Get Smart: Trump’s Syria Masterstroke? Plus The Real Reason Defense Secretary Mattis Was Fired

No, the Kurds did not get sold out

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Based on reading virtually all mainstream news accounts, President Trump is a blundering numbskull when it comes to foreign policy (and most everything else) and that his staff is constantly quitting because he’s impossible to work with. The truth is much more complicated and while I oppose many aspects of his foreign policy — like his support for the criminally inhumane Saudi war on Yemen — I greatly prefer his general neo-isolationism (thus far) to the neoconservatism and American exceptionalism embraced by almost all foreign policy mandarins and by every president in my lifetime, including Barack Obama.

The most recent example of mainstream outrage about Trump’s foreign policy regards his recent announcement that he planned to soon withdraw roughly 2,000 American troops from Syria. This has been almost universally derided as the latest example of his mercurial, idiotic approach to foreign policy. The general view is that Trump has “surrendered” Syria to Russia and abandoned the Kurds, who will be annihilated by the Turks.

Trump’s announcement, the New York Times reported today in a story titled, U.S. Begins Syria Withdrawal, Amid Uncertainty Over Strategy, “added to a climate of chaos surrounding Washington’s policy on Syria at a time when Turkey has threatened to invade the country.”

The Times added that Trump’s decision to withdraw the troops had “prompted the resignation of two top aides — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State — and the reformulation by Mr. Bolton, a hawkish adviser whose principal Middle East aim is to contain the ambitions of Iran, which is entrenched in Syria.”

I don’t care at all for Bolton and oppose his seemingly clear desire to go to war with Iran, which I also would oppose, but good riddance to Mattis — his nickname wasn’t “Mad Dog” for nothing — and the hack McGurk. Both were beloved by the media, which tells you everything you need to know about them.

I’ve spoken with several people about Trump’s Syrian decision, and I find their views far more honest and informed than the drivel emanating from the Times and elsewhere in the media. Of course, for much of the media Trump can’t do anything correct, whether it’s eating steak with ketchup to his imposition of trade tariffs.

(And frankly his trade policies, like his foreign policy, is much better than what is offered by the dominant Clinton/Obama wing of the Democratic Party. As one source — and he’s close to the U.S. labor movement — told me, Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, among others in the administration believe the United States is a country and that it is not merely a cog in our globalized economy. They believe that U.S. trade policy should be predicated on that, and that stance is preferable to Democratic policy, which most unions have gone along with and hence lent their support to free trade agreements that have devastated the American working class.)

As to Syria, here’s what my sources — and in particular a particularly brilliant former intelligence officer, have to say. Mattis is far more aggressive on foreign policy and overseas intervention than Trump. He convinced Trump to put 200 troops into Syria, which the president reluctantly agreed to.

Mattis quickly expanded the agreement with Trump and not only put in 2,000 troops, but constructed a military base that was becoming a small city. When Trump discovered that he was infuriated — and ultimately that’s why Mattis was fired.

From a military standpoint, the short term outcome of the move was successful. The troops were there and killed a lot of bad people. But as any military expert will tell you, a key rule is that you don’t set up a military base in a place where your troops are vulnerable. In this case, U.S. troops were surrounded by hostile forces: Russian Spetsnaz, the Syrian army, Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force, none of which, quite understandably, were pleased to see a U.S. military base being built in Syria.

Even our Kurdish allies posed something of a threat because they would like to join up with Kurds living in Syria, who live on the other side of the military base Mattis had built. Nor will the Kurds be sold out to Turkey by Trump, which is endlessly repeated by the chattering classes and the media. (And which I initially believed and even tweeted about.)

According to my source, Trump drew a line in the sand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who hates the Kurds, and told him if you want to stay in NATO you cannot try to exterminate the Kurds, as the Ottoman Empire sought to do to Armenians beginning in 1915, when it began the systematically slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, mostly citizens within the Ottoman Empire.

Trump understands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not going to be overthrown any time soon — and many of his opponents are loony jihadists — either by his long suffering people nor by a U.S.-led regime change operation. Assad’s continued presence as president of Syria must be accepted, like him or not and no matter how repellent a figure he may be.

The administration is not “abandoning Syria,” as the media would have you believe, and Russia has had extensive influence there for many decades in any case, and will for the foreseeable future. It is planning to manage the situation from in Syria from Iraq, for better or for worse. My source said:

“It’s a complicated policy but I believe they are on the right track.  Trump simply pulled out from an indefensible base. We haven’t declared war on Syria and it’s a waste of money. Trump is driven crazy by the fact that we are spending tens of billions of dollars on Afghanistan and contingency operations, and he wants to know why. We can’t afford this burn rate. We can’t spend like that if we want to do anything to rebuild this country. We have had almost 18 years of endless, undefined, failed war since 9/11 and the people who pushed for that now say all we need is a little more money and a little more time, and it’s going to work. That’s bullshit.”

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