I’ve been asked repeatedly how it can be that everyone outside the White House disagrees with abandoning U.S. allies in Syria, and yet the White House is proceeding with an abrupt cut-and-run. What is in it for the White House to go against popular opinion? More to the point, some ask how a White House pulling out of Syria can be seen as any different from Nixon’s campaign promises to pull out of Vietnam?
These are fair questions. Given everyone across the political spectrum today thinks quitting support of allies in Syria is a bad idea, including those who remain apolitical and think most about national security, what possibly could motivate such an epic bad decision?
While tempting to immediately link the move to profit and greed of a family/cabal occupying the White House (e.g real-estate deals) it seems to be more the inverse situation. There’s a lack of enrichment opportunity from current allies, only regional stability. That means there’s a larger international relations angle on this that fits into what we’ve seen over the last couple years in the rise of totalitarian ideology that aims to profit and expand control with destabilization tactics.
It also means that Nixon and the current White House strategy are rooted in the same corruption, while being opposite strategically. Overwhelming numbers of Americans want the U.S. to keep troops in Syria, while overwhelming numbers of Americans in the 1960s wanted the U.S. to remove troops in Vietnam. In both cases, the White House is making corrupt policy decisions for personal gain, ignoring national security concerns.
Nixon Prolonged Vietnam War for Political Gain—And Johnson Knew About It, Newly Unclassified Tapes Suggest. Nixon ran on a platform that opposed the Vietnam war, but to win the election, he needed the war to continue.
The U.S. since 2016 has been re-orienting foreign policy away from allies unless they directly or indirectly enrich the White House’s occupying family. It means abandoning even winning situations where payment to politicians hasn’t been prioritized over all other concerns, including national and international security.
This is why now we see troops being increased into Saudi Arabia with qualifications like “agreed to pay us” while being pulled from areas lacking monetary enrichment. Nixon was corrupt to win elections and consolidate power, while the current administration is corrupt for aggressive self-enrichment on top of power consolidation.
The difference between 1968 and 2016 is level of corruption. Today it is far higher and more obvious.
First, Putin has been said to want to destabilize Europe by tactically capitalizing on refugees:
Russia has been accused of “weaponising” the refugee crisis as a way of destabilising Europe – a claim recently reinforced by Nato’s top commander in Europe. That assertion may well be disputed. What is beyond doubt is the continuing need to know what Russia is thinking, and what goals it might pursue as it watches the EU confront multiple crises.
Second, crisis is an expected outcome from the U.S. shooting itself in the foot and abruptly abandoning its allies, implicitly opening the door for Turkey to intervene and stir conflict.
Turkey’s offensive is likely not only to damage America’s diplomatic credibility and create a humanitarian crisis; it could lead to the escape of thousands of ISIS prisoners currently being held by Kurdish forces. In one of his more galling statements in a week that was full of them, Trump said this wouldn’t be America’s problem since they would likely be “escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go.” With northeastern Syria once again an active battlefield, and Iraq engulfed in a new round of political chaos, conditions are certainly ripe for a new resurgence of ISIS or a new organization that takes up its mantle.
Those two points together suggest the U.S. withdrawal hands Russia more leverage over the democratic nations (Kurds) and states (EU) that threaten the Erdoğan and Assad anti-democratic regimes. Furthermore it serve Putin’s doctrine of destabilization so he may capitalize on human suffering for political objectives.
In security circles the U.S. abandonment of allies could be called a penny-wise pound-foolish strategy that degrades American foreign policy and its own security. The U.S. administration covers the loss with claims of providing immediate gratification domestically. Clearly however it will cause far wider suffering and higher cost in the near future. Here is why even those immediate gratification claims don’t make any sense:
Given there are so few American soldiers in this draw-down, it can’t be said to be in the name of a troop withdrawal from conflict or ending a war. This is especially true because thousands of troops were just deployed to Saudi Arabia, so the balance stands at greater and less-efficient deployments to the region.
Inversely it can be said while there are so few American troops, Syria was a cost-center that produced a high return on investment primarily in terms of regional and national safety. Yet regional stability no longer is valued as before, as the administration has sought personal alignment with dictators not to mention kick-backs and pocket-linings. Thus troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia as an alignment gesture, whether they stabilize or not.
Saudis regularly pay billions for old American cluster bombs to kill children and disrupt food production with campaigns that cause long-term regional destabilization.
In 2008 an international treaty called the convention on cluster munitions severely limiting the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster bombs was adopted by 30 countries. By 2018 it had been signed by 120 states. The US, which sells arms to Saudi-led forces fighting in Yemen, was not one of them.
“Cluster munitions went through a proportionality test to measure military advantages gained versus civilian harm of their use,” said Rawan Shaif, the lead Yemen researcher at the open source investigative organisation Bellingcat, of the Geneva conventions relating to the protection of victims of armed conflict. “There’s no military advantage in using a cluster munition in a farm, unless your aim is to make that area uninhabitable for generations of civilians and military alike.”
The cluster bomb that killed Raja was manufactured at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in 1977. The large site, just north of Jackson in west Tennessee, encompasses 231 miles (372km) of roads and 88 miles (142km) of railways and is nicknamed Bullet Town by residents.
And in terms of national safety, the administration has exhibited a harm externality mindset, where threats of ISIS are foolishly downplayed because harms to self (U.S.) are factored as longer-term and therefore ignored compared with harm being publicly wished as an immediate threat (as promised by Putin) to others (EU).
In conclusion, while there are elements of a White House chasing personal profits and even putting money in pockets of some other Americans, overall this ill-conceived abandonment of allies is to serve a reorientation away from allies who don’t line the pockets of the White House family. This means an alignment of the U.S. administration to the anti-EU policy of Russia, which cruelly capitalizes on humanitarian crisis and undermines stability, as directed in this region by Turkey and Syria.
More to the point, the US administration appears happy to drop any ally that isn’t immediately enriching them personally. The request for the White House to directly oppose the values and commitments of the American people comes from Putin, who wants to reassert exploitative control over the region using regional tension between Assad and Erdoğan. The tension generates refugees into a crisis, which then can be manipulated into expanding militarized control by dictators as well as directed as pressure on democratic states in EU.
One last thought on this is the significance of women in the Kurdish forces and how values that traditionally would be consistent with the U.S. are now bizarrely misaligned. Given both Putin and Trump repeatedly have stated in the open how they disrespect and dislike women, it should not be overlooked how misogyny factors into a decision to suddenly divorce the U.S. from its long-time allies.
Kurdish history is replete with cases of women assuming leadership roles in the realm of religion, politics and even in the military sphere.
Updated to add: retired U.S. Admiral McRaven refers to the current White House as having a transactional value system