While the dramatic US withdrawal from Syria is making headlines, little is being said about proposed withdrawal from Afghanistan or Iraq. The United States has invested trillions of US dollars in all three wars, with great loss of life, and little to show in positive results. But is there a bigger picture in Washington? Recent events outline an emerging pattern that may point the way to a new potential strategy for the execution of US foreign policy.
As pointed out by author and intellectual Tom Luongo, the departure of Joseph « Operation Iraqi Oil » Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on September 30th was a significant geopolitical event. Recall that Dunford was the highest-ranking military officer and regular military advisor to the president.
Dunford on Syria:
« Our primary partners on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces, have been successful in recovering a large swath of ground in northeast Syria.. The SDF’s recent operations in the town of Shaddadah effectively severed the last major artery that connected Raqqa and Mosul. Over time, the size of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and specifically the Arab component inside the Syrian Democratic Forces, has grown. And our focus right now is on continuing to – continuing that trend to grow the capabilities of the Syrian Democratic Forces.. »
Dunford On Afghanistan:
« Last summer highlighted, though, that the Afghan forces continue to need our support to build their capacity, specifically in areas like logistics, special operations, aviation capability, what I’d call broadly ministerial capacity. »
And as Dunford stated in 2016, « First, the Russian military presents the greatest array of threats to U.S. interests. Despite declining population, shrinking economy, Russia has made a significant investment in military capabilities, » addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
These are the words of Dunford the career military officer, dutifully providing career military advice to a non-career president, that will keep US military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria… seemingly forever. All debacles that the US itself created. While such military adventures may work wonders for the military budget, the loss in lives, treasure, and US prestige over many decades cannot be calculated, estimated, or even imagined.
Now with the passing of the Dunford regime as Joint Chief in September, General Milley steps in, with significant changes to public policy already on display. For example, Milley’s commissioned study of the Iraq war — long awaited and delayed by military pressure to prevent release of a largely negative report — was publicly released by Milley in January of 2019. The report states, “that coalition warfare (in Iraq) was ‘largely unsuccessful’ for several reasons, that failing to account for a lack of understanding of the inner workings of Iraqi politics and group struggles’ in part led to failure there. That’s an account that Dunford was unlikely to approve, and may have caused him to delay. So, with the departure of Dunford and Mattis as we shall see, the way forward for US disengagement from Syria’s northeast was made possible.
Earlier in June of 2019, the president appointed Mark Esper as Secretary of Defense to replace Jim « Mad Dog » Mattis. The schism with Mattis originated with the proposed US disengagement from Syria, which was a significant departure point for Mattis. The Syria rift was enough to provoke Mattis to say to the president, “You’re going to have to get the next Secretary of Defense to lose to ISIS. I’m not going to do it.” Considering Mattis’s great stature as a military man, such a statement from him borders on insubordination. After all, who is subordinate Mattis to second guess the president? Internal sources claim that Mattis had disagreements with Joint Chief’s appointment Milley too, over Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
With Mattis’s resignation, Trump appointed Mark Esper, a former senior executive at Raytheon, as Secretary of Defense. Esper is seen as more of a pragmatist and corporate type, perhaps willing to entertain Mr Trump’s views about ending pointless wars and provocations in the Middle East. Esper is still an unknown quantity in Washington, with largely a corporate background, but seems willing to back the president publicly, to an extent lacking in Mattis.
Next, recall that on September 10th, 2019, John Bolton was let go as National Security Advisor. Bolton’s termination was almost as startling as the fact that he was ever hired in the first place. While the scope of John Bolton’s rise and fall is beyond scope here, Bolton’s impact was certainly felt when the president originally announced an US withdrawal from Syria almost one year ago, then Bolton subsequently appeared in public to walk back that statement. On the heels of other embarrassing public statements, most notably involving US policy toward North Korea and Venezuela, Bolton was fired last month.
Bolton’s successor as National Security Advisor is Robert O’Brien, a senior partner in a respected Washington law firm. O’Brien takes a low-key approach; his legal background presents quite a contrasting style and character to that of his predecessor. O’Brien’s twitter page makes little reference to his position, whereas John Bolton used his twitter page as a platform to seriously ridicule political opponents, and to incite all others.
So far, there is little indication that O’Brien will be an activist advisor. According to reports (perhaps inaccurate) O’Brien’s only action has been to rather awkwardly intervene in the Sacoolas affair. In other words, O’Brien is apparently not the sort to upstage his boss, or to publicly announce reversals to the president’s plans. Which underlines a most important point about the AUMF.
While a disheveled, confused, and motley crew in US Congress – whether Democrat or Republican – may bemoan the president’s authority to intervene in places that the US does not belong, it was Congress that provided the president with that authority. The Authorization for Use of Military Force was passed by Congress in September of 2001, just subsequent to the blowback of the twin towers attacks. The AUMF has been invoked ever since to allow aggression in Afghanistan, Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Djibouti and even Kenya.
Based on post-911 hysteria, the US Congress essentially gave any US president the authority to invade and occupy any sovereign nation that the president so desires, under just about any pretext that can be construed as “terrorist acts”. Regardless of personal feeling about the matter, it is quite clear that such war power held by the Executive was never envisaged by the Founders or US Constitution, and that a spineless and largely corrupt US Congress is unable to reverse its unconstitutional and despicable act. So, Lindsey Graham and Pelosi may grandstand and prance about with great hysteria about Syria to their heart’s content, feigning ignorance of the AUMF that they so engineered, to create the very predicament to whit they so vociferously object.
Thus, due to Congress’s despicable AUMF, Mr Trump is able to act individually on Syria to end the crisis just as his predecessor created it. Another intriguing element is that of Israel, mostly speculation, although borne out by the conflict map. On the conflict map, any element relating to “unidentified warplanes” always relates to Israel. Somewhat limited in the areas in which it may operate, Israel has been regularly bombing suspected Iranian troop emplacements in Iraq, Syria, and southern Lebanon for many months now.
Due to the presence of upgraded S-300’s and now-operational S-400’s around Damascus, Israel has been limited to bombing the region around al Bukamal and al Qaim in eastern Syria, on the fringe of the Syrian oil fields, or southern Lebanon. In other words, Israel has been taking a more provocative role in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, while the US has been dialing-back. Reminiscent of the Nixon Doctrine, and Haig under Reagan, Mr Trump is likely telling Israel to engage in its own aggression versus Syria, using Israel’s advanced and expensive (mostly) US weaponry, instead of relying in the United States to fight Israel’s wars.* If so, such a development would represent quite a change to US policy.
Likewise, evidence exists that Mr Trump is now impatient with Netanyahu. Mr Trump likes ‘winners’ and has little time for losers. It is already apparent that Netanyahu cannot form a new government. If so, that creates friction until Gantz forms a government, however Gantz’s ability to form a government is questionable too. As such, how Israel will go forward with the many challenges it faces internally and externally may call into question its highly dependent relationship to the United States. And, the big Israeli donors who helped Trump in 2016 may not be as relevant this time around.
To add to the fray, consider the surprising advocacy by billionaire plutocrats to end US intervention in Afghanistan. The Koch proposal to end US intervention in Afghanistan appeared in the press just one week subsequent to the departure of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.
According to the president of the Koch organization, “The 18-year war in Afghanistan continues to cost precious lives and is exacerbating our nation’s fiscal crisis. President Trump is right to pursue his promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. We need to focus our foreign policy on what is necessary to keep America safe, prosperous and free.”
Generally associated with pushing for lower taxes and Corporate “free trade” (read: monopolization and conglomeration) is it surprising that Plutocrats might push for disengagement from foreign interventionism? Prima facie the foregoing indicates a signal change to the continuous history of US aggression and foreign interventionism since 1950.
With the bigger picture in mind, let’s consider the entire structure and policy of US interventionism since 1950, where the idea is not to “win” any war, but to create a Failed State or Vassal State to serve the interest of the global Hegemon.
In the Herland Report interview with Joaquin Flores, Mr Flores describes the western motivation for failed states:
Create a political vortex/vacuum to draw in political adversaries to their detriment
Privately exploit the resources of the Failed State for gain
Deny direct responsibility for government, subsidy, or maintenance of the Failed State
Use the Failed State as an example to others, and conquer its people by fragmentation/ division
Regardless of the means or motivation, the US-Israeli goal in Syria was not for regime change, but to create a failed state. The means and motivation to create that Syrian failed state have expired, just as in Iraq, and in Libya, where the US lacks the resources to exploit.**
Besides Syria, we must consider US attempts to render both Venezuela and Iran as failed states too, and those attempts have failed. The United States is not in a position, economically or militarily, to fully enforce the five pillars of US power in 2020; while we still don’t know but can only suspect that the bottom line is economic. Despite the financial games played by the West, the greed of the Warfare State has perhaps finally caught up with it, where the hard, cold bottom line is that the US cannot afford to pursue endless war any longer.
For one thing, it is difficult to dissent versus financial collapse. Even a president cannot do that. If the only hope for the future is to turn back the ultimately profitless, ever-growing, and omnipresent Warfare and Surveillance State, then that is what must be done. It’s an omnipresent Warfare and Surveillance State that has been growing almost exponentially, but can no longer be afforded — even by the constant production of fiat currency — or morally tolerated.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Since May, we have seen rapid and surprising developments: mysterious attacks on shipping in the Gulf; the downing of an RQ-4 reaper by Iran; strikes on Saudi oil infrastructure; the departure of key flamboyant cabinet members in US National Security and Defense to be replaced with unknowns; the withdrawal of US troops from Syria (except al Tanf) and various proposals (including billionaires) for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
A further indication of US policy thawing and ‘détente’ in the Middle East is to remove US troops from Iraq, for the US to engage Iran in peace talks, while distancing itself from Saudi-inspired terror, and pressing for peace in Yemen… and for the US to acquiesce to what surely must eventually be an armistice between Turkey and the Kurds in northeastern Syria.
That all of the foregoing will certainly infuriate Israel must be calculated with the prospect of Israel’s own waning power. The question now is not how to “make America great again” … but how to save it. Meanwhile, let Pelosi, Graham, and Schumer shout out their frustrations.
*If the SNA and even Turkish forces were able to employ upgraded S-300’s around the Syrian oil fields, that region of Syria would be off-limits to the IAF.
**Ironically, Turkey has exploited those Libyan resources via Misrata oil, in reaction to Iranian oil sanctions imposed by the US.
Steve Brown is the author of « Iraq: the Road to War » (Sourcewatch) editor of « Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq » (Sourcewatch) « Trump’s Limited Hangout » and « Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913 ». Steve is an antiwar activist, a published scholar on the US monetary system, and has appeared as a guest contributor to The Duran, Fort Russ News, and Strategika51.