Did Someone Slip Donald Trump Some Kind Of Political Viagra?
by James George Jatras
The Strategic Culture Foundation
After two years of getting rolled by the Washington establishment, it seems that President Donald Trump woke up and suddenly realized, “Hey – I’m the president! I have the legal authority to do stuff!”
- He has announced his order to withdraw US troops from Syria.
- His Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. There are rumors National Security Adviser John Bolton may go too. (Please take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with you!)
- He announced a start to withdrawing from Afghanistan.
- He now says he will veto a government funding bill unless he gets $5 billion for his Wall, and as of 12:01 AM Washington time December 22 the federal government is officially under partial shutdown.
All of this should be taken with a big grain of salt. While this week’s assertiveness perhaps provides further proof that Trump’s impulses are right, it doesn’t mean he can implement them.
The Syria withdrawal will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump talking heads on Fox News, are dead set against him – except for Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
Senator Lindsey Graham is demanding hearings on how to block the Syria pullout. Congress hardly ever quibbles with a president’s putting troops into a country, where the Legislative Branch has legitimate Constitutional power. But if a president under his absolute command authority wants to pull them out – even someplace where they’re deployed illegally, as in Syria – well hold on just a minute!
We are being told our getting out of Syria and Afghanistan will be a huge “gift” to Russia and Iran. Worse, it is being compared to Barack Obama’s “premature” withdrawal from Iraq (falsely pointed to as the cause of the rise of ISIS) and will set the stage for “chaos.” By that standard, we can never leave anywhere.
This will be a critical time for the Trump presidency. (And if God is really on his side, he soon might get another Supreme Court pick.) If he can get the machinery of the Executive Branch to implement his decision to withdraw from Syria, and if he can pick a replacement to General Mattis who actually agrees with Trump’s views, we might start getting the America First policy Trump ran on in 2016.
Mattis himself said in his resignation letter, “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these [i.e., support for so-called “allies”] and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Right on, Mad Dog! In fact Trump should have had someone “better aligned” with him in that capacity from the get-go. It is now imperative that he picks someone who agrees with his core positions, starting with withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, and reducing confrontation with Russia.
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel complains that “our government is not a one-man show.” Well, the “government” isn’t, but the Executive Branch is. Article II, Section 1: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” Him. The President. Nobody else. Period.
Already the drumbeat to saddle Trump with another Swamp critter at the Pentagon is starting: “Several possible replacements for Mattis this week trashed the president’s decision to pull out of Syria. Retired Gen. Jack Keane called the move a “strategic mistake” on Twitter. Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) signed a letter demanding Trump reconsider the decision and warning that the withdrawal bolsters Iran and Russia.” If Trump even considers any of the above as Mattis’s replacement, he’ll be in worse shape than he has been for the past two years.
On the other hand, if Trump does pick someone who agrees with him about Syria and Afghanistan, never mind getting along with Russia, can he get that person confirmed by the Senate? One possibility would be to nominate someone like Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney specifically to run the Pentagon bureaucracy and get control of costs, while explicitly deferring operational decisions to the Commander in Chief in consultation with the Service Chiefs.
Right now on Syria Trump is facing pushback from virtually the whole Deep State establishment, Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as the media from Fox News, to NPR, to MSNBC. Terror has again gripped the establishment that the Trump who was elected president in 2016 might actually start implementing what he promised. It is imperative that he pick someone for the Pentagon (and frankly, clear out the rest of his national security team) and appoint people he can trust and whose views comport with his own. Just lopping off a few heads won’t suffice – he needs a full housecleaning.
In the meantime in Syria, watch for another “Assad poison gas attack against his own people.” The last time Trump said we’d be leaving Syria “very soon” was on March 29 of this year. Barely a week later, on April 7, came a supposed chemical incident in Douma, immediately hyped as a government attack on civilians but soon apparent as likely staged. Trump, though, dutifully took the bait, tweeting that Assad was an “animal.” Putin, Russia, and Iran were “responsible” for “many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack” – “Big price to pay.” He then for the second time launched cruise missiles against Syrian targets. A confrontation loomed in the eastern Med that could to have led to war with Russia. Now, in light of Trump’s restated determination to get out, is MI6 already ginning up their White Helmet assets for a repeat?
Trump’s claim that the US has completed its only mission, to defeat ISIS, is being compared to George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner following defeat of Iraq’s army and the beginning of the occupation (and, as it turned out, the beginning of the real war). But if it helps get us out, who cares if Trump wants to take credit? Whatever his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad national security team told him, the US presence in Syria was never about ISIS. We are there as Uncle Sam’s Rent-an-Army for the Israelis and Saudis to block Iranian influence and especially an overland route between Syria and Iran (the so-called “Shiite land bridge” to the Mediterranean).
For US forces the war against ISIS was always a sideshow, mainly carried on by the Syrians and Russians and proportioned about like the war against the Wehrmacht: about 20% “us,” about 80% “them.” The remaining pocket ISIS has on the Syria-Iraq border has been deliberately left alone, to keep handy as a lever to force Assad out in a settlement (which is not going to happen). Thus the claim an American pullout will lead to an ISIS “resurgence” is absurd. With US forces ceasing to play dog in the manger, the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Iraqis will kill them. All of them.
If Trump is able to follow through with the pullout, will the Syrian war wind down? It needs to be kept in mind that the whole conflict has been because we (the US, plus Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, UAE, the United Kingdom, etc) are the aggressors. We sought to use al-Qaeda and other jihadis to effect regime change via the tried and true method. It failed.
Regarding Trump’s critics’ claim that he is turning over Syria to the Russians and Iranians, Assad is nobody’s puppet. He can be allied with a Shiite theocracy but not controlled by it; Iran, likewise, can also have mutually beneficial ties with an ideologically dissimilar country, like it does with Christian Armenia. The Russians will stay and expand their presence but unlike our presence in many countries – which seemingly never ends, for example in Germany, Japan, and Korea, not to mention Kosovo – they’ll be there only as long and to the extent the Syrians want them. (Compare our eternal occupations with the Soviets’ politely leaving Egypt when Anwar Sadat asked them, or leaving Somalia when Siad Barre wanted them out. Instead of leaving, why didn’t Moscow just do a “Diem” on them?) It seems that American policymakers have gotten so far down the wormhole of their paranoid fantasies about the rest of the world – and it can’t be overemphasized, concerning areas where the US has no actual national interests – that we no longer recognize classic statecraft when practiced by other powers defending genuine national interests (which of course are legitimate only to the extent we say so).
What happens over the next few days on funding for the Border Wall – which is fully within the power of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deliver – and over the next few weeks over Syria and Afghanistan may be decisive for the balance of the Trump presidency. If he can prevail, and if he finally starts assembling an America First national security team beginning with a good Pentagon chief, he still has a chance to deliver on his 2016 promises.