In Leaving Syria, Trump Perfects the War on Terror

OK, so a few things about Donald Trump’s seemingly unilateral announcement that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria.

  1. We have not in any way “defeated ISIS”, even if, as Sarah Sanders put it, the “territorial caliphate” is, for the time, kaput.
  2. We weren’t going to “defeat ISIS” with US troops on the ground, because that’s impossible.
  3. ISIS, even as a “caliphate”, was never an existential threat to the US
    They are, however, a humanitarian catastrophe and a pack of atavistic murdering ghouls.
  4. Keeping US troops there forever would be insane and self-defeating and there would be no logical withdrawal point.
  5. Keeping US troops there forever would add to regional instability by furthering the narrative of US colonialism.
  6. Trump’s withdrawal is going to foment more regional instability, by creating new fronts between Russia, Turkey, the Kurds, and various anti-Asad, AQ, and ISIS groups.
  7. Russia is thrilled– this helps them get what they want, i.e. a chance to have more regional influence. So nice job giving Russia what they want, Trumpo!
  8. Good- let them have it. A fundamentally weak Russia is going to get mired in a dissolving region, because Putin can never help overplaying his hand.
  9. We’ve once again abandoned the Kurds
  10. That’s one thing every American President does well
  11. We’ve strengthened Iran’s position. So nice job giving the mullahs what they want, Trumpo!
  12. See #7.

So here’s where I slightly exonerate Trump. There are no good outcomes for US policy in the Middle East, especially when it comes to Syria. I don’t think this can be blamed entirely on Obama, of course: I don’t see what kind of US intervention could have prevented its disintegration, unless he acted on the “regime change” level of the Iraq invasion in 2003, which, as you might remember, led to the disintegration that spread to Syria.

So there is a certain beautiful logic in withdrawing from Syria just like that, with a stumpy-fingered snap. For years, cynics and wags have said that the only way to win the “War on Terror”, a nonsense concept, would be to just declare victory and go home. After all, you can’t actually fight or defeat “terror”, so saying that you’ve won fits neatly into the woozy and blood-letting futility of the last 17 years. A perfect capstone!

Of course, it isn’t neat at all. Trump’s decision was made without any consultation and seemingly without any concern for its ramifications. There was never a Syria plan for him, just a repeating pattern of ineffective and contradictory airstrikes and a continuation of Obama-era anti-ISIS strategies.(Which he never understood, anyway.)

For proof that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, dig this tweet.

So…ISIS isn’t defeated? The whole thing is nonsense, but that’s to be expected.

All of his Syria strategies were a disaster. And they were a disaster in way that is inherent to Trump, but not drastically out of line with the way the US has conducted its surreal and destructive foreign policy over the last few decades.

In a way, of course, this was classic Trump: decide to take credit for something that didn’t happen just so 1) you can get press for it; 2) your acolytes will immediately say that you did the right thing; and 3) so that you can whine about the TV people not giving you enough credit.

That’s how he operates. It’s the only way he knows how. There’s no real forethought, there’s no insight into the situation. It’s just pure self-aggrandizement with no basis in reality. It is a decision based solely on a manufactured and pre-ordained reaction.

But so what? The entire last few decades have been that way, beginning with the very concept of a War on Terror. The shock and horror of September 11th obscured the fact that these massive strikes required insane luck and were basically non-repeatable. The only way that al-Qaeda could actually destroy America is if we let it.

And we did. We gave into fear and anger, to our natural habits of couch-quivering and xenophobia. We gave into insane security theater at the airports, the militarization of the police, and the inability of any politician to appear “Weak on terror”. When John Kerry said that fighting terrorism is a police, rather than a military action, he was mocked across the board even as every goddamn terrorism expert nodded with such simultaneous vigor that it was registered seismically.

None of that mattered. What mattered was the theatrical idea that America was doing something, even as our plans got bogged down, even as the Middle East imploded, even as bodies came home in thousands of bags and were measured by shattered limbs and broken brains.

We still can’t tell the truth. Even now, jackals like Lindsey Graham are weeping over the withdrawal, calling it a “stain” on US honor, because that is measured by our willingness to use troops to playact conquering fantasies. These last decades have been built on lies and delusion, fueled across party lines and by a compliant and timorous media.

So sure: Trump’s actions are uniquely his in their unreflective stupidity. But Trump didn’t make these wars unreal. He is the end result of a willingness to accept and even celebrate artifice. That Trump’s actions are in logical line with 17 years of illogical policy is a sobering epitaph to US primacy.

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