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On the first of April last year I published an article titled "Ignore The Words Of US Presidents. Watch Their Actions Instead," about Trump's claim that his administration would be pulling troops out of Syria "very soon." Watching the actions and ignoring the words is a personal policy I've found very useful in dealing with top government figures who understand that power has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with narrative control, and in that particular case the president's claims were quickly memory-holed after a highly suspicious chemical weapons allegation in Douma a few days later. The president's words said the troops were leaving, and what actually happened was the US bombing the Syrian government for a second time in a year while troops remained where they were.
Everyone completely lost their shit last month when the president once again made the claim that US troops will be brought home from Syria. Establishment loyalists of the political/media class went into full meltdown, Mattis handed in his resignation, and #Resistance Twitter pundits who'd never typed the word "Kurd" in their lives suddenly became self-appointed experts on the geopolitical dynamics between the Turkish government and the YPG. Support for the president's words also rushed in from anti-interventionists and anti-imperialists everywhere, as well as from a few surprising places like Democratic Representative Ted Liu and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
So there was a very strong reaction to Trump's words about Syria. But what have his actions been? If we look at this administration's actual behavior with the narrative soundtrack on mute, what we see is a significant increasing of the number of troops in Syria, bombing the Syrian government twice, committing war crimes in Raqqa, providing full-throated support for hundreds of Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, and a steadily increasing number of indications that the troops won't be coming home at all.
Trump: We're leaving Syria.
Bolton: We're not really leaving Syria.
Trump: We're leaving Syria very slowly.
Graham: Very, very slowly.
Bolton: Or maybe never.
Trump: When ISIS is completely gone.
Bolton: And Iran.
Trump: I hired Bolton and regret nothing. https://t.co/
Caitlin Johnstone (@caitoz) January 6, 2019
"We won't be finally pulled out, until ISIS is gone," Trump added.
National Security Adviser John Bolton has also announced additional conditions which will need to be met before there's a full withdrawal of US forces from Syria, including the seemingly indefinite need to counter Iranian activity in the region, and the need for an agreement to be reached between the US and Turkey to protect Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria.
Bolton said the Kurdish factions are being advised by the US to "stand fast now" and refrain from brokering an agreement with the Syrian government or Russia to protect them from Turkey, a deal which has been on the table and seriously contemplated by the Kurds for many months. Such an agreement would help unify a fragmented Syria, would deter an attack from Turkey, and would remove any need for the US to protect its YPG "allies" (read: assets), so naturally the servants of endless war are working against it.
Bolton also said that the withdrawal only applies to northeastern Syria, and that troops are expected to remain indefinitely in the southern part of the country. Bolton is reportedly expected to explain to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish president Recip Tayyip Erdogan that some of the troops who do end up being withdrawn from Syria will not be going home at all, but will rather be moved across the border to fight ISIS in Iraq.
John McCain's testicular clone Senator Lindsey Graham announced last week that Trump is now slowing the withdrawal "in a smart way" after he met with the president, which knowing Graham's relentless support for limitless war and military expansionism is perhaps not a great sign.
Has Trump Been Outmaneuvered on Syria Troop Withdrawal? Failure to pull out the ~800 troops & equipment assigned in El Tanf that could be withdrawn across the Jordanian border w/in 24 hours suggests duplicity by foreign policy shadow government.
Consortium News (@Consortiumnews) January 3, 2019
So there's that. Trump's rhetoric on Syria has differed from people in his administration like Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the president tending to express more urgency on troop withdrawal and more indifference toward Iranian actions in Syria, but does it make any difference? It really doesn't matter what noises Trump makes with his mouth if no moves to scale down interventionism actually occur. Either Trump is just saying words he knows his base wants to hear with no intention of following them through, or he is being "outmaneuvered by the Deep State" as Virginia State Senator Dick Black puts it, or he's run into some other strategic brick wall to immediate troop withdrawal we can't see, or maybe, perhaps, he will succeed in getting troops out of Syria.
I personally do not care about Trump's motives. Antiwar analysts tend to put a lot of emphasis on what the president's personal intentions are, but it doesn't matter how Trump's feelings feel or what kind of person he is inside, what matters is if America's unconscionable global military expansionism gets scaled down or not. The power structure behaves the way it behaves, and if the troops don't come home it's because Trump is either complicit or impotent. Either way, the power structure and its behavior is what matters.
I'll be the first to cheer if US military involvement in Syria does end, but I'm not getting my hopes up. Instead, I will continue ignoring the verbiage and watching the behavior. In a world where narrative manipulation is the key to real power, it's impossible to take anyone close to power at their word.