Syria

The Answer Trump Needs in Syria

Withdrawal and diplomacy is the most prudent path forward in Syria. Not military escalation.

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Laurence Geai/SIPA/Newscom

President Trump says there will be a "big price to pay" for the horrific chemical weapons attack reported in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta, Syria. "If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out and we'll know the answers quite soon," he pledged Monday. "So we're looking at that very strongly and very seriously."

What those answers may be—along with their second- and third-order effects—is anyone's guess. On the one hand, there is the president's well-established aversion to regime change. As a private citizen in 2013, Trump was stridently opposed to military intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime, counseling on Twitter that there is "no upside and tremendous downside" to ousting Assad.

As president-elect, Trump held that line, telling supporters his administration would "stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn't be involved with." And as recently as March 29, Trump mulled ending U.S. military action in Syria now that the Islamic State's presence and power there is decimated. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon," he said. "Let the other people take care of it now."

Trump has never been skeptical of war, but he seeks to avoid regime change projects because his nationalist agenda has no place for the cost and responsibility of foreign nation-building (and, in recent years, cycles of insurgency, military surge, and reconstruction) they inevitably incur. In Syria, this instinct points him away from a military-centric answer to Assad.

But not all Trump's advisors are of the same mind, and the president's few comments about his Syria decision so far—he says the U.S. has "a lot of options militarily," per a Reuters report—suggest these more hawkish voices are winning the day. New National Security Advisor John Bolton particularly will push Trump toward large-scale military action, likely beginning with the sort of missile strike Trump ordered in April 2017 against Assad and escalating from there. Bolton's ideal is for Washington to forcibly remap the greater Mideast, and he will eagerly use Assad's evil and cruelty to push Trump toward that end.

A strike on Syrian regime targets may be inevitable—the big question is what happens next. Will Trump adopt in Syria the hubris of regime change he has rightly decried in Libya and Iraq? Or will he recognize that war on Assad offers no sure route to stability, that it cannot guarantee fewer civilian casualties, that it does not secure an end to the chaos and misery Syria has so long endured?

Reflecting on that 2017 attack, writer Michael Brendan Dougherty raised a point at The Week that is equally pertinent now: Great power intervention in Syria's civil war has almost certainly prolonged the conflict. "When a band of rebels who by themselves have little hope of overthrowing their government can suddenly imagine a major power like the United States intervening on their behalf, the cost of revolution is lowered," he wrote, "The same goes for dictators holding onto a decrepit regime. If Iran and Russia swoop in, the dictator can defer recognizing the reality of his broken rule, and instead of accepting exile, he fights on."

And there is real risk to the great powers, too, as Trump's inclusion of Russia in his remark about forthcoming answers makes starkly clear. Russia's support for the Assad regime means a U.S. military response to Assad risks war with Russia, a nuclear power, as well as its ally, Iran. This is a dangerous game of dominoes, and one in which America has no vital interest to defend but quite a lot to lose.

The most prudent path is the one already announced by the president: to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria's civil war and use the United States' unparalleled diplomatic power to pursue a viable detente in Syria. Sometimes there are no good military options, and we must opt for the least bad policy on the table.

Washington has the power to bring the relevant parties to the negotiating table and demand an arrangement that makes future chemical attacks impossible and begins to address the disastrous conditions causing the Syrian refugee crisis. That would be an answer worth giving.

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69 responses to “The Answer Trump Needs in Syria

  1. What those answers may be?along with their second- and third-order effects?is anyone’s guess.

    It does complicate things for our office pool, “What The Stupid Is Going To Do Next”.

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  2. Good advice, Reason – I think I will give Donald a call later and recommend your article….he is a good listener, you know…

    1. The man brags about not reading. The only people who could stop intervention now are Sean Hannity or Fox and Friends, which is just disturbing to recognize.

      1. Worry, then, because Brian Kilmeade is sounding the war drums loudly.

        1. Brian Kilmeade is a cuck. Fuck him.

  3. The most prudent path is the one already announced by the president: to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria’s civil war and use the United States’ unparalleled diplomatic power to pursue a viable detente in Syria.

    You don’t Make America Grating Again by practicing prudence. You have to grab Prudence by the pussy!

    1. Perhaps our intellectual betters should not have played fast and loose with a conspiracy theory and then falsely claim that Trump’s foreign policy was benefiting Putin. What did everyone think the end goal of Russia fever dreams were? Trump reestablished the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe- “Putin’s puppet” the NYT declared. Trump began arming the Ukrainians- “Putin’s puppet” the NYT declared.

      Do you think goading a self-centered man obsessed with his public image into a confrontation with Russia was ever a good idea? Of course not, now these same people who were demanding war with Russia are now going to pretend like they have no idea why Trump is engaging in this conflict.

      1. Do you think goading a self-centered man obsessed with his public image into a confrontation with Russia was ever a good idea?

        No, but you do have to recognize that reacting to such taunts by making dangerous shows of bravado does speak ill of his maturity and stability as an adult. A friend of mine said that Trump’s behavior reminds him of a little girl who pouts and stomps and yells when she doesn’t get her way.

        1. Yes, of course. No one is denying that the culpability ultimately belongs with the president. What I am saying is that there are a lot of people that deserve blame for being the midwife to this war. Just as it was during the lead-up to the Iraq War. We had the media mainstream a conspiracy theory

      2. “Perhaps our intellectual betters…”

        Want war with Russia. This helps no one but Western (Euro+US) oligarchs. Ever since Putin thwarted the spoils of Soviet capitulation and the Harvard clan, we’ve had it out for him. Hopefully our betters don’t get their way

  4. How does one “look strongly”?

    1. The same way you look bigly.

      1. In both cases the way to do it is to eat your Wheatieslys

  5. Bolton’s ideal is for Washington to forcibly remap the greater Mideast, and he will eagerly use Assad’s evil and cruelty to push Trump toward that end.

    We’ll succeed where the British, the French, the Ottomans, the Sassanids and even the Mongols didn’t!

    He’s not arrogant, my man Bolton. Nah.

    1. Ptolemy and Pompey succeeded, so perhaps Pence as well?

      1. Who knows… Pompey was defeated by Caesar, so….

        1. I think we can agree that Trump is no Caesar.

  6. A dictator in Russia intervenes and helps win the war on the cheap for the dictator in Syria. An oppressive theocracy in Iran intervenes and captures vital territory for it’s strategic economic and security interests. America intervenes and kills the enemy of Iran and Assad then leaves the locals who worked with them to be crushed. I’d like hear the argument against Russia and Iran intervening. Why do they intervene and win so easily?

    1. “I’d like hear the argument against Russia and Iran intervening.”

      Who cares what Russia and Iran want to do. That’s their problem, but at the very least they can justify their intervention by the fact that they border the region. The US has no business in Syria- well, no business that the American people accept as a justifiable reason for intervention

    2. According to the Bush regime – after we conquered Iraq we would be greeted with flowers and then democracy would spread like kudzu all over the Middle East starting in Syria first.

      1. All those Democrats agreed and voted for the AUMF.

        1. About half the Senate Dems believed Bush/cheney lies. Shame on them.

        2. They were lied to and 9/11 made people crazy and the Democrats were always afraid of being labeled as soft by Republicans.

    3. Neither Assad nor Putin are dictators (Russia has flat tax and stock market and elections). Assad has been elected twice, most recently in a multi-candidate election in 2014. Furthermore, the Syrian so-called ‘civil war’ has been a regime-change operation organized by the vile regime in Washington and is proxies, right from the start. And, btw, Russia is not a threat to US. Here are some numbers:

      Russia pop 143 million
      US pop 325m
      NATO pop 906m
      Russia GDP < $2 trillion US GDP > $16trn
      NATO GDP > $36trn
      Russia WWII losses ~20m ejecting Nazis from own land
      US losses in ALL wars ~1m

      Russia is not threat to US unless we attack them first, in which case they would have to use nukes – before we do.

  7. Why the fuck are we still in Afghanistan?

    1. American public: “We are?”

    2. Honest answer: largest repository of rare earth minerals in the world. That’s why we recommitted after Trump promised to get out. About a week before we announced we would be staying, the largest deposits of rare earth minerals were discovered in Afghanistan.

    3. The Afghans need baby sitters. Otherwise corruption will take hold and a civil society like what we enjoy cannot thrive, thus enabling the Taliban to make a comeback with promises to eliminate corruption (which they promised the first time).

      Also, other than Spec Ops troops, I believe only support troops are in Afghanistan.

  8. Trump was stridently opposed to military intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime

    Empathy for a fellow authoritarian strongman wannabe.

    1. So, basically it’s lose, lose with you. Intervention means that he’s a war criminal and non-intervention means he’s Russia’s puppet or sympathetic to a “fellow authoritarian”. You are not well

      1. No. We “won” in Libya.

        “Look people – you don’t like your strongman dictator? We will help you kill him and then its all up to you. Build your own fucking nation.”

        That is about as much as we can “win” over there.

        1. One thing the Constitution allows for is that the USA extra-judicially kill strongman dictators without a declaration of war.

          Its right there in Article VIII.

        2. “No. We “won” in Libya.”

          And the people of Libya lost. I have no idea how anyone can consider Libya “winning”

          1. Libyans hated Gadaffi enough to kill him and drag his body through the streets while they celebrated.

            Hmmmmmm. That would be a nice ending for another strongman.

            1. So then Iraq was a success by your tortured and child-like ‘logic’

        3. “No. We “won” in Libya.”

          And the people of Libya lost. I have no idea how anyone can consider Libya “winning”

        4. “No. We “won” in Libya.”

          And the people of Libya lost. I have no idea how anyone can consider Libya “winning”

        5. If creating a such a total mess of the most stable nation in Africa that it resulted in open-air slave markets, overwhelming numbers of “refugees” looking to overrun the West and rape and pillage on the way is “Winning” I’d rather we lose thank you very much.

    2. He was against intervention before he was for intervention before he was against intervention. Allegedly. We only have Trump’s words for evidence of his position and that’s no more reliable than using a magic 8-ball. Or a regular 8-ball, which is what Trump uses. Allegedly.

  9. Are we operating in Syria still under the continuing resolution from 2001? When is that thing supposed to end? Can we use the continuing resolution from 2001 to engage in nuclear war with Russia? Or does congress need to vote for that?

  10. his nationalist agenda has no place for the cost and responsibility of foreign nation-building

    If that’s what it takes for us to GTFO of the Middle East, more nationalism please.

    1. Israeli nationalism will keep us there.

      1. Israel’s desire to look out for its own interests doesn’t imply that we have to join them.

        1. We don’t have to join them but we have and we are joining them. You want nationalism but the forces in America that use that language are very closely aligned with Israel’s national interest. So the nationalists here are very much not interested in GTFO of the ME.

          1. Then why is Tucker Carlson the only major commentator pushing against war with Syria? You make no sense.

            1. Did you see that smarmy little fuck Carlson was debating about it with last night? Ugh. I wondered to myself when the little turd–who looks to me to be of prime military age–is going to shoulder a rifle and go himself, if it’s so vital. But I know, I know…he has an old football injury or some such.

          2. There does seem to be overwhelming support for Israel among “nationalists” which is concerning. And confusing.

          3. Well, I guess it depends on what one means by “nationalism”. I don’t use it as a synonym for “neo-con” the ways leftists do.

            1. I agree with you Rhywun. But I think Get Lit may have a point about there being neo-cons who would like to subvert the word to their ends.

    2. This is a consequence of nationalism, in the real sense of the word. America first. Not Israel, not Syria, not Britain or NATO or whatever. America. If you take that kind of approach to foreign policy and intervention, it necessarily means less wars over regime change simply for the sake of regime change.

      Doesn’t mean no wars though.

  11. The most prudent path is the one already announced by the president: to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria’s civil war and use the United States’ unparalleled diplomatic power to pursue a viable detente in Syria.

    Presumes without evidence that there is a viable detente available to pursue in Syria.

  12. For the most part this was a decent article on our involvement in Syria, albeit a superficial one. Still, thanks Bonnie for calling for the US to get out of this mess. There is nothing for us to gain and everything for us, the major powers, and the Syrian people to lose by our continued involvement.

  13. Washington has the power to bring the relevant parties to the negotiating table and demand an arrangement that makes future chemical attacks impossible and begins to address the disastrous conditions causing the Syrian refugee crisis. That would be an answer worth giving.

    I don’t think we really have the power to make chemical attacks impossible shy of a complete conquest and occupation of the country. Assad is not the one engaging in chemical warfare, it is the rebels and ISIS. In fact, just prior to the most recent attack in Ghouta, the SRA captured a chemical weapons manufactory in the area that was just hit. This was a Jihadi production facility, in a Jihadi controlled area.

    A month later, the same weapons being manufactured a short distance away were used against a people who had been demonstrating against the Jihadis in favor of Assad. This is likely an act of terror by Jihadists against people who are no longer willing to tolerate or support them, and have thrown in with Assad in a bid for peace and stability. And there’s nothing we can do to prevent such attacks at some mythical negotiating table with the Russians.

  14. “Assad’s evil and cruelty to push Trump toward that end.”

    Assad is neither evil nor cruel. The CW attacks are part fake and part jihadist doings. Assad is defending the Syrian people from terrorists armed by the USG and its proxies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, although the latter two have stopped participating. The intended beneficiary is the Netanyahu regime which does not want a free and prosperous Syria (from which Israel depends on for fresh water flowing in).

  15. “Washington has the power to bring the relevant parties to the negotiating table and demand an arrangement that makes future chemical attacks impossible and begins to address the disastrous conditions causing the Syrian refugee crisis.”

    Forget it. The Syrian people know that the USG is responsible for their “disastrous conditions causing the Syrian refugee crisis”. Putin has been trained in international diplomacy and prefers stability, while the US govt continually destabilizes countries before invading and destroying them.

    Let Putin fix the mess made by Washington. He can do a better job of getting the Iranians to return to Iran and controlling Hezbollah via Assad, once Syria’s borders have been restored.

  16. “Washington has the power to bring the relevant parties to the negotiating table and demand an arrangement that makes future chemical attacks impossible and begins to address the disastrous conditions causing the Syrian refugee crisis.”

    This just seems like wishful thinking to me. “We’re going to remove any military threat, then get all these vicious regimes to sit down and play pattycake” doesn’t seem like a viable option.

    Not that I necessarily want to stay involved over there, but realistically a withdrawl would be more of a “go ahead and keep killing each other, we’re washing our hands of it” scenario than the lovefest proposed above.

    1. A US withdrawal will mean a much quicker end to this conflict, and less loss of life than if we continue to interfere. It won’t be a lovefest by any means, but it’s the best option on the table.

  17. withdrawal is fine but there will only be no diplomacy by the remianing actors, their goals are control

    1. Russia and the Assad regime have Al Qaeda and ISIS cornered or on the run, where they want them in other words. I can’t imagine what Trump could do to get them to sit down and negotiate with the head choppers.

  18. “Washington has the power to bring the relevant parties to the negotiating table ”

    I’m not so sure. I don’t see that the Russians or the Assad regime or the Iranians having any interest in sitting down at the negotiating table with Al Qaeda and ISIS, especially now that they’ve got the head choppers on the run or cornered.

  19. Unfortunately, American diplomacy doesn’t mean anything without America’s military might backing it up. I would like to say that Ms. Kristian has written a thoughtful, insightful article, but her naivet? shines through literally every sentence. The only way the US will get everyone into the same room to talk is by wielding the threat of military power. Everyone else in the world seems to understand this, but not the na?ve pacifists at Reason magazine. Anyway, let’s say that, somehow, America gets everyone in the same room and they somehow manage to hammer out an agreement that everyone can live with. Ahem. Just who does Ms. Kristian think will enforce said agreement? If not America, then who? France? Britain? Russia? Assad? Iran? Bulgaria, maybe? Anyone?

  20. Trump held that line, telling supporters his administration would “stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”

    Reason needs to get their shit together and see the different between limited, punitive military attacks, and regime change.

    Well, actually, Reason obviously doesn’t need to get its shit together, as evidenced by years of Open Borders ranting by Shikha.
    Carry on with the clueless nonsense.

  21. Ingin perang dengan Rusia. Ini tidak membantu siapa pun kecuali oligarki Barat (Euro + AS). Sejak Putin menggagalkan rampasan Uni Soviet dan klan Harvard, kami sudah memilikinya. Semoga atasan kami tidak tersesat

  22. Jika menciptakan kekacauan total di negara yang paling stabil di Afrika yang mengakibatkan pasar budak di udara terbuka, jumlah besar “pengungsi” yang ingin menyerbu Barat dan pemerkosaan dan penjarahan dalam perjalanan adalah “Menang” saya lebih suka kami kehilangan terima kasih banyak.

  23. Menurut rezim Bush – setelah kami menaklukkan Irak, kami akan disambut dengan bunga dan kemudian demokrasi akan menyebar seperti kudzu di seluruh Timur Tengah yang dimulai di Suriah dulu.

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