4 April 2018
Cogito Ergo Non Serviam
President Trump announced today that he has instructed the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops currently in Syria. The American ground presence in Syria has complicated the complex mess that is the Syrian Civil War. It has not brought about anything that could not have been achieved through proxies. It has risked a shooting war with Russia. It was, in short, a dumb war, and the Pentagon most assuredly has contingency plans for a withdrawal. Mr. Trump should have given the order to implement it.
The White House issued a statement that read in part, the "military mission . . . in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] being almost completely destroyed. The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated. We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges."
This journal holds no brief for ISIS and its cult of death. Members of ISIS are human only in that they possess 23 pairs of chromosomes. The fight against ISIS was a legitimate use of force to protect humanity. However, like all battles against Islamic fundamentalism, the fight always belonged to sensible Muslims. The Iraqis, Kurds, Syrians and Turks had to deal with it most directly. The Americans and Russians would have been most useful providing the weapons, supplies and intelligence needed for those powers to clean up the mess.
Russia, however, decided that intervening in the Syrian Civil War under the cover of fighting terrorism was needed to keep the Assad regime in power. That was necessary for Russian to continue to use its naval and air base in Syria, its only outlet in the Middle East. It was going to end better than Afghanistan did, but it wasn't going to be a whole lot easier. Mr. Putin has bitten off a great deal to chew, and the Americans should have simply let him chew it. Better that he is occupied there than in Europe.
Instead, the Pentagon convinced the civilian authorities that some observers would help the Kurds, and just like in Vietnam, the observers grew in number and began engaging the enemy. Mercifully, the numbers never expanded to the 500,000 General Westmoreland had defending the Saigon regime. The 2,000 there now would be an appropriate number for special forces action against ISIS, but the presence of the Russians and the Islamic countries make them superfluous. Their presence is proof of the adage that when one defends everything, one defends nothing.
Despite being the most powerful nation in history, American power is finite. Its use must be cautious and restrained, or it is squandered. Mr. Trump said yesterday that the US got "nothing out of $7 trillion [spent] in the Middle East over the last 17 years." It is hard to argue the point. The Middle East has only been important as a source of oil and natural gas. If there was only dirt under its dirt, no one would care what happens there. The strategic places in the world are not fixed points, and the Middle East matters less than it once did. The amount of blood and money one should be prepared to spend there should decline accordingly.
Ironically, ISIS will be re-incarnated. Just as it is descended from Al Qaeda, something else will evolve from it. The war on jihadi fundamentalism is a decades long campaign fought in the mind more than anywhere else. Some may complain that a precipitate departure from Syria will result in chaos there, as if there were order now. Those people believe that the battlespace exists at a given longitude and latitude. In truth, it lies between the ears of disgruntled young Sunnis. US troops in Syria make no positive difference in that struggle.
© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.