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Syria Shows Not Much Has Changed Under Trump's Foreign Policy

The cautious prudence the U.S. desperately needed after a decade and a half of shoot-from-the-hip interventionism has been relegated to a talking point.

It was March 29, a brisk spring day in Ohio, and President Donald Trump was speaking about his infrastructure plan to a crowded arena. But the comment that grabbed many people's attention was not about roads or bridges. It was on Syria, and Trump's message was simple: U.S. troops would soon be packing up their bundles and coming home.

"We're knocking the hell out of ISIS," he said. "We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now." A week later, at the White House, he told his national security team that he wanted U.S. forces to pull out as soon as the mission could be declared a success.

If you didn't know better, you might have thought it was 2016 and Trump was still a presidential candidate trying to separate himself from the knee-jerk interventionism that has defined U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Back then, his foreign agenda lacked details but offered a theme: The United States would be tough on terrorists and confront Iran, but American taxpayers would no longer write checks to build schools in Afghanistan or accept the deployment of unlimited troops for unlimited durations with unachievable, unnecessary missions. In short, we would be far pickier in deciding where and how to use military force.

The first 16 months of the Trump presidency, however, have been anything but the clear-eyed pragmatism he promised on the campaign trail. With the exception of his crackdown on free trade, the president's foreign policy has turned out to be exceedingly establishmentarian in its orientation. Diplomats and government officials from previous administrations may have concerns about Trump's curious respect for strongmen, but the fear many hawks harbored about a U.S. retrenchment (and the hope some libertarians felt that this might be the start of a less interventionist era) was apparently misplaced.

Take Afghanistan, a war now in its 17th year, which started as a just mission to eliminate those responsible for 9/11. Years before Trump declared his presidential aspirations, he wrote what many Americans believed about the war: that it had become a strategic blunder. In 2012, he called it "a total disaster" that proved America's leaders didn't know what they were doing. A year later, he tweeted his support for "a speedy withdrawal." Trump, after all, was a businessman, and Afghanistan was a losing investment. "Why should we keep wasting our money?" he asked.

Yet once he had the power to actually pull out American troops, Trump deferred to a national security team led by establishment figures such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and then–National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. As in previous administrations, the generals got what they requested—no change in strategy, just more time and resources.

Of course something similar is now playing out in Syria. Trump has taken the very approach that he counseled against in 2013—all without obtaining congressional approval, as the Constitution requires.

His decision to launch a punitive missile attack against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for that regime's use of chemical weapons was precisely the opposite of what Trump had recommended when he was a private citizen. "We should stay the hell out of Syria," he wrote on Twitter in 2013—nothing good would come from direct U.S. military involvement, and as terrible as Assad is (and he is indeed loathsome), the people who would ride into Damascus could be even worse. Yet this year, at the conclusion of an interagency debate, Trump settled on intervention—an operation that would have been even more extensive were it not for Mattis' push to keep the strikes as limited as possible and ensure they don't escalate into a full-scale military confrontation with the Russians.

There are many more examples of Trump veering toward mainstream interventionism. (In May, he announced he was reimposing sanctions on Iran and pulling out of the nuclear deal with that country struck under Obama.) The bottom line is clear: The cautious prudence the United States desperately needed after a decade and a half of shoot-from-the-hip interventionism has been relegated to a political talking point.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    There are many more examples of Trump veering toward mainstream interventionism. (In May, he announced he was reimposing sanctions on Iran and pulling out of the nuclear deal with that country struck under Obama.) The bottom line is clear: The cautious prudence the United States desperately needed after a decade and a half of shoot-from-the-hip interventionism has been relegated to a political talking point.

    Trump has not been like Booosh or Obama with regard to foreign interventions. The main difference is that trump has only added 4000 troops to Afghanistan and added a small number of US forces to fight ISIS in Syria.

    Trump has not started a single new conflict. Yet that is.

    To me, the best foreign policy is to close all US military bases outside the USA and pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Finish up Syria and withdraw within 30-60 days. Pull out of NATO. Give less than a year to resolve Korea and then pull troops from there too.

    This does not mean that we need to say when we are pulling out, just do it to not give any enemies a chance to attack our departure. US troops can still train with foreign militaries to maintain joint force readiness.

    Then remind hostile nations that if you attack the USA, we will defend ourselves militarily and then leave you to your rubble houses.

  • Adans smith||

    + 1 I like the way you think.

  • Z565||

    What fucking difference does it make if the military is in Germany or New Jersey if we're spending the same about of money either way? If you want the troops to come (go) home then stop voting for Republicans and guys like Trump who just pushed through a record military budget. Not only did Trump throw money at the military but he also did it by agreeing with Democrats to increase domestic spending. We might as well use the god damn military if we have one. We use it to protect our economic interests and project power around the world.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It cost far more to station troops overseas than in the USA.

  • Z565||

    Then stop supporting people like Trump who want bigger military budgets. If you decrease the military budget the experts would then have determine the best use of the remaining resources. Maybe if means closing a base in Germany and opening a new one in New Jersey but those decisions should be determined our national interests.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You cannot even look past the TDS to see that Trump does not want large military budgets forever. He wants government to shrink, including the military. He wants some things cut while others things to receive more money. Overall cuts to the budget though.

    He just thinks that the military is funded by a disfunctional Congress who forces equipment on the military that they don't want or are not needed to fulfill current missions.

  • Eric||

    "He just thinks that the military is funded by a disfunctional Congress who forces equipment on the military that they don't want or are not needed to fulfill current missions."

    That folks is called - projection. Protip - Trump doesn't "think"....he feels.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Hey dumb-dumb, nearly every major US military unit is already attached to a US military installation.

    New bases would not need to be opened unless the numbers of divisions were expanded or more airfields were needed.

    The states provide Army National Guard bases which supplement active Army units. Similar thing with Air National Guard units.

    Trump has listened to certain military professionals to learn that expanding the overall size of the military is not needed but how the US military is structured and supplied. In other words, the US military has a bunch of brass and command fat that be cut or reassigned.

  • Conchfritters||

    We might as well use the god damn military if we have one.

    That's a hell of a recruiting strategy. "Join us and you are almost guaranteed to go to war!"

  • Z565||

    My point is more one of since we're stuck with Trump (people who want to increase military spending) we might as well make the best use of those purchases as opposed to randomly closing down strategic bases to moth ball the same fucking troops here.

  • Shirley Knott||

    If nothing else, the logistics of removing our troops from the many countries in which they serve would provide weeks, probably months, of warning that the withdrawal was in play.
    This is inherent in the sheer number of resources involved.

    Then there's the huge problem of all the contractors and cronies who feed off the massive deployments.
    To say nothing of what to do with the troops and materials once we bring them home.

    It would take at least a decade, and far greater political willpower than exists or can be seen looming, to accomplish such a world-wide draw down.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It could take a decade but does not have to.

    Every military base overseas could be cleared out overnight with multiple MAC flights or march all our troops to an awaiting transport ship. Store all excess material in warehouses like the military already does. Clearing out government server farms for NSA domestic spying would provide a good amount of space.

    With that being said, a 3-6 month departure schedule would not be unreasonable nor unfeasible. Using judgment on when to leave dangerous battle areas would be prudent.

  • Conchfritters||

    Why are we still defending Italy? Are they in imminent danger?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Italy is a staging point for North Africa, the Balkans, and ME.

    Just like the US military in Britain is there as defense in depth for mainland Europe.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Each military base individually perhaps, but I'm going to see citations to back that up.
    All military bases in a single night? Yeah, no. Not without leaving literal boatloads of stuff behind. We couldn't even do it with the obsolete nuclear weapons storage site in Turkey, and that seems to have been largely unopposed.
    Then there's the off-base housing, etc.
    You've never managed a large distributed legacy project, have you?

    But what's even more unfeasible is detaching the crony ticks from the rich flood of sustenance their contracts provide. I strongly doubt any, or even a majority, of those contracts have a 'terminate at will' provision the government could use.

    Look, if it takes us years to find corruption in admirals in South East Asia, what are the chances of making this happen against either the logistical problems or the political?
    The minute word of the planning leaked, the lawsuits and ginned-up outrage would start. Then the State Dept. steps in, funded by all the foreign nationals with their own embedded cronies.

    It's a nice fantasy, but it IS a fantasy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I have never managed a large legacy project and neither have you. Its not rocket science though.

    Off-base housing as well as all US property is sold or returned to the people leasing it to the USA. Bases like Germany can have all military persons board commercial flights home. All surplus weapons and material can be removed before moving night. Heavy equipment is forward staged with allies or transported to ports for removal via Merchant marine ships. Military planes are flown home.

    101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions deploy to dangerous areas to allow regular units to safely leave. Since the airborne units are quick deploy, they can quickly depart too.

    The US military could pull it off. It would also show that the USA can depart in 1 day and can return in 1 day too.

    Any country that really wants the US military there can pay the USA to have some stuff forward deployed.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Yes, actually, I have.
    Large, distributed, and legacy, with regulatory issues and deep entanglements with vendors and contractors.
    Institutional inertia coupled with internal and external vested interests are far more difficult problems than the mission goals of the project. They are, in fact, the hard part of meeting mission goals.

    You are indulging in fantasies based on nothing more than an outsider's view of military rapid deployments and absurd assumptions that withdrawal is as easy as insertion. That is effectively never the case.
    Conditions are very different when dealing with long-standing sites such as exist in, e.g., Korea and Germany.

    I repeat — if it took us years to catch on to the corruptions in admirals and their staffs in S.E. Asia, if we couldn't cleanly bug-out of the obsolete and frighteningly dangerous site in Turkey, neither of which you have addressed, we can't fulfill on your fantasy.
    Nor have you touched on the vast entrenched political forces that enrich themselves and their cronies with all the roadblocks they can bring to bear.

    You do not know what you are talking about and you're not interested in thinking about the very real problems inherent in your fantasy.

    You are a type specimen for why grandiose projects fail.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You have managed a military base closure or other large multiple base troop movement? I call Bullshit!

    I was in the military. Without revealing where I was stationed or what I did, I can still admit that I have never managed a large legacy project like we were discussing. Neither have you.

    It would also be relevant here that as a military historian, I write about huge military movements that were larger than the overseas base closures we were discussing. If the Germans and Japanese in WWII could do major troops movements lacking good transportation assets, then the USA and its modern mobile forces surely could do it.

    Hopefully you don't work in government. Your excuses are why business does it bigger, better, and faster than government.

  • Shirley Knott||

    That was not your assertion — nice job of moving the goalposts you dishonest fuckwit.
    I have managed a large distributed legacy project, as claimed.
    You haven't.
    You're exactly the kind of pompous blowhard who causes projects to fail.
    The problem isn't business or government, it is size, complexity and system interactions.
    You ignore all the hard parts and triumphantly proclaim "we could surely do it."
    Not even believable in fiction.

  • Shirley Knott||

    And just BTW, Brexit is an excellent example of how these sorts of fantasies play out.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Haha. Brexit is your counter-point?

    Jesus, we were discussing rapid base closures under a military top down plan.

    You are trying to equate a socialist bureaucracy leaving the European Union which is itself a socialist bureaucracy. Furthermore you have people in Britain actively sabotaging the exit after the will of people was to leave.

    You're right though, bureaucrats sabotaging military base closures and new enemies shooting as us because of leaked departure plans might slow down the plan a bit.

    You're fantasies always have the USA losing, don't they?

    Be an American not an American't.

  • Shirley Knott||

    The military is a socialist bureaucracy, enmeshed within a political web of cronyism.
    Brexit is an example simply because it's big, complex, and being mismanaged to hell and back precisely because of the networks of internal and external special interests.
    Extracting Britain from the EU was supposed to be straightforward and timely, mostly by folks with no clue how complex systems actually operate.
    Meanwhile, you think there'd be no problems with an overnight pullout of all US troops from overseas.
    I don't think the DSM even has a category for that kind of crazy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Of course, I don't have a mental illness.

    The DSM has plenty of categories for you.

    I never said there would be no problems but that it could be done.

  • Z565||

    The simple answer is to stop throwing fucking money at the military and make those motherfuckers prioritize how they want to use the money left over. But no we have complete fucking retards like confuck1789 and this insanity where people like Trump lobby tooth and nail to increase military while essentially complaining about spending money on the military.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Cucks like Z565 blab like little elementary school kids because they have never been anywhere nor done anything.

  • damikesc||

    I'd wonder how much of the policy about Syria is based on the idiotic "He's Putin's puppet" nonsense and us leaving puts Putin in charge.

    As if Putin being in charge of that shit show is a religion.

    We should pull out of Afghanistan. We should pull out of Syria. Neither are in our interests.

  • damikesc||

    "Religion" FFS. A problem. God knows what I was thiking.

  • Z565||

    It's more about Iran's involvement in Syria and how our good pals Israel and Saudi Arabia feel about that.

  • Robert||

    In a nutshell, that's what Steve Cohen thinks: that the Democrats have backed Trump into antagonism to the Russians to prove he's not a Putin Pal.

  • Teddy Pump||

    Obviously you do not understand how the NWO Zionist-Globalist Elites that run the world think.....These wars were never about Terrorism & were never meant to be won,, but they were for creating chaos, death, destruction, refugees, bogus nation-building & economic collapse & then more wars, interventions & conflicts while the coffers of the Pols, Bureaucrats, Think Tanks & Military-Industrial Complex fill up, the Pols gain more power & control & build the Police/Surveillance more & more on their way to their sick fantasy of a One-world Govt./Economy!

    If we really wanted to stop Radical Islam why would the USA get rid of secular leaders like Saddam, Qaddafi, & Mubarak & try to get rid of Assad?....All these guys, while no angels, hated radical Muslims & were a bulwark against them a protector of Christians~

  • Rich||

    pull out as soon as the mission could be declared a success.

    That is, NOW?!

  • Citizen X||

    he wanted U.S. forces to pull out as soon as the mission could be declared a success

    Talk about your open-ended pledge.

  • Jerryskids||

    In 2012, he called it "a total disaster" that proved America's leaders didn't know what they were doing.

    That's about the sum total of all of Trump's complaints, we make bad deals every which way because everybody but Trump is a dumb loser. Now that he's in charge, we're going to start making good deals, smart deals, great big yuge beautiful deals, tremendous, fantastic deals. If you bothered paying the least bit of attention to the man, you can see what Trump considers making a silk purse out of a sow's ear - it's easy, you just slap the Trump name on it - preferably in big gold letters - and, voila, it's now the greatest thing in the world.

  • Citizen X||

    +1 overcooked steak

  • Rhywun||

    "Trumpistan" has a nice ring to it.

  • Rhywun||

    "Trumpistan" has a nice ring to it.

  • Conchfritters||

    Assad is a fucking moron. Instead of gassing his people, if he only would have praised Trump and went on record declaring what a winner Trump is, we would be out of that shit hole country. I'm beginning to see why his people fucking hate him. No wonder Putin is pulling most of their troops out of there.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The poor Russians are just looking for a warm water port to avoid winter locked Russian ports. They cannot catch a break.

  • Teddy Pump||

    Only one problem: He never gassed his own people....Do you believe all the crap the CIA-backed media puts out about these wars?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The cautious prudence the United States desperately needed after a decade and a half of shoot-from-the-hip interventionism has been relegated to a political talking point.

    Relegated? Is there any evidence that it was ever anything more than a talking point? What he tweets doesn't matter, it's what he does in office that's important, right?

  • wootendw||

    "...Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for that regime's use of chemical weapons..."

    Assad is not a dictator. He has been elected three times, most recently in a multi-candidate election in 2014. His English wife, Asma, has degrees in computer science and French literature and has worked as an investment banker. Syria's GDP tripled between 2000 and 2010 under the Assads' reform program. That is anathema to Israel, especially the Netanyahu regime which openly admits to preferring ISIS and supports head-chopping jihadists. There is no evidence Assad has ever used chemical weapons except that provided by terrorists, including the UK-organized "White Helmets" - head-choppers who pretend to be first responders but only aid ISIS, alQaida and alNusra (except when the cameras are running).

    Assad will be even more popular as enclaves - which once opposed him (eg Ghouta) but now prefer him to the USG/UK/Israeli/Saudi-armed Islamic terrorists - are liberated from the horrors they have been living under the past seven years.

    The Syrian so-called 'civil war' has been the vilest regime-change operation the West has ever attempted. While Saddam and Qaddafi were not as bad as the Saudis, they weren't angels either. Syria under the Assads, husband and wife, was a good country, not libertarian but more so than any other ME nation. The USG is not morally fit to judge them, much less arm terrorists to overthrow them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Bashar al-Assad ran unopposed in 2000 after his dad died. It was a monarchy. The dad's security forces prevented anyone else from running for "president".

    Bashar al-Assad has used chemical agents on his own people.

    Its a tyranny and nobody is fooled.

  • wootendw||

    You need to broaden your reading list and your analytical skills.

  • MWG||

    You can be against US intervention in Syria without being an Assad apologist. His regimes brutality is well documented. No need for propaganda.

    Being skeptical of western media and while eating up everything RT and PressTV feed you doesn't mean you have good "analytical skills".

  • wootendw||

    Assad has NOTHING to apologize for. He inherited a bad country from his father but he is not his father. Assad drives his own Honda Accord and wades into the public with only one bodyguard. He is extemely popular in Syria and for good reason. Life in Syria greatly improved under Bashar, so much so that when Vogue magazine published "A Rose in the Desert" about Asma's reform work, it triggered the launching a Western-sponsored coup against him. The Syrian so-called 'civil war' was a regime-change operation from the very start.

    And I am not saying 'we' should support Assad, either. I am saying that the vile regime in Washington is evil for arming head-chopping jihadists to take him out. That is worse than sending troops in.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Jesús, you clearly are a propagandist for Assad.

    "He's extremely popular"...except for a civil war raging in his country and the hundreds of thousands of Syrians that fled in fear of their lives.

    Americans can spot BS propaganada because lefties use it all the time here in the USA.

    Here's a 1st Amendment test: Muhammad is a raping and pedophilic piece of shit. I would post a cartoon image of him if Reason allowed pictures to be posted. Islam is a delusion of the masses by tyrant pieces of shit.

  • wootendw||

    You are the one who's been propagandized - by mainstream media which relies on government sources for the 'info' it spews out favoring every bloody regime-change operation. Has it ever occurred to you that all these operations involve vilifying the foreign leader before going to war against him?

    And you are also implying that I am an Islamist for supporting Assad although it is Islamists he is fighting and which the US government has been arming. Assad protects the Christians and most Muslims and Christians get along well in Syria. They even attend each other's religious events. Syria is one of the most religiously tolerant societies in the world.

    I agree with your other posts about getting out of other countries. Unfortunately, the US government, and much of the country, is full of altruists who believe in intervening in the lives of others, both domestically and internationally. Your arguments for bringing home the troops won't sway them.

  • MWG||

    Awesome, you've hit a number of major talking points from RT and PressTV, but I've never heard the one about Vogue being the linchpin for a "western-sponsored coup".

  • wootendw||

    I don't have a television. I receive my information from people in Syria and Lebanon who know what's going on.

  • Teddy Pump||

    BINGO!!!!....Excellent post!

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