Sad, sad news to report this Yom Kippur.
I am not, by nature, an interventionist. As a former “street marching man” (as The Rolling Stones once said) during the Vietnam War, I do not advocate placing the young men and women who serve to protect my country in harm’s way, except in those circumstances that are exceptional, where the cause is clear, the objective is definable and the mission is supported by a majority of the country.
There will always be exceptions, of course. The Constitution provides wide berth to the President to conduct foreign policy under Article 2, and while it is in the sole purview of Congress to declare war, there has been clear precedent that limited military engagements have been authorized by both Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama under their powers as Commander-In-Chief. The War Powers Act of 1973, which was passed after having been vetoed by Richard Nixon, was intended to prevent military escalations without a Congressional declaration of war.
Friends who are kind enough to read this blog periodically cannot fathom my more-often-than-not defense of Donald Trump. My defense of him is fundamentally grounded in the illegal employment of organs of the Federal Government by the Obama Administration in the form of the FBI and Intelligence Community, the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee to overturn the results of the election in 2016.
This conspiracy, which I have been writing about for years, is no longer a question that is in dispute. Regardless of the specious charges leveled against Bill Barr that his investigation into the origin of this surveillance is politically motivated, the impending report on FISA abuse to be issued by Michael Horowitz, the independent Inspector General, is sure to contain explosive revelations which will complicate the lives and legacies of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, John Brennan, James Clapper, Rod Rosenstein and many in Obama’s inner circle.
But my defenses of Donald Trump have been balanced by criticisms I feel are fair and warranted. His tweets, while entertaining and unfiltered, are often blusterous and egomaniacal. They do not inure to his benefit. His attacks against opponents, both real and imagined, are unnecessarily brutish and never display a hint of magnanimity. They are, by definition, un-Presidential, but wholly within keeping of the Trump Persona.
Conversely, I am constantly astounded by his near-daily “gaggle” with White House reporters under nearly any circumstance, usually as he’s leaving the White House to helicopter to Joint Base Andrews. While he may not engage in traditional press conferences like all of his predecessors, these engagements are far more revealing, incredibly candid and he rarely hesitates to provide responses, no matter how controversial or unbalanced the questions might be.
He commits many policy errors, mostly unforced, because of his management style which is to solicit counsel from assenting and dissenting voices and then commit to a course of action based upon his instincts. This is the classic approach of the risk-taking capitalist, not the risk-averse approach of the cover-your-ass politician. And failure is as likely an outcome under those circumstances as success. He accepts and understands those risks.
His recent decision to pull a limited number of American forces from Northern Syria, in my opinion, represents one of those errors. He believes he is honoring a campaign pledge to remove more Americans from harm’s way and to try to wind down our involvement in “endless Mideast wars”. Conceptually, this is admirable, but ignores the facts and the reality on the ground.
His abandonment of the Kurds (and, no matter how it is postured, it is an effective abandonment) is redolent of Obama’s retreat from Iraq where the tribes in Anbar Province who joined with the Americans in General Petraeus’ “surge” were left to contend with Iranian surrogates and the explosion of ISIS in western Iraq.
Trump was quick to criticize Obama for this policy catastrophe and delighted to take the credit for eliminating the territorial dominance of ISIS’ Caliphate in northern Syria and western Iraq by American and coalition forces. But the Kurds lost 11,000 fighters by allying with the coalition, and it is a strategic blunder to essentially vacate the area for the benefit of the Turks.
Recep Erdogan is the archetypical duplicitous ally. He reminds me of Gamal Nasser of Egypt or Hafez al-Assad of Syria who toyed with both the US and the Soviet Union when both dictators thought they were the “one” to stitch together a new Arab Union, unified by a collective desire to eliminate Israel.
Erdogan is a member of NATO, a fact which made strategic sense when the country was a secular Muslim nation, ostensibly controlled by a non-religious military. But the election of Erdogan changed all that. He is an avowed Islamist, an open supporter of Hamas, a harsh critic of Israel and, now, a purchaser of Russian S-400 antiaircraft batteries which precludes him from buying F-35’s. That is not a friend of NATO’s or the West’s, and Turkey’s continued inclusion in NATO is unwarranted and imperils the integrity of the alliance.
Additionally, the fact that Erdogan’s response to this American pullback is to invade northern Syria within a day should alarm Trump and force his immediate reevaluation of his earlier decision. This is no longer about campaign promises or the laudable goal of troop drawdowns; Trump has to come to grips with the fact that the enmity between the Turks and Kurds will last long beyond his second term. The enmity between the Shi’a and Sunni tracks of Islam has existed since the death of the Prophet. The enmity which exists between the very fabric of Islam and the Crusaders (embodied today by Israel and the US, specifically, and the West, generally) is irreconcilable and will not be settled until one subjugates the other.
These are undeniable truths which span millenia. If you doubt the truth – and, deep down, you cannot possibly – just check out MEMRI periodically and see how your ideological opponents juxtapose the events of today with those foretold by their scripture.
Hizb’allah, which has been sanitized by the West as “Hezbollah”, which is at one with the apocalyptic regime of Iran, says that its conflict with the Jewish people and Israel is a repeat of the negative interactions between the Jews of medieval Arabia and Muhammed, described in the Koran and other early Islamic texts. G-d, according to those texts, cursed all Jews as blasphemers damned throughout all time and throughout history. Israel, according to Hizb’allah, is “the vanguard of the United States in the Islamic world.”
This is the unintended vacuum that Trump’s retreat has reopened. It empowers Turkey, Russia, Syria, Iran and its allies. It endangers the Kurds, whatever remains of sympathetic forces in Iraq, the Sunni community, minority Christian enclaves in those countries, and Israel.
This cannot stand.