America First, Not Syria! – Fallout Of Trump’s Latest Foreign Policy Decision
Making campaign promises is easy, any politician can do that. But President Trump is no ordinary politician. He adores his voters and leaves no stone unturned to deliver on his campaign promises.
By declaring his intention to withdraw troops from Syria, President Trump has delivered a massive boost to the “America First” agenda in US Foreign Relations. But the way he made that decision has drawn widespread criticism, even from his own party.
The shock resignation of Jim Mattis has made things worse. Was Trump wrong to withdraw from Syria? If not, why all this hue and cry?
The Resignation Of “Mad Dog” Mattis – A Long Time In The Making
It is no secret that Trump loves and admires the US military. When he unveiled his cabinet in 2016, it had several senior Generals in key positions. Fast forward two years and none of them remain in the White House.
Like McMaster and Kelly, Mattis also had a rocky relationship with the President. His often chaotic style of management clashed with the soldier’s penchant for order and discipline.
But in the case of Mattis, there were other factors as well, which he outlined in his now controversial resignation letter. While the full copy of that is available online, here is the gist in three main points:
- Mattis does not approve of the way the President is handling foreign policy.
- His current policies are alienating US allies and hurting US security interests.
- It is also empowering US rivals like Russia and China.
So basically, there has been a long-running clash of-of opposing beliefs and principles regarding US military power and foreign policy between the two men. President Trump hates the NATO and prefers for a more isolationist role that puts American interests before everything else.
Mattis, on the other hand, believes the opposite: he wants the US to follow a more aggressive foreign policy to counter China and Russia. Unlike Trump, Mattis believes in the utility of NATO and its allies for US security interests.
A resignation was always on the cards, the way the Syria decision was handled was just the trigger. Mattis was not briefed about it in advance and had to learn about it from Mike Pompeo.
The manner in which the President made and communicated the decision was bound to irk allies in the coalition fighting ISIS in Syria. As Defense Secretary, Mattis would have been left with the task of dealing with the coalition and NATO allies.
The resignation was probably the best thing he felt he could do under the circumstances.
The Syria Decision – The How’s And Why’s
The bloody civil war in Syria hasbeen meandering for years now, between Iran and Russia-backed Assad regime and the pro-democracy rebels backed by a US-led Coalition of western nations. Numerous factions are involved in this conflict, including the ISIS.
The civil war and general chaos in Syria offered the terrorist group the perfect haven and stronghold outside Iraq. So the main objective of US involvement in Syria was to wipe out the ISIS presence there. Around 2000 US troops were stationed in northern Syria to assist rebel groups like the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)fight the ISIS.
Recent reports suggest that nearly 99% of the ISIS territory has been recaptured leaving the terrorists severely weakened. The President has vowed since the early days of the campaign that he would withdraw troops from Syria at the first opportunity.
A call from Turkey president Erdogan gave him that chance. Erdogan offered his willingness to send Turkish troops to do the “clean-up” in northern Syria. This offer, combined with the current ground situation, convinced the President that it is time to deliver on his promise of withdrawing troops from Syria.
The Domestic Aftermath Of the Decision
Trump has a penchant for making key policy decisions without consulting his advisors and allies. It is indeed not the best way to do it, but unfortunately, that is how the President likes to carry out his duties. So there is nothing anybody can do about it.
The Syria troop withdrawal decision may be the best example yet of the potential ways in which it can hurt the President himself. Abrupt unilateral decisions may be okay for domestic policy, but the same cannot be said about foreign policy and national security matters that involve international allies.
Domestically, the way the decision was taken has been widely criticized not just by the media and the Democrats, but by some Republicans as well. It caught the White House and Pentagon off-guard and reportedly had officials scrambling to come up with plans and responses.
The biggest shock of the aftermath was the Mattis resignation, or rather, the way his resignation letter was crafted. Liberal/progressive media was quick to interpret it as open criticism of Trump and went as far as to elevate the General to the position of a saintly martyr of some sort. The US envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk also resigned in the immediate aftermath of the decision.
In the case of Mattis, retribution for his criticisms was swift: Trump forced Mattis out two months before his tenure was supposed to end. As a boss, the President was well within his rights to treat an employee in this way, especially after the manner in which Mattisburned the bridges with that resignation letter.
The Impact of Troop Withdrawal In Syria On US Allies
The best thing to come out of this whole episode is the fact that over 2000 brave American soldiers can now return home from someone else’s war. And for that, their families can thank Donald Trump.
On the other hand, it has irked European coalition members like France, Germany, and the UK. Trump does have a point when he says that other nations are just standing by, making the US military do all the heavy lifting.
Israel, while caught by surprise, can gain quite a bit from the US decision as well. They can now ramp up air strikes against Iran and Hezbollah forces in Syria without having to worry about US casualties.
On a not so positive note, Erdogan and Turkey are undoubtedly the winners in this situation. They now have free rein to push into northern Syria. While technically a US ally, Erdogan is bad news for Israel, and cannot be completely trusted.
The Turks have a poor record of fighting terrorism and have a history of attacking US allies in the region, like the SDF. The US decision has left those Kurds in the lurch, and they will now have to side with Assad and the Russians to protect against the Turks. On a side note, Kurdish territory is rich in oil.
The Future Of US Strategy In Syria
The Syrian civil war is increasingly starting to feel like a lost cause for the rebels. Allowing Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran, to win will have negative repercussions for the US and its allies in the region.
But the US and NATO involvement in the Syrian civil war has been limited to punitive air strikes as retaliation for chemical attacks on civilians. The main focus was always to root out ISIS.
There is no reason to infer that ISIS will benefit from US withdrawal. The decision only involves removing troops from the ground in Syria. The US military still has a considerable presence in the Middle East, with navy and air force bases.
As one analyst has clearly pointed out, withdrawal of troops does not mean that the US is incapable of striking ISIS in the future. Air strikes and other precision attacks can still be carried out effectively.
Any potential Russian or Iranian aggression can still be countered but US and allies. Withdrawal from Syria should not affect that in any way.
Who Will Replace Mattis?
As of now, there is no clear indication regarding the future Defense Secretary. Like in the case of other high profile departures from his cabinet, Trump has opted to promote a deputy to take on the job as Acting Defense Secretary.
In this case, that duty has fallen to Patrick Shanahan, the current Deputy Secretary Of Defense. Unlike his predecessor, Shanahan has no prior experience in defense or foreign policy.
What he does have is a long history of success as a business executive at Boeing, most notably in their Dreamliner project. As a deputy to Mattis, he focused more on the day-to-day dealings with the Pentagon while his boss handled foreign policy.
Trump has strongly endorsed Shanahan for a long-term role at the job, most recently during his surprise visit to US soldiers in Iraq. So there is a chance that Michael Shanahan might get the job, as long as he manages to survive a hostile confirmation hearing of course.
With Mattis gone, the last restraining influence on Trump in White House has left the building. Trump favors Shanahan because he is a successful businessman who follows orders and policy changes without question.
We could very well see more changes to US foreign policy in the near future. Trump now has the freedom to implement his vision for America First fully. Conservatives and Trump supporters everywhere have every reason to be optimistic about the future.