Trump’s decision to leave Syria

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Link here. A less favorable analysis can be read here.

It is very clear, as the first article notes, that Trump was making the same decision as Reagan did back in the earlier 1980s in Lebanon. You either fight a war hard, without hesitation, aiming for complete victory, or you get out. Anything in between wastes lives, money, and only makes a bad situation worse. Reagan in Lebanon chose the latter. I suspect Trump today in Syria was doing the same.

The bad part of this is that our political leadership since 1945 had routinely chosen the middle, wishy-washy route, which has failed time after time and left us where we are today. This Babylon Bee satire article, “Trump Criticized For Breaking With Longstanding American Tradition Of Remaining In Middle Eastern Countries Indefinitely”, captures perfectly the insane approach to foreign policy by our elitist culture that they have followed for decades. It is not that they don’t want to make positive changes and help America’s strategic position globally, it is that they have no desire to make the real and possibly very violent commitments necessary to accomplish their goals. They instead do the insane thing, doing the same indecisive thing over and over, even though doing that thing is guaranteed to fail, every single time.

Trump at least made a firm decision, that in the short run will likely save American lives and money. In the long run, however, we continue to put our heads in the sand. We do not want to deal with the violent evil in the world, both at home and abroad, that is gaining power and dominance. This weakness is eventually going to bite us, badly.

Hat tip to Kirk Hilliard for prodding me to report on this story. I admit to being lax about reporting it. Since the election, my desire to read hard news has waned somewhat, though it is probably still far more extensive than most people. I see very bad things coming, and have found little in the news to reassure me that I am wrong. And I hate reporting bad and depressing news. I saw this story in a number of news outlets but just didn’t have the urge to read and report it.


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  • Kirk

    Here is Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter.

    The crux is:
    My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity, and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
    Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my positions.

  • Phill O

    Bob, your analysis seems quite clear and to the point and in line with my own! Strange that. The end results is not good, for the head in the sand approach. The free world does not have the stomach to confront evil. This is not a problem for the terrorist side. Israel will the country that gets the biggest hit.

    Korea, Vietnam and Somalia for just a few examples of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The employment of the atomic bomb was the last real decision which, in the end, saved millions of lives, both American and Japanese.

    Marg Thatcher made a real decision with the Falkland Islands.

    Putin made decisions in terms of the Crimea; weakness was our response!

  • MDN

    GW tried to pursue the Mattis strategy, got a reasonable fraction of the free world to go along, and we still failed for many reasons. The French and Germans undercut our effort from the start. Our alliance terms were too harsh (support the war or no post war reconstruction contracts was dumb as that is the most expensive part and when you need support the most). We weren’t prepared or didn’t have the confidence to establish/impose baseline security in the immediate aftermath of winning the direct armed conflict and allowed anarchy to take hold. And the time wasted allowed our own politics to jump in where half of our own country turned against it as a way to regain their power. Even so, Bush persevered through the surge and handed Obama a stable if fragile success, only to have the Petulant One grab all our toys up and go home. Too bad, because THAT was the time to stand tough. The day of the Blue Fingers the shock across the middle east and triggered a thirst for change (Tahrir square, the Iranian Green movement, etc.) and if we had held on real change was possible. How sad it was wasted.

    Beyond withdrawing from Iraq Obama ignored ISIS, went wobbly on Iran, killed Gaddafi and destabilized Egypt’s western border, handed Russia an entre back into the region by bungling his stand with Syria on WMDs, and surged in Afghanistan (a country even GW had the sense to see was a bridge too far to ever get too involved in). So by the time Trump got the ball the region was back to square one on the chaos meter.

    IMHO pulling out of Syria is the right thing for now. What is the benefit to us to keeping troops there, other than a vain attempt to retain an abysmal status quo? Is that something we really want to ask our armed forces to die for? I think not. Plus, everyone says that ISIS has gone into hiding and will now come back. Well good! That way we’ll know who and where they are and we can kill them. Nothing says we won’t keep a few special op types around to keep tabs on things, and in fact taking this tact probably makes it more likely we can further degrade ISIS. And finally, we don’t depend on middle eastern oil, China does. So let them get involved with the tar baby and carry some of the water for a change. They want to be a super power, so here’s their chance. And since they won’t dick around trying to be polite maybe they will be more successful. I’m sure the ISIS thugs will love the re-education camps they establish for making T-shirts for Western college snowflakes to help them fund the aftermath.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • wodun

    Syria is a terrible environment to fight in due to all the warring parties. The only reason to be there is to prevent our “NATO ally” Turkey from genociding them and the “moderate” Syrians are remarkably similar to Al Qeyda. We only went in to take out ISIS and that is largely done. The war was never voted on by congress and what is the point of it all? Take out Assad? And then what?

    People who want us to stay in Syria need to be able to articulate why we are there and what the grand strategic vision is and what that is worth the loss of life and treasure.

    Afghanistan is much the same. We can at least point to a reason for being there and what we want to see the country like but the problem is that we can not win a war without going to where the enemy is. The Taliban are in Pakistan. Unless we go into Pakistan and drive them out, there can be no victory. In WWII, we went were the enemy was and we destroyed their means of production.

    I could get behind either war but only if there was clarity of purpose, approval of congress, and a strategy that employs age old techniques to win wars.

    I am not sure how to take Mattis’ comments on alliances. He could mean sticking up for the Kurds, and I agree with that. They have been our only allies over there. But when it comes to NATO, China, and Russia, Trump has been very staunch in demanding NATO step up their game and has been quite clear on the dangers of China while being willing to get Russia to on some common problems. What do people want, war in Ukraine?

    The time to dethrone Assad was when Obama made his red line promise or prior to that. The time to do something about Ukraine was when Russia invaded.

    Europe is a mess right now due in large part to the blunders of Obama and Hillary going into Libya and unleashing ISIS on the world. The EU brings a lot of the problems onto themselves through poor governance. Trying to get Europe to ship up isn’t an attack on our alliance but rather an effort to get our friends to change their behavior.

    Personally, I would like to see us stay in Afghanistan and Syria but only if there is clarity of purpose and we fight to win. If we can’t fight the Taliban in Pakistan, it makes no sense to continue the effort. If we can’t declare a homeland for the Kurds and help them defend it from Turkey, it makes no sense for us to be there either. Who in congress would vote for the things that make success possible?

  • MDN

    I lament the plight of the Kurds as well but it was Obama foolishly forfieting our dearly bought strategic position in Iraq that did them in. Given that what can the US really do? And at what cost? The talking heads today will blame Trump (so what else is new) but historians will judge this to be the consequence of Obama’s policies.

  • Wodun

    The crazy thing is people will say Trump doesn’t want NATO to exist and that the Kurds need protection. It’s crazy because protecting the Kurds means potentially going to war with Turkey, a NATO ally.

    Turkey is a counter to Russia and we want Turkey on our side against Russia and Iran. Turkey has there own ideas and is trending toward a rejuvenation of the last caliphate, the Ottoman empire. They are not a good ally.

    The only way to protect the Kurds, our good ally, is to allow them to declare their own country, to recognize it, and to build bases there to protect them from Russia, Syria, Iran, and NATO.

    Are there other alternatives to protect the Kurds? Will there ever be a vote in congress on war in Syria and the establishment of a Kurdish country?

  • Andrew


    In the article there is mention of the wishy washy way our leadership behaves. I have a high confidence that this is due to the old “cold war” concerns. Much of our career foreign affairs folks, (deep staters) have inherited an Anti-Russia attitude far more appropriate to the old Soviet Union than to modern Russia.

    They have inherited the same Cold War Fears that led the M.A.D. and detente, i.e. “Don’t make waves less you invoke nuclear annihilation.”, and thus, “Don’t confront Russia”. Problem is, militarily Russia is a meager shadow of the threat the old Soviet Union was.

    Still, this “wishy-washy” behavior is, in my opinion, a legacy of fear inherited from the necessities of the Cold War.

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