The United States is embroiled in multiple military excursions across the Middle East and recently President Donald Trump has expressed his desire that two of those excursions be wound down. Of course, this is a reference to Trump’s suggestion that the United States get out of Afghanistan and end our limited military operations in Syria. These utterances were made a few weeks ago and there has been no action, so the question become, is President Trump serious about winding those two operations down?
Beginning with Afghanistan, it is important to do a very quick rehash of what this war is about. It was the response by the George W. Bush administration for the al Qa’ida inspired attacks on September 11, 2001. That really does not need to be covered. What is more pressing is that just a decade ago (yeah it doesn’t feel that long to me either) this war was called the “good war” by then presidential candidate, Senator Barrack Obama. Obama’s campaign positioned itself to end the operations in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan, where the real battle was since that is where 9/11 was planned (it wasn’t, that was Kuala Lumpur). This resulted in an additional 33,000 military personnel being shipped to Afghanistan to add to the numbers that were already there. By 2012, the Afghan Surge was ended and those troops were brought home. Did it accomplish anything?
That depends on when the evidence is examined. At certain points in time, one might point to the decrease in violence in the souther provinces. However, that violence ticked up when the surge ended. At the political level, it created a huge backlash from the then presidency of Hamid Karzai. However, that was made pointless when the United States staged a political coup to oust him because of his opposition to such a strategy (Karzai would eventually be pushed out in 2014 for current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani). And then there were those “green-on-blue” attacks where Afghanistan trainees would “frag” their U.S. trainers. The list could go on, but the point here is that there was a tremendous price to pay for little to no gain in the overall situation.
Today, the Taliban–those terrorist harboring thugs whose destruction was the initial goal way back in 2001–is negotiating with the United States in Moscow, and the two main points to these talks have been affirmed by the parties. First, the Taliban will no allow terrorist groups like al Qa’ida to have safe harbor in Afghanistan. Second, all of the troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Al Qa’ida still exists, though it is must less effective as a functioning organization like it was in 2001. And the Taliban is going to regain control of the government. So after 17 years of fighting and no telling how many thousands of deaths for all parties, the situation is likely to end in the same position as it would have had President Bush taken the Taliban’s offer to allow them to oust Osama bin Laden to another country instead of handing him directly to the United States.
Now to Syria. This is a much more difficult nut to crack because we really have no reason to be there aside from just stirring the multiple factions involved in that little war into killing each other. Again, some background. Syria began in Iraq when the Islamic State went from Junior Varsity to All-Pro by taking out a substantial portion of Iraq, at one point getting to roughly 20 miles from Baghdad itself. Then after being pushed out of the largest northern Iraqi city, Mosul, the Islamic State began to fall back into Syria and lose its grip on the ground it had gained in Iraq. In Syria, the United States was stuck because there was no legal authority for any U.S. military operations to occur. But that lasted only for a short while.
After the notion of providing support to the Syrian “rebels” was swatted down by Congress (thankfully) in 2012/2013, the then Obama administration decided they were going to use the weapons collected after the other little war in Libya and ship them to the “rebels” in Syria. Turns out, those “rebels” were really terrorist organizations and when they got wind of those weapons shipments ceasing, the torched the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens in the process. This operation, to varying degrees continued up until the Trump administration took over and ended it in 2017. What is the situation now?
As of today, Syria is still under the ravages of war. However, the Islamic State does not have the strength it did just a couple of years ago. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is still in power, the Russians are still there providing Assad forces with air cover (during the Obama administration U.S. and Russian forces would coordinate their airstrikes so as to avoid possible international incidents), and the Kurds seem to be everyone’s new sympathetic entity with which sentiment for more war can be garnered from the U.S. population. A complete cessation of U.S. military operations in Syria would not worsen the situation there by any means, but giving what the foreign policy establishment in Washington D.C. wants could be a serious problem for that region–as if that region does not have enough problems.
So the question remains: Is Trump serious about ending U.S. involvement in these two war torn countries? Frankly, it appears that Trump is serious about this but he has to fight the national security apparatus of the permanent state comprised of the Intelligence Community and the Pentagon. Trump is the commander-in-chief. He could snap his fingers and, if he wanted to remove those forces, things would have to start moving tomorrow. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy will not operate that way for Trump. It is dragging its feet, waiting, praying, that he will be gone come January 2021 and someone from the Republicrats will assume the Oval Office and allow them to continue senseless wars.