Possible Education of Donald Trump
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ratcheting
up war tensions in Syria again, but President
Trump reportedly is not happy with the threats
as he shifts again toward resisting the neocons,
writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
- Some Trump advisers also have downplayed the
current shift because it may fuel the Democrats’
obsession with Russia-gate as a much-desired
excuse to impeach Trump. Every peaceful move
that Trump makes is called a sop to Russia and
thus an excuse to reprise the dubious
allegations about Russia somehow helping to
Yet, despite these external obstacles and
Trump’s own erratic behavior, he has remained
open to unconventional alternatives to what
President Obama once
the Washington “playbook,” i.e. favoring
military solutions to international problems.
sense, Trump’s shallow understanding of the
world has been a partial benefit in that he is
not locked into to the usual Washington
groupthinks – and he personally despises the
prominent politicians and news executives who
have sought to neuter him since his election.
But his ignorance also prevents him from seeing
how global crises often intersect and thus stops
him from developing a cohesive or coherent
little noted, arguably the most important
foreign policy decision of Trump’s presidency
was his termination of the CIA’s covert support
for Syrian rebels and his cooperation with
Russian President Vladimir Putin to expand
partial ceasefire zones in Syria.
these actions, Trump has contributed to a sharp
drop-off in the Syrian bloodshed. It now appears
that the relatively secular Syrian government of
President Bashar al-Assad is regaining control
and that some Syrian refugees are returning to
their homes. Syria is starting the difficult job
of rebuilding shattered cities, such as Aleppo.
Trump’s aversion to any new military adventures
in Syria is being tested again by Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is threatening
to attack Iranian and Hezbollah forces inside
Last week, according to
Israeli press reports,
a high-level delegation led by Mossad chief
Yossi Cohen carried Netanyahu’s threat to the
U.S. government. The Israeli leader surely has
raised the same point directly in phone calls
told that Trump, who appears to be growing weary
of Netanyahu’s frequent demands and threats,
flatly objected to an Israeli attack and brushed
aside Israel’s alarm by noting that Netanyahu’s
policies in supporting the rebels in Syria
contributed to Israel’s current predicament by
drawing in Iran and Hezbollah.
This week, Netanyahu personally traveled to
to confront Putin with the same blunt warning
about Israel’s intention to attack targets
inside Syria if Iran does not remove its forces.
source familiar with the meeting told me that
Putin responded with a sarcastic “good luck!”
and that the Russians thought the swaggering
Netanyahu appeared “unhinged.”
a major Israeli attack on Iranian positions
inside Syria would test Trump’s political
toughness, since he would come under enormous
pressure from Congress and the mainstream news
media to intervene on Israel’s behalf. Indeed,
realistically, Netanyahu must be counting on his
ability to drag Trump into the conflict since
Israel could not alone handle a potential
Netanyahu may be on somewhat thin ice since
Trump apparently blames Israel’s top American
supporters, the neocons, for much of his
political troubles. They opposed him in the
Republican primaries, tilted toward Hillary
Clinton in the general election, and have pushed
the Russia-gate affair to weaken him.
President Obama faced
similar political pressures
to fall in line behind Israel’s regional
interests. That’s why Obama authorized the
covert CIA program in Syria and other aid to the
rebels though he was never an enthusiastic
supporter – and also grew sick and tired of
Netanyahu’s endless hectoring.
acquiesced to the demands of Official
Washington’s neocons and his own
administration’s hawks – the likes of Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David
Petraeus, his successor John Brennan, and United
Nations Ambassador Samantha Power.
Syrian conflict was part of a broader strategy
favored by Washington’s neocons to overthrow or
cripple regimes that were deemed troublesome to
Israel. Originally, the neocons had envisioned
removing the Assad dynasty soon after the
invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Iran also on the
“regime change” menu. But the disastrous Iraq
War threw off the neocons’ timetable.
Democratic Party’s liberal interventionists, who
are closely allied with the Republican neocons,
also tossed in Libya with the overthrow and
murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Then, weapons from Gaddafi’s stockpiles were
shipped to Syria where they strengthened rebel
fighters allied with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and
other Islamist groups.
with this troubling reality – that the
U.S.-backed “moderate rebels” were operating
side by side with Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate
and its allies – Washington’s
neocons/liberal-hawks responded with
sophisticated propaganda and devised clever
talking points to justify what amounted to
indirect assistance to terrorists.
“regime change” advocates portrayed a
black-and-white situation in Syria with Assad’s
side wearing the black hats and various
anti-Assad “activists” wearing the white hats
(or literally White Helmets). The State
Department and a complicit mainstream media
disseminated horror stories about Assad and –
when the reality about Al Qaeda’s role could no
longer be hidden – that was spun in the rebels’
favor, too, by labeling Assad “a magnet for
terrorists” (or later in cahoots with the
Islamic State). For years, such arguments were
much beloved in Official Washington.
human consequences of the Syrian conflict and
other U.S.-driven “regime change” wars were
horrific, spreading death and destruction across
the already volatile Middle East and driving
desperate refugees into Europe, where their
presence provoked political instability.
2015, rebel advances in Syria – aided by a
supply of powerful U.S. anti-tank missiles –
forced Russia’s hand with Putin accepting
Assad’s invitation to deploy Russian air power
in support of the Syrian army and Iranian and
Hezbollah militias. The course of the war soon
turned to Assad’s advantage.
unclear what Hillary Clinton might have done if
she had won the White House in November 2016.
Along with much of the U.S. foreign policy
establishment, she called repeatedly for
imposing a “no-fly zone” in Syria to stop
operations by the Syrian air force and Russia, a
move that could have escalated the conflict into
World War III.
Trump – lacking Official Washington’s
“sophistication” – couldn’t understand how
eliminating Assad, who was leading the fight
against the terrorist groups, would contribute
to their eventual defeat. Trump also looked at
the failure of similar arguments in Iraq and
Libya, where “regime change” produced more chaos
and generated more terrorism.
However, in the early days of his presidency,
the unsophisticated Trump lurched from one
Middle East approach to another, initially
following his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s
grandiose thinking about recruiting Saudi Arabia
to an “outside-in” strategy to settle the
Israel-Palestine conflict, i.e., enlisting the
Saudis to pressure the Palestinians into, more
or less, letting Israel dictate a solution.
Kushner’s “outside-in” scheme was symbolically
acted out with Trump making his first overseas
visit to Saudi Arabia and then to Israel in May.
But I’m told that Trump eventually cooled to
Kushner’s thinking and has come to see the
Israeli-Saudi tandem as part of the region’s
troubles, especially what he views as Saudi
Arabia’s longstanding support for Al Qaeda and
other terror groups.
most significantly in that regard, Trump in July
quietly abandoned the CIA’s covert war in Syria.
In the U.S., some “regime change” advocates have
complained about this “betrayal” of the rebel
cause and some Democrats have tried to link
Trump’s decision to their faltering Russia-gate
“scandal,” i.e., by claiming that Trump was
rewarding Putin for alleged election help.
bottom line is that Trump’s policy has
contributed to the Syrian slaughter abating and
the prospect of a victory by Al Qaeda and/or its
Islamic State spinoff fading.
So, there has been a gradual education of Donald
Trump, interrupted occasionally by his volatile
temper and his succumbing to political pressure,
such as when
he rushed to judgment
on April 4 and blamed the Syrian government for
a chemical incident in the remote Al
Qaeda-controlled village of Khan Sheikhoun.
strong doubts in the U.S. intelligence community
about Syria’s guilt – some evidence suggested
one more staged “atrocity” by the rebels and
their supporters – Trump on April 6 ordered 59
Tomahawk missiles fired at a Syrian air base,
reportedly killing several soldiers and some
civilians, including four children.
boasted about his decision, contrasting it with
Obama’s alleged wimpiness. And, naturally,
Official Washington and the U.S. mainstream
media not only accepted the claim of Syrian
government guilt but praised Trump for pulling
the trigger. Later, Hillary Clinton said if she
were president, she would have been inclined to
go further militarily by intervening with her
reckless and brutal as Trump’s missile strike
was, it did provide him some cover for his July
7 meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in
Germany, which focused heavily on Syria, and
also for his decision to pull the plug on the
CIA’s covert war.
told Trump also has returned to his pre-election
attitude about Saudi Arabia as a leading
supporter of terror groups and a key provocateur
in the region’s disorders, particularly because
of its rivalry with Iran, a factor in both the
Syrian and Yemeni wars.
Trump has recited Washington’s bipartisan (and
benighted) mantra about Iran being the principal
sponsor of terrorism, he appears to be moving
toward a more honest view, recognizing the
falsity of the neocon-driven propaganda about
Trump’s new coolness toward Saudi Arabia may
have contributed to the recent warming of
relations between the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia and
the Shiites of Iran, a sectarian conflict dating
back 1,400 years. In a surprising move announced
this week, the two countries plan
an exchange of diplomatic visits.
areas where Trump has engaged in reckless
rhetoric, such as his “fire and fury” warning to
North Korea, his behind-the-scenes policy
appears more open to compromise and even
accommodation. In the past week or so, the
tensions with North Korea have eased amid
backchannel outreach that may include the
provision of food as an incentive for Pyongyang
to halt its missile development and even open
political talks with South Korea, according to a
source close to these developments.
Afghanistan, too, Trump may be playing a double
game, giving a hawkish speech on Monday seeming
to endorse an open-ended commitment to the
near-16-year-old conflict, while quietly
signaling a willingness to negotiate a political
settlement with the Taliban.
alternative might be to accept a coalition
government, involving the Taliban, with a U.S.
withdrawal to a military base near enough to
launch counterterrorism strikes if Al Qaeda or
other international terror groups again locate
Trump’s latest foreign policy initiatives
reflect former White House strategist Steve
Bannon’s hostility toward neoconservative
interventionism. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, the former Exxon-Mobil chief
executive, also shares a more pragmatic approach
to foreign affairs than some of his more
still in their infancy, these policies represent
a new realism in U.S. foreign policy that, in
many ways, paralleled what President Obama
favored but was often unwilling or unable to see
through to its logical conclusions, given his
fear of Netanyahu and the power of the neocons
and their liberal-hawk allies.
some of Obama’s most important decisions – not
to launch a major military strike against Syria
in August 2013 and to negotiate an agreement
with Iran to constrain its nuclear program in
2013-15 – followed a similar path away from war,
thus drawing condemnation from the Israeli-Saudi
tandem and American neocons.
Republican who rose politically by pandering to
the GOP “base” and its hatred of Obama, Trump
rhetorically attacked Obama on both Syria and
Iran, but may now be shifting toward similar
positions. Gradually, Trump has come to
recognize that the neocons and his other
political enemies are trying to hobble and
humiliate him – and ultimately to remove him
question is whether Trump’s instinct for
survival finally will lead him to policies that
blunt his enemies’ strategies or will cause him
to succumb to their demands.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many
of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated
Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his
America’s Stolen Narrative,
either in print
here or as an
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