is honestly ready to be the last to die for a mistake, or at least a hopeless cause?

Now, admittedly, this author is asking for trouble—and fierce rebuttals—from both peers and superiors still serving on active duty. And that’s understandable. The old maxim of military invincibility soothes these men, mollifies their sense of personal loss, whether of personal friends or years away from home, in wars to which they’ve now dedicated their entire adult lives. Questioning whether there even is a military solution in Afghanistan, or, more specifically, predicting a military defeat, serves only to upend their mental framework surrounding the war.

Still, sober strategy and basic honesty demands a true assessment of the military situation in America’s longest war. The Pentagon loves metrics, data, and stats. Well, as demonstrated daily on the ground in Afghanistan, all the security (read: military) metrics point towards impending defeat. At best, the Afghan army, with ample U.S. advisory detachments and air support, can hold on to the northernmost and westernmost provinces of the country, while a Taliban coalition overruns the south and east. This will be messy, ugly, and discomfiting for military and civilian leaders alike. But unless Washington is prepared to redeploy 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan (again)—and still only manage a tie, by the way—it is also all but inevitable

The United States military did all it was asked during more than 17 years of warfare in Afghanistan. It raided, it bombed, it built, it surged, it advised, it…everything. Still, none of that was sufficient. Enough Afghans either support the Taliban or hate the occupation, and managed, through assorted conventional and unconventional operations, to fight on the ground. And “on the ground” is all that really matters. This war may well have been ill-advised and unwinnable from the start.

There’s no shame in defeat. But there is shame, and perfidy, in avoiding or covering up the truth. It’s what the whole military-political establishment did after Vietnam, and, I fear, it’s what they’re doing again.

Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and a regular contributor to The American Conservative. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Encounters With India by Eddie James Girdner


Encounters With India, by Eddie James Girdner (2015)

(251 pages) Available on

Straight honest discussion from someone who has followed the politics and society of India over the last fifty years. Two years in the Peace Corps at the end of the sixties and travelling to the country several times over this time. Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara. My dissertation, on three Indian political thinkers was published in India (Socialism, Sarvodaya and Democracy).

Mostly written as a journal during a six-weeks Fulbright study trip to India. Clearly written and easy to read quickly, I realized that this book would be very useful to someone why wanted to understand a great deal about the country. It is simple and the language is non-academic. Also an entertaining story that tells one a lot of what to expect in the country if one wishes to travel there. This book will give you a lot of insight that one could never get from a travel guide on India or a Youtube Video.

Fascinating and often frustrating country.

Outside a Christian Church in Hyderabad. Many Christians are Dalits.

Street Scene, Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh)


Ellora Caves (Maharashtra)

Ajanta Caves (Buddhist) Maharashtra

Ready for Kharif Season (summer)

Village Scene, South India


Having Fun. Notice RSS on wall. The Rashtraya Swayam Sevak Sangh (A right-wing militant Hindu nationalist organization)

A dhaba in Punjab. Roadside food.

Jaipur (Rajasthan)

Delhi. Gateway of India, near Parliament

Squeezing Juice (Jaipur)

Collecting Jasmines for the market

Village Panhchayat Office (Local political officials). Andhra Pradesh

Village in South India

Back Street, Hyderabad

Hand Made in Hyderabad