On Trumpís Syrian Pullout

By Richard Falk Ė Daniel Falcone

January 02, 2019 "Information Clearing House" - 

Daniel Falcone: As an expert on American foreign policy what is the true meaning and significance of Trump pulling ground troops out of Syria? Is it this simple and straightforward? What are the implications of Mattis stepping down in your view?

Richard Falk: Of course, with Trump we never know either the real motivation for an abrupt decision of this sort or whether in the next day or so it might be reversed in an equally abrupt manner. It all depends on how the winds of his imperial ego are blowing. And this is not a reassuring awareness in the nuclear age.

We do know that such an inflammatory decision shifts attention away, at least briefly, from the Mueller developments that seem more threatening to Trumpís comfort zone day by day. Beyond these explanations, Trump can accurately claim that he is fulfilling one of his most emphatic pledges of his 2016 presidential campaign, namely, offering scathing criticism of costly interventions in the Middle East as the basis for his commitment to bring American troops home very soon. Such a pledge made a great deal of sense as the American experience with military interventions was a record of unacknowledged failure with a learning curve that hovered around zero.

The unprovoked attack on Iraq in 2003 followed by a prolonged occupation was a flagrant violation of the prohibition on aggressive war, the core principle of the UN Charter and modern international law. It was also the cause of massive suffering and devastation, resulting in internal strife and constant chaos. The mindless occupation policy imposed by the United States deliberately inflamed sectarian tensions in Iraq, which in turn spread Sunni/Shiíia turmoil throughout the region.

Geopolitically, as well, the Iraq War illustrated the dysfunctional nature of such uses of international force even when the superior military capabilities of the United States are brought to bear. A central strategic goal of the intervention was to weaken the regional footprint of Iran by placing a Western-oriented government on the Iranian border of a country ready and willing to have American military bases on its territory. The main effect of the American intervention and extended presence was the reverse of what was intended. Iranian regional influence in part because the American occupation approach sought to disempower the Sunni dominance that had been associated with Saddam Husseinís regime and put in its place an Iran-oriented Shiíite leadership.

A further result of the purge of Sunni elements in the upper echelons of the Iraqi armed forces was the formation of ISIS as a terrorist organization committed to the expulsion of the occupying forces from the Middle East and spreading governance under the auspices of radical Islamic leadership. In retrospect the real irony is that Saddam Husseinís regime, although repressive and repulsive, was far preferable for the Iraqi people and even for American strategic goals in the Middle East than was the unlawful intervention and bungled occupation. Our war planners never were willing to come to terms with this systemic series of miscalculations, and more or less arrayed themselves beneath the notorious banner, Ďmission accomplishedí unfurled to honor the presence of George W. Bush on an American aircraft carrier.

Trump claims that his policies for the past two years have defeated ISIS, making prudent and appropriate from a national security perspective to withdraw American ground forces at this time. The claim as to ISIS is disputed by the entire defense establishment in the U.S., and seems to have contributed to the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, decision to submit a thinly veiled criticism of Trumpís withdrawal approach on strategic grounds, stressing especially the importance of acting in concert with allies. The decision has also been criticized as abandoning Syrian Kurds to the tender mercies of Assadís regime and Erdoganís Turkey. For the governments in Damascus and Ankara, the Kurds, while allied with the U.S. in its anti-ISIS campaign, pose threats to the territorial integrity and political stability of both Syria and Turkey.

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