Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Last Adult In The Room Walks Out Over ISIS

Yesterday President Trump announced that he was removing all US troops from Syria over the next 30 days.  Today, "Mad Dog" Jim Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense and widely viewed as "the last adult in the room" among the Trump national security team, announced his resignation effective at the end of February.  This is not a coincidence, although his letter makes it clear that he had been thinking about this serously for some time.

In his letter the most fundamental issue seems to be his concern for proper relations with US allies, with Trump obviously treating nearly all of them badly.  So a  crucial sentence is the following.

"While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies."

Later after noting that 29 democracies supported the US after the 9-11 attack as showing the importance of allies he writes:

"The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof."

Now I have mixed feelings about various pieces of this.  Many of those upset by this sudden and unexpected decision by Trump are focused on Iran and Russia and Assad in Syria: that Assad will remain in power with both Russia and Iran influential there.  I agree Assad is a murderous dictatorial creep, but Russia (and before it the USSR) has had a naval base there in Tartus since 1971 that they are not remotely going to give up.  The Iranians are less important,so the worry about them is mostly silly huysteria.  And on Assad, those most likely to replace him were radical Sunnis allied with al-Qaeda, the group that attacked the US on 9-11.

Where this gets bad involves indeed ISIS or ISIL or Daesh to give some of its other names.  They really are a bad bunch, worse even than al Qaeda from whom they split.  Trump says we can leave because they have been defeated, but they have not been defeated.  They have been pushed out of all urban areas of any size they once controlled, but they continue to hold out in a final desert area on the Iraqi border in the desert, and for whatever reason nobody has been able to finally defeat them.  I fear withdrawal of US troops at this point, likely to be followed by a Turkish invasion to push out the Kurdish forces allied to the US that defeated ISIS in their old capital of Raqqa, will allow the obviously still pretty strong ISIS to revive and retake some of their former territories.  I suspect this is also a concern of Mad Dog Mattis.

Anyway, aside from the Turks signing a $3 billion Patriot missile deal after Trump made this announcement, this decision seems to be completely incoherent.  The US is against Iran, but Iran gains, not to mention Hezbollah?  That Trump may be pleasing Putin, well, what do we expect?  And as for the Kurds?  Well, we have screwed them over many times.  No wonder the Mad Dog is walking out.

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Rub the liberal veneer and we find neo-conservative all the way through. No surprise though. Still, I do like the Mad Dog touch.

2slugbaits said...

Yep, the Kurds get double-crossed yet again. This sends a really bad signal to Romania and our allies in the Baltics. How long will it be before Trump shuts down our ongoing exercises between those countries and the 173rd brigade? Or what happens to those forward supply support activities we positioned out of Germany and into Romania and the Baltics? Building those SSAs has been the Army's highest logistics priority going back to the Obama administration.

Sandwichman said...

"Adult in the room" is euphemism for complicity with the dolt in the room. You don't "contain" a mobster by enabling him.

Anonymous said...

I take this as surely encouraging:

December 21, 2018

But Mr. Mattis was also a cautious player. He clashed with Mr. McMaster over the defense secretary’s refusal to order the military to hail and board North Korean ships suspected of carrying goods that violated the embargoes on the country. And whenever people talked about unilateral strikes against North Korea, it was Mr. Mattis who would warn, darkly, of the potential cost to millions of lives in Seoul....

Anonymous said...

If this resignation means a more militarist foreign policy, than I am saddened and worried that Mr. Mattis will soon be gone.

Anonymous said...

"The US is against Iran, but Iran gains, not to mention Hezbollah?"

Please explain this assertion when possible, since this does not seem at all obvious to me.

Bruce Wilder said...

Yes, mixed feelings.

Mattis impressed me as someone who believed his own b.s./pr

The U.S. is way past the point of being able to afford so many allies or so many conflicts.

A policy of perpetual war is not to be preferred to an Assad. Or even a Taliban.

U.S. policy in Syria under Obama and Clinton was absurdly incoherent. Even Trump could not be stupider. Really. The search for and expensive training and arming of ephemeral "moderate" liberal rebels. Tolerance for Saudi adventuring. Flirting with a rebranded Al Qaeda. In allying with the Turks and the Kurds, we must have known we could end up on both sides of a hot fight.

I credit the Russians with very deliberately and with parsimonious use of resources, bringing the conflict in Syria to an end (only nearly so at this moment). That may be as good as it gets. Sadly perhaps, but war is not a good alternative and it is all the U.S. puts on offerm

Anonymous said...

Bruce Wilder:

U.S. policy in Syria under Obama and Clinton was absurdly incoherent....

[ Precisely, and of course Clinton is still wild for continuing war in Syria. So many neo-conservative prominent Democrats or supposed liberals is distressing. ]

Calgacus said...

This sort of commentary - and many of the comments, whose meaning I find quite opaque. . . Well, it needs some corrective:

Endless War Has Been Normalized And Everyone Is Crazy

Can even skip the psychobabble there in the second half.