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The Penalty for Early Withdrawal

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American forces in Syria in advance of an invasion of the country Turkey being widely criticized, even by such reliably sycophantic supporters as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and televangelist Pat Robertson. The move is seen as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies that will make future alliances harder to forge, an appeasement of Turkey’s authoritarian government that will eventually redound to the benefit of Russia and Iran, and an opportunity for the brutal Islamic State to regroup.
Scarier yet, as far as we’re concerned, is Trump’s “tweeted” attempt to reassure the public that he knows what he’s doing.
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” Trump wrote. “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the capture ISIS fights and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
The die-hard Trump defenders will once again insist that he was being jocular with that line about his “great and unmatched wisdom,” and it did get a lot of laughs on the late night comedy shows, but a “tweet” about national security seems an odd place for a joke. Trump told the Republican party’s convention that “Only I can fix” the nation’s problems, has boasted of his “very big brain” and repeatedly described himself as a “very stable genius,” and he’s never given a wink or any other indication that he was joking rather than bragging. His confidence in his instincts are such that he reportedly didn’t bother to consult anyone at the Pentagon or State Department about his Syrian withdrawal, which does not inspire our confidence.
One also wonders what Trump’s great and unmatched wisdom might consider “off limits” for Turkey, which is poised to invade Syria with the obvious intention of fighting the Kurds rather than the remnants of the Islamic State, and when Trump ever destroyed the Turkish economy.
The betrayal of the Kurds, along with Trump’s withdrawal from several treaties and constant badgering of longtime military and trade partners, will make it harder for self-proclaimed greatest negotiator ever will make it harder for America to enlist international support when it is inevitably needed. Giving free rein to the Turks will delight the Russian and Iranian governments, who don’t have America’s best interests at heart. The Islamic State won’t soon regain its caliphate, but without America helping the Kurds keep a foot on its throat the terror gang will be better able to launch attacks against America and whatever allies it has left.
It’s hard for us and even the likes of Graham and McConnell and Robertson to see how this is making America great again, but we don’t have Trump’s great and unmatched wisdom.

— Bud Norman

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Sayonara, Syria

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his intention to withdraw all American forces from Syria, which probably surprised the vast number of Americans who were previously unaware that America had had any forces fighting in Syria. The news apparently also surprised all of our allies in the conflict, as well as Trump’s usually reliable Republican congressional allies and his own administration’s top officials and everyone at the Pentagon, most of whom seemed none too pleased.
Trump has long maintained he was only in Syria to fight the Islamic State, a particularly nasty bunch of Islamist terrorists known for beheadings and crucifixions and other nasty methods of imposing a particularly severe theocratic vision on the people they’ve subjugated, and on Wednesday he declared victory and said that some 2,000 or American troops could thus come home for Christmas. The Islamic State has indeed been driven from almost all of the territory it had conquered during Syria’s horrifically bloody civil war, in some cases by our Kurdish and more or less democratic allies and those outstanding 2,000 or so Americans backing them up, in most cases by the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and his equally unsavory Russian and Iran allies, but there are still an estimated 30,000 Islamic State fighters hanging around, according to what top Trump administration officials were saying just before Wednesday, and the situation in Syria remains quite complicated.
Trump’s decision went against the advice of his defense secretary, James Mattis, a four-star Marine general whose advice Trump routinely rejects, as well as the Republican senate foreign relations committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who was left waiting outside the Oval Office after a scheduled meeting, and even such a sycophantic sort of Republican as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina went so far as to call it a “huge Obama-like mistake,” which is about as harsh an insult as a Republican can muster. We’re by no means experts on these complicated geopolitical matters, but so far as we can tell neither is Trump, and for now Trump’s Republican and Democratic critics both seem to have the better arguments.
Those 30,00 or so Islamic State fighters will surely boast of how they expelled the American crusaders, and thus recruit a few thousand more, unless the Syrian and Russian and Iranian dictatorships kill them all, but even that’s not an ideal outcome. There is no ideal outcome in such a convoluted portion of our complicated world, of course, but it’s hard to imagine a best-case scenario that involves American ceding its longstanding global leadership role in the most troublesome part of the world to those awful Syrian and Russian and Iranian dictatorships. The abandonment of our erstwhile more or less democratic allies, while Trump also feuds with pretty much all of our most longstanding and undeniably democratic allies, also offends our traditionally Republican sensibilities. The Democrats who apologized for President Barack Obama’s premature abandonment of our allies in Iraq’s more or less democratic government, which arguably led to the Syrian civil war, can at least note Obama was persuaded by his wiser advisors to main the presence in the region that began the defeat of the Islamic State and that he was never the isolationist that Trump wants to be.
Back during the campaign Trump bragged that he knew more about the Islamic State than any of the military’s generals did, and that his main foreign policy advisor would be himself because “I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things,” and he’s claimed to know more about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the four-star Marine general he appointed as defense secretary, and he’s more recently bragged that his gut tells him more than any man’s brain can, so Secretary Mattis and Senators Corker and Graham can’t say they weren’t warned about how he makes decisions. There’s some cynical speculation by some of the more snide commentators that Trump made the announcement about the boys and girls coming home for Christmas to detract attention from the stock markets’ bad year and the latest developments in the “Russia thing” and other bad domestic news, which we heartily agree with, but he seems to have lost at least another news cycle.

— Bud Norman

The Brave New World and The Same Old War

The Pentagon’s Twitter account was hacked by Islamist terrorists on Monday, and everything about that seems strange.
There’s the disconcerting fact that the United States’ military “tweets,” for one thing, and the even more unsettling realization that an Islamic State terror gang best known for hacking heads off hostages is now able to hack the Pentagon’s computers. That the breach occurred while the President of the United States was giving a speech about “cyber-security” to the Federal Communications Commission adds another implausible twist to the plot. The very term “cyber-security” sounds strange to our old-fashioned and low-tech ears, and the missives that the Islamic State was able to post on the Pentagon’s “tweets” include such worrisome neologisms as “CyberCaliphate” and “CyberJihad.” The statements include threats on American military personnel and their families, too, and much gloating about the Islamic State’s cyber victory over the infidel American government.
It’s nothing to worry about, we are assured by the highest sources. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren dismissed the incident as “little more than a prank, or as vandalism,” adding that “It’s inconvenient, it’s an annoyance, but in no way is any sensitive or classified information compromised.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “something we take seriously,” but added that “There’s a pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account.” An unidentified intelligence officer told the press that “Hacking a Twitter is about the equivalent of spray-painting a subway car.” None of this, unfortunately, is sufficiently reassuring.
The hackers also posted the names and addresses of high-ranking military officers, at least for long enough to communicate the information to any terror networks affiliated with the Islamic State, and that’s data that the officers and their families will surely consider sensitive. We assume that Twitter serves some important function in the national defense, as well, and even a temporary loss of that capability should be regarded as more than an inconvenience. In light of the recent breach of the Sony Corporation’s computers that shut down a Hollywood movie release, as well as the past security breaches caused by a college drop-out security consultant and a transexual Army Sergeant, ┬áthere is also reason to worry that the pranksters might have more troublesome abilities. Any urbanites who can recall the lawlessness that followed the spray-painting of subway cars knows that even the most petty acts of vandalism must be thwarted to preserve order.
Even if the incident is as inconsequential as the highest sources say, it’s still an unhappy reminder of the dangers the world still poses. The Islamic State now controls a swath of the Middle East the size of Indiana as well as at least the out portions of the Pentagon computer system, and the president can no longer dismiss them as the “jayvee team” of Islamic terrorism. Al Qaeda was said to be on the run, but it has recently murdered 17 people in Paris to avenge their Prophet and are issuing new threats. “The tide of war is receding,” the president once proudly proclaimed, but even the Pentagon’s Twitter page says it is not.

— Bud Norman