The United States Quitting Syria Could Mean a Little Less War in the World
But many Americans want war, any war
It’s rare when you can get hawkish Republican senators, media liberals, Islamic extremists, neoconservative pseudointellectuals, internet anarchists and retired military talking heads all on the same side, but U.S. president Donald Trump accomplished just that in late December 2018 in announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
There is generalized outrage among factions both openly and inadvertently on the side of U.S. war-making, which covers almost the entire political spectrum in the United States.
The episode is instructive, if also depressing for those who would like less war sometime in the future.
Many Americans met the announcement with surprise. They didn’t even realize the United States had troops in Syria. They likely don’t recognize that the United States is involved in wars in dozens of countries. In many of these countries the troops may not be engaged in combat, exactly, but in many others they are — all without Congressional authorization or meaningful public oversight.
To be honest Congress and the public probably don’t mind. Their reaction to the Syrian withdrawal announcement demonstrates that the political class is more or less universally in favor of such a stance. This runs from the far left convinced the U.S. military is on the side of anarcho-communists in Rojava to the far right convinced this whole thing has something to do with Biblical End Times prophecy.
The principled anti-imperialists in U.S. politics are isolated to the non-interventionist libertarian fringe and Marxist-Leninists of various sorts, but not even all of these.
Everyone else sees the U.S. war-making machine and its trillions of dollars of embedded economic power as their ticket to finally solving all of the world’s problems. If only they could get a hold of it they could use it correctly, destroying all the bad guys and helping all the good guys and ushering in a new golden age.
The only reason it has been an agent of chaos destroying the lives of millions of people for generations now is because it’s been misused by the neocons or the liberals leading from behind or whatever.
What’s truly fascinating to see right now is how so many different, allegedly disparate groups have managed to develop so many different narratives that can justify war in Syria so that they can all believe that Trump is doing the wrong thing right now.
This should be even more surprising considering what a complete mess the Syrian war is, but a closer look at the chaos reveals an underlying order that explains their universal approval of the disaster.
The war began as the United States and its allies opportunistically took advantage of the Arab Spring uprisings against the Baathist government of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.
Al Assad was one of two remaining Arab nationalist leaders hostile to the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi order in the Middle East. The other — Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi — had buried the hatchet with the United States, at least, but his ongoing independence ran contrary to the basic demands of U.S. dominance in the region.
In both Libya and Syria, U.S. military support for the Arab Spring uprisings prompted splits in the military and political orders of those countries, sparking immediate civil wars. This wasn’t a glitch — it was a feature of the U.S. strategy in both countries.
Other opportunistic forces seized upon the resulting vacuum of governance, most notably jihadi extremists. Both conflicts further demonstrated a burgeoning split in the jihadist movement between more “traditional” groups aligned with established Al-Qaeda operations and newer elements aligned with the so-called Islamic State.
As the conflicts advanced the United States entered into political and military alliances with the Al Qaeda-aligned elements against the Qaddafi and Assad states. The ISIS jihadists were against these states too, but also against the United States and our allies, providing a convenient justification for continued deployment.
Rebel Libyans overthrew Qaddafi, of course, and Libya went from an independent republic skeptical of U.S. power to an ongoing inhuman morass and hotbed of jihadist violence. This is what victory looks like for U.S. imperial policy in the region.
At top — U.S. soldiers observe Turkish forces in the distance during a patrol outside Manbij, Syria, on Aug. 19, 2018. Turkish military forces conduct independent, coordinated patrols on their side of the demarcation line. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicole Paese. Above — an A-10 Thunderbolt II departs after receiving fuel from a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on July 6, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride
In Syria the conflict also provided an opening for national groups to seek their independence or autonomy — namely the Kurds. This, plus the general geopolitical opportunity provided by the vacuum, prompted intervention by Turkey.
Finally, the prospect of U.S. victory in the conflict by way of rendering Syria an anarchy of competing forces all acceptable to the United States and its agenda for the region, including an ongoing ISIS threat which would justify continued military occupation, posed a serious threat to the interests of the two main remaining regional skeptics of U.S. power — Russia and Iran.
Both entered the conflict for the purpose of supporting the Al Assad regime, which the United States and its various allies were unable to finally defeat.
Trump’s announcement cites victory over ISIS as grounds for withdrawal, which by its silence implies that he has given up on the war against Al Assad. This, however, was the basic point of the war in the first place, as Al Assad poses an ongoing, if minimal and presumably manageable, obstacle to U.S. imperial dominance of the region and therefore the world.
Every side of the debate in this country benefits from U.S. imperial power, every side wants to be part of running it — even if like some of the fuzzy-headed far left anarchist types they deny this — and so every side has come up with their reasons for hating Al Assad and justifying the continuation of U.S. involvement in Syria.
There are liberals who cite Al Assad’s human rights record, presuming that U.S. intervention would produce something good for human rights for the first time in the history of our involvement in the Middle East.
There are neoconservatives that point to his hostility to Israel and the involvement of Hezbollah on behalf of Iran in the conflict, implying that the Israeli apartheid state is the “good guy” in the region.
There are the anarchists who hope the U.S. military will protect their political experiment in Rojava, begging the question of how anarchist the thing really is if it depends on the U.S. military for its existence.
There are “realists” who want to block “victory” for Russia, promoting the narrative that the country with a military budget about the same as the state budget of Ohio poses a major threat to the United States.
There are true believers that worry that ISIS is still a real threat, eliding the fact that we are propping up other Islamists in its stead.
And finally there are those that just love war for its own sake, that let patriotic pablum justify anything — these are especially useful for the arms-makers that profit from all of the above.
None of this is to say that Trump is acting in some sort of principled manner here. At best he seems to be screwing with his own defense secretary and military leadership in a typically ego-driven manner. At worst he is carrying water for Russia for corrupt, likewise selfish reasons.
Regardless, shouldn’t we celebrate the exit of any party to this conflict? One less set of weapons, one less competing set of interests to complicate the conflict brings it that much closer to an end. This would seem to be the end best for the people of Syria, the folks nobody actually seems to care about except as a rhetorical device.
The one thing we know is that these innocent victims have nothing to offer the corporate interests behind every faction of mainstream U.S. politics, the well-fed observers left and right who profit from their suffering, or the media companies that make their money off telling all these folks what they want to hear. So expect more multipartisan outrage at the horror of the United States making a little less war, and expect this opportunity to pass too.