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Syria Showdown: Trump Versus the Generals

With ISIS on the run in Syria, President Trump this week declared that he intends to make good on his promise to bring the troops home.

“I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home,” said the president. He continued: We’ve gotten “nothing out of the $7 trillion (spent) in the Middle East in the last 17 years. …So it’s time.”

Not so fast, Mr. President.

For even as Trump was speaking he was being contradicted by his Centcom commander General Joseph Votel. “A lot of good progress has been made” in Syria, Votel conceded, “but the hard part…is in front of us.”

Moreover, added Votel, when we defeat ISIS, we must stabilize Syria and see to its reconstruction.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been even more specific: “It is crucial to our national defense to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Syria, to help bring an end to that conflict, as they chart a course to achieve a new political future.”

But has not Syria’s “political future” already been charted?

Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, has won his seven-year civil war. He has retaken the rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. He now controls most of the country that we and the Kurds do not.

According to The Washington Post, Defense Secretary James Mattis is also not on board with Trump and “has repeatedly said…that U.S. troops would be staying in Syria for the foreseeable future to guarantee stability and political resolution to the civil war.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who fears a “Shiite corridor” from Tehran through Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut, also opposes Trump. “If you take those [U.S.] troops out from east Syria,” the prince told Time, “you will lose that checkpoint…. American troops should stay [in Syria] at least for the mid-term, if not the long-term.”

Bibi Netanyahu also wants us to stay in Syria.

Wednesday, Trump acceded to his generals. He agreed to leave our troops in Syria until the Islamic State is finished. However, as the 2,000 U.S. troops there are not now engaging ISIS—many of our Kurdish allies are going back north to defend border towns threatened by Turkey—this could take a while.

Yet make no mistake: a showdown is coming. And, stated starkly, the divide is this.

Trump sees al-Qaeda and ISIS as the real enemy and is prepared to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria as soon as the caliphate is eradicated. If that means Assad is in power then, backed by Russia and Iran, so be it.

Trump does not see an Assad-ruled Syria, which has existed since the Nixon presidency, as a great threat to the United States. He is unwilling to spill more American blood to overturn the outcome of a war that Syria, Iran, and Russia have already won. Nor is he prepared to foot the bill for the reconstruction of Syria, or for any long-term occupation of that quadrant of Syria that we and our allies now hold.

Once ISIS is defeated, Trump wants out of the war and out of Syria.

The Israelis, Saudis, and most of our foreign policy elites, however, vehemently disagree. They want the U.S. to hold onto that slice of Syria east of the Euphrates that we now occupy, and to use the leverage of our troops on Syrian soil to effect the removal of President Assad and the expulsion of the Iranians.

The War Party does not concede Syria is lost. They see the real battle as dead ahead. They’re eager to confront and, if need be, fight Syrians, Iranians, and Shiite militias should they cross to the east bank of the Euphrates, as they did weeks ago, when U.S. artillery and air power slaughtered them by the hundreds, Russians included.

If U.S. troops do remain in Syria, the probability is high that Trump, like Presidents Bush and Obama before him, will be ensnared indefinitely in the Forever War of the Middle East.

President Erdogan of Turkey, who has seized Afrin from the Syrian Kurds, is threatening to move on Manbij, where Kurdish troops are backed by U.S. troops. If Erdogan does not back away from his threat, NATO allies could start shooting at one another.

As the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria are both uninvited and unwelcome, a triumphant Assad is likely soon to demand that we remove them from his country.

Will we defy President Assad then, with the possibility that U.S. planes and troops could be engaging Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Shiite militias, in a country where we have no right to be?

Trump is being denounced as an isolationist. But what gains have we reaped from 17 years of Middle East wars—from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen—to justify all the bloodshed and the treasure lost?

And how has our great rival China suffered from not having fought in any of these wars?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Syria Showdown: Trump Versus the Generals"

#1 Comment By GOP is done On April 6, 2018 @ 12:20 am

Why are you giving trump so much credit ? Trump is Pro-Israel and will do their evil bidding…

#2 Comment By polistra On April 6, 2018 @ 4:15 am

Trump doesn’t have any instincts. He’s just playing the old DC game. Pretend that you want to do something, then act shocked after you didn’t do it. Each party plays the game against the other party, each house of Congress plays the game against the other house, Presidents play it against Congress and the “courts”.


This game wouldn’t work in real life.


I shout to everyone in the house, “I’m going to the store to get groceries.”

One hour later, after sitting in the living room watching TV, making no move toward the car, I shout again:

“See what happens? I tried, but these evil other-party spirits wouldn’t let me. You need to vote these evil other-party spirits out of the house so we can have food!”

#3 Comment By balconesfault On April 6, 2018 @ 6:14 am

Huh … you elect someone who says his military strategy will always be “listen to the Generals”, and are then surprised when the Generals want to keep fighting?

Of course Trump will accede. He has no coherent and consistent policy … just Fox News buzzwords spinning in his head. Now add John Bolton as his guiding light.

#4 Comment By Stephen J. On April 6, 2018 @ 7:25 am

Mr. Buchanan is correct the U.S. is: “in a country where we have no right to be…”
The U.S. is in Syria illegally, and what is even worse it is reportedly supporting terrorists.
This is surely a crime, yet no charges have been laid. Why?

“Under U.S. law it is illegal for any American to provide money or assistance to al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups. If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS, we would be thrown in jail. Yet the U.S. government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al Sham and other terrorist groups with money, weapons, and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.[i]… Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, December 8, 2016,Press Release.
Much more evidence on this and other matters at link below.

#5 Comment By Michael Kenny On April 6, 2018 @ 8:41 am

The important point in Syria is that Putin is irreversibly bogged down there. He sinks or swims with Assad, which means, sooner or later, sinks. He’s a sitting duck who can do nothing but sit there and wait until the US chooses to attack him. So there’s no harm in leaving him to stew. John Bolton’s bête noire has always been Iran, which is supposed to be Putin’s ally. Going after Iran will put Putin on the spot. He has to decide whether to back his “ally” or leave Iran in the lurch. Thus, putting Syria on the back burner and concentrating on Iran forces Putin either to discredit himself by abandoning his “ally” or to bog himself down in yet another conflict. Heads, Ukraine wins, tails, Putin loses!

#6 Comment By Dan Green On April 6, 2018 @ 9:59 am

Our military complex is very key to our security. With that said they plan and like war.

#7 Comment By b. On April 6, 2018 @ 10:00 am

On such hollow reed the imperial presidency, uneasily, rests.

The triad’s synthesis: ISIS will never be “defeated”.

Hubris, catharsis … over is.

#8 Comment By Stephen J. On April 6, 2018 @ 11:25 am

More info on the treachery and criminality being enacted in Syria

“Our ally Kuwait has become the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria.”

“Yes, folks, your tax dollars are going to support Islamist crazies in Syria. The same people who attacked Paris are being aided and abetted by the US – and if that isn’t a criminal act, then there is no justice in this world.” Justin Raimondo, November 25, 2015

And much more info at the link below.

#9 Comment By Anthony Ferrara On April 6, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

The military industrial complex is nearly impossible to go up against in this country.

#10 Comment By One Guy On April 6, 2018 @ 1:03 pm

The USA has hundreds of military bases overseas. We should close most of them. Trump is saying the right thing, unfortunately, we all know he doesn’t follow through (that NRA thing, that DACA thing, that wall thing, that coal thing, that lock-her-up thing, etc. etc).

Nothing will change.

#11 Comment By Cynthia McLean On April 6, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

The War Party is intent on building a permanent military base in Syria to fulfill US aspirations of full-spectrum dominance.

#12 Comment By Fred Bowman On April 6, 2018 @ 1:54 pm

Rest assure Pat that when “push comes to shove” that Trump will let the Generals have their way. To believe otherwise is foolishness.

#13 Comment By Patrick On April 6, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

It seems that the failure in Syria is related to the classical policy verse strategy conflict. The military is once again put in a difficult position when the civilian leadership tries to use a military solution to solve a diplomatic problem. The military was given the task to destroy ISIS but that goal will be impossible without Turkey’s cooperation and the leader of that country has chosen a path toward appeasement by the United States or confrontation.

There seems to be credible evidence of Turkey’s support for ISIS in the flow of combatants and military logistics into Syria as well as profiting from the sale and transport of ISIS controlled Syrian oil through Turkey. Now we are seeing Turkey invading Syria and ethnically cleansing our Kurdish allies from Syria’s Northern Boarder. We still don’t know what the Obama/Clinton CIA and State Department was up to in Benghazi, but it did seem to involve the flow of arms from Libya, and I have read reports that members of the Turkish government were meeting with the killed ambassador before the attack.

In Syria is appears that the Assad, Iranian and Russian alliance was more focused upon the rebels attempting to overthrow the government; rather than destroying ISIS. Once the United States leaves there may be greater tolerance for ISIS as long as the government is not threatened and ISIS may even be allowed to join that alliance to get some revenge against the Kurds who were allied with the U.S.

We saw the recent Russian test of US resolve using mercenaries with disastrous consequences. As long as the US remains in Syria there will be similar tests and what if is Turkey decides to test the resolve of US forces?

Our NATO partner Turkey seems to have become more of an enemy than a friend, and also more of a liability than an asset. Removing U.S. military assets from Turkey may be prudent, followed by its expulsion from NATO. Expelling Turkish citizens from other NATO countries and economic sanctions may be another strategy to make Turkey reconsider its continued belligerence.

#14 Comment By JK On April 6, 2018 @ 4:05 pm

I don’t recall anyone forcing Trump to appoint to top positions people who flat out refuse his orders and block him from carrying out policy he campaigned on. There is a limit on how much sincerity you can attribute to a man who says one thing, does the exact opposite, and defend him as fighting some Don Quixotic struggle tilting at windmills.

#15 Comment By Sid Finster On April 6, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

So is Trump weak, or is it simply that he is easily manipulated?

I suppose that the question is academic, since the results are the same.

#16 Comment By RK On April 6, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

Michael Kenny says:
Heads, Ukraine wins, tails, Putin loses!

Strange non sequitur. And why exactly would it be a plus for Ukraine to win? To reward its ultra-rightists for sniping their way to power in a power-grabbing coup d’etat, proceeding to outdo Serbia in Kosovo on the civilian slaughter front and perpetually stifling Minsk II and UNSC Res 2202?

Might as well say “Heads Serbia wins, tails Slovenia, Croatia, Kosovo and the US lose”.

#17 Comment By Robert Bruce On April 6, 2018 @ 8:21 pm

Good cop, bad cop!!! Is it so hard to comprehend

#18 Comment By Emil Bogdan On April 6, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

Pat, I don’t know why you insist, practically every time, to insert obvious falsities into your stories. Unwelcome? I’m sure there are inhabitants and citizens of Syria for whom the presence of American troops is very welcome. But this is just nitpicking, it’s hard to disagree with the thrust of your impassioned pleas. I’m reminded of what the Saudi crown prince recently said, again, like Bibi before him and many others: in the Middle East sometimes there are only bad options and worse options. Or even better, in the Middle East sometimes there are only bad ideas, and worse ideas. The immensity can be enough to inspire a cathartic shrug. Clearly, the Pentagon takes Iran very seriously. They’re gonna want to keep surrounding them. But I agree with you, they should relax with the macho juice.

#19 Comment By Sick Man Improves On April 7, 2018 @ 10:54 am

“Our NATO partner Turkey seems to have become more of an enemy than a friend, and also more of a liability than an asset.”

I think most Americans are happy that Turkey stepped in and started to do what we failed to do. Most Americans want us out of there. They want local players to man up and take care of things, which is what Turkey is doing. We caused a big bloody mess on Turkey’ borders, and in general we should be happy and thankful that Turkey has been helping to clean up that big bloody mess.

“[…] Expelling Turkish citizens from other NATO countries and economic sanctions may be another strategy to make Turkey reconsider its continued belligerence.”

Jesus. Turkey is housing and feeding millions of Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, and Yemeni refugees, many of them caused by our own incompetent meddling. If you start expelling Turks from NATO countries – one of the stupidest ideas I ever heard – then Turkey could empty its refugee camps into Europe and America. Last time that happened it destabilized the EU and our other NATO allies.

Not a good idea, in other words. You hear suggestions like this from raving alcoholic ex-generals on Fox News or loons on the Trump National Security Council, but you don’t often hear them on TAC.

“Removing U.S. military assets from Turkey may be prudent, followed by its expulsion from NATO. “

It must be interesting to live in a world where there are no maps of the Bosporus to remind one of its ancient function as a strategic choke-point. The same world, apparently, where there are no Wiki articles reporting Turkish military strength as roughly on a par with Britain’s, greater than other regional powers (including Israel and Pakistan), and therefore not exactly the sort of country you eject from NATO because some nasty little Beltway neocons are upset with Erdogan for kicking the Kurds around the way that the Israelis kick the Palestinians around or the Saudis kick the Yemenis around.

In short, Turkey has done nothing to hurt US interests in the region and quite a bit to advance them. It has been a stabilizing, constructive force for literally decades. Turkey may not be on the same page with the Saudis or Israelis, but who gives a flying f*** about Saudi or Israeli interests, eh? When push came to shove the Israelis and Saudis turned out to be worthless parasites, whereas Turkey is a valuable NATO treaty ally.

#20 Comment By just the facts On April 7, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

“There seems to be credible evidence of Turkey’s support for ISIS in the flow of combatants and military logistics into Syria as well as profiting from the sale and transport of ISIS controlled Syrian oil through Turkey.”

No there doesn’t.

Cite the “credible evidence” please.