Ron Paul has rightly stated that recent comments from National Security Advisor John Bolton, essentially to the opposite effect of Donald Trump’s announcement of troop withdrawal, could be seen as insubordination. John Bolton claimed that the withdrawal will not take place until certain “objectives”, including defeating ISIS, were met and an assurance from Turkish President Erdogan was reached that the US-armed and trained Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are not harmed.
Donald Trump had previously come out on December 19, 2018, declaring victory over ISIS and saying words to the effect that the Troops in Syria would be returning home immediately. It was also announced that about half of USA military forces (CIA forces were not specified) would be removed from Afghanistan, with the balance to be removed at the end of 2019.
You can find a discussion of some of the implications of the withdrawal, including the possible effect on the Kurds here.
While contradiction of the executive branch by other officials and branches of government seems to be a staple of the Trump Presidency, this instance (if it represents an actual policy direction for the White House) demonstrates the determination of the neoconservatives in power to hold onto America’s middle-eastern imperial presence. The defeat of ISIS represents an essentially unattainable goal, enabling the USA to maintain some sort of security presence in the area to hold onto the Middle-East hegemony controlled by the USA through Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The reason that I claim that vanquishing of ISIS is an unattainable goal is that the USA has proven me right through its ongoing wars against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (one of the longest wars in US history) and against Al-Qaeda and ISIS through Iraq and Syria. Some people will remember when left-wing communist terrorists were the media boogeyman, prompting arming of jihadists in Afghanistan to repel the Soviets advancement in the 80s. Many people can remember when Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorists became the terrorist boogeyman of the mainstream media following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre. It is still recent memory when ISIS (a more extreme offshoot of Al-Qaeda) took the place of Al-Qaeda as media boogeyman about 2013.
In Afghanistan (I have not done any coverage of the history of this war, though a starting article is high on my agenda), the Taliban has shown increasing resurgence in recent years. Due to a number of factors including a weak Afghan security apparatus, resistance from the local populace to US operations and safe-havens for jihadists operating from neighbouring Pakistan (a practice that Pakistan says has ended). It has become increasingly apparent to everybody outside of the White House and Pentagon that the war in Afghanistan is not ‘winnable’ in the sense of removing the Taliban from the political scene, and that they must come to the negotiating table with all parties in the area, facilitating a diplomatic and democratic end to the violence. The perpetuation of violence has caused for increased hostilities and driven extremist recruiting.
The Iraq war has been consistently identified by political analysts and anti-war activists as the worst foreign policy move of the 21st century. Aside from knowingly being based entirely upon lies regarding the production of Weapons of Mass Destruction and capitalizing on 9/11 hysteria, the war has been credited with spawning more anti-US and anti-western Islamic extremists than it has defeated (this is unless you credit killing civilians as defeating ‘potential’ terrorists). While the originating story of ISIS begins with Al-Qaeda’s birth in ’79 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq war has spawned ISIS directly. The power vacuum left by the USA in the country led to the consolidation of power over large disputed territories by the group ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ (AQI), which went on to become ISIS.
In 2011, the USA launched its offensive campaign to topple the Assad government in Syria, which was democratically elected (though did perpetrate serious crimes against its people during the Arab Spring). It wasn’t until ISIS captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that US policy shifted to fighting that insurgent group. Recently, the US has announced it no longer seeks to oust President Assad.
What’s left in Syria and Iraq is a bunch of disputed territories, being fought over between the local government security and various insurgent groups, including the last vestiges of ISIS and Kurdish armed forces. It is claimed that ISIS has been driven from the last town they held (though they are desperately executing their prisoners at the loss of land) at the end of 2018. But at the same time, there are terrorist groups waiting for an appropriate opportunity to seize upon in the area. These groups include Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda (which has been defended by US forces in Syria recently), Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is my belief that in the absence of ISIS and with the maintenance of an ideological enemy in the area to fight in US military and NATO forces, that one of these groups will take the place of ISIS.
The Syrian Kurds have had a long time to come to terms with the withdrawal of US forces. While the announcement may have come as a surprise, they have had the opportunity to prepare for this reality since Trumps campaign in 2016. They have recently been in negotiations with the Assad government to avoid a Turkish invasion and slaughter in relation to the ongoing territorial war with the PKK in Turkey. These types of talks indicate some hope for the implementation of a more secular, multicultural society in Syria.
Syria has been identified recently as a beacon of secularism in the Middle East. While the constitution calls for a Muslim in control, it was an example of the more secular states in the Middle East prior to the 2011 regime-change operation from the USA. The Assad regime is murderous and brutal, it did order a crackdown on peaceful protestors in 2011, however the US incursion into Syrian politics with air-strikes and arming insurgencies has ultimately caused more death and extremism to the civilian population than the rulers.
Donald Trump campaigned on the grounds that he would remove forces from America’s ‘forever wars’ in the middle east. He cited the trillion-dollar price tag for these wars as justification for the removal of these forces, rather than any humanitarian or democratic value (perhaps this is implied). But the removal should at worst encourage rulership to fall temporarily to local extremists while the populace organizes a democratic movement and at best stem the tide of anti-western Islamic extremism from the region.
By Nathan Booth