How the Hawks Prevailed on Syria
Paul Pillar comments on Bolton’s maneuvers to keep us at war in Syria:
The episode involving withdrawal and non-withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria should be a lesson for those who mistakenly placed hopes in Trump for a more restrained and less militaristic U.S. foreign policy. Applause lines on the campaign trail have been mistaken for deeper thought. Behind the candidate’s rhetoric there never was enough strategic sense, necessary knowledge, or even caring about foreign affairs to ward off the maneuvers of a determined hawk like Bolton once he was in position to do damage.
If the first two years of Trump’s presidency didn’t already make it clear, the last few weeks should have laid to rest any suspicions that the Trump administration is going to put an end to unnecessary foreign wars. It isn’t happening. For one thing, everyone around Trump doesn’t want those wars to end and will go to considerable lengths to ensure that they continue. That is a result of Trump’s own poor personnel choices and bad judgment. It isn’t possible to have a “more restrained and less militaristic U.S. foreign policy” when the president’s national security team is dominated by reflexive hawks that have never seen a military intervention they didn’t want to support. Trump put Bolton in the position he now occupies, and unless he wants to start in on his fourth National Security Advisor within two years we are going to be stuck with the unfortunate consequences of that bad decision for a while longer.
The de facto reversal of Trump’s withdrawal decision is a victory only for those who—like Bolton, who still avers that the Iraq War was a good idea—never met a U.S. military intervention in the Middle East they didn’t like and never stop seeing regimes they would like to change with force.
One big problem with the Trump administration is that it is filled with the people who never met an intervention they didn’t like. People like that have been the ones shaping administration policies in the region for the last two years, and on Syria they have prevailed once again. It could scarcely be otherwise when there is essentially no one willing or able to make the arguments for the other side of these issues. It is extremely difficult for hawks to lose an internal administration debate when there is no one in the administration that opposes hawkish policies.