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Syria: two wrongs do not make a right

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Message Jean-Luc Basle

Few people approved Donald Trump's decision to repatriate troops from Syria. Many more disagree. From the neoconservatives' point of view, the withdrawal does not make sense. But neither does their Middle East policy. Unfortunately, removing American troops from Syria without preparation or forewarning is equally senseless. Two wrongs do not make a right. The United States is digging itself deeper into the morass it created. When will this end?

The United States' Middle East policy goes back to the Quincy Agreement in February 1945 when Franklin Roosevelt offered King Abdelaziz protection in exchange for free access to Saudi's rich oil reserves. It was given a new twist in 1992 when the Pentagon Plan was published. From now on, the United States' overall objective would be "to remain the predominant outside power in the region." To this end, it will prevent any "hegemon or an alignment of powers from dominating the region". The policy was put into practice in March 2003. Iraq was invaded and destroyed on the fallacious pretext of possessing "weapons of mass destruction". (1) In March 2011, it was Libya's turn, followed by Syria in July. This was planned. Visiting the Pentagon ten days after 9/11, General Wesley Clark, former NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, learned that the Pentagon was set to "attack and destroy the governments of seven countries in five years" Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Soudan and Iran." (2) Why did the United States drop the Quincy Agreement for the Pentagon Plan of 1992, and who made the decision? Nobody knows. However, many people in Washington D.C. were in favor of it.

On July 1996, a document titled: "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm " demands the destruction of Syria and Iran. On January 26, 1998, an letter is addressed to Bill Clinton asking him to get rid of Saddam Hussein. In September 2000, William Kristol and Robert Kagan argue in favor of "rebuilding America's defenses", but admit it cannot be done without a new Pearl Harbor. The 9/11 attacks which took place a year later were seen by some as the new Pearl Harbor the authors were calling for. On April 3, 2002, another letter is addressed to George W. Bush restated the demand made to Bill Clinton to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Note: the letter is no longer available on internet.

Behind the neoconservatives' criticism of Donald Trump's decision lays the assumption that the President defines the United States' foreign policy. This is not the case. The President shares this responsibility with the Senate. Additionally, a case could be made that over the last fifty years or so, the President rarely got his wish. The case can be made that John Kennedy was killed following his June 10, 1963 speech at the American University in which he advocates a policy of de'tente with the Soviet Union. The Watergate scandal is a wonderful story which served to impeach Richard Nixon. But, the truth of the matter is that it is his policy of de'tente which pushed him out of office. (3) Bill Clinton claimed his successful bid for the presidency was due to his concern over economic matters. His "It's the economy, stupid" won the day. This might be. But there is another explanation. George H. W. Bush lost because of his refusal to go all the way to Bagdad following his crushing victory over Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm. His son will not make the same mistake. Barack Obama who undeservedly received the Nobel Peace Prize, followed on his predecessor's footsteps with one notable exception: the Iranian nuclear agreement. This is because American economic sanctions had no noticeable effect on Iran's nuclear program. It then became evident that a deal was preferable to a nuclear Iran.

The United States' Middle East is an unmitigated disaster. It did not achieve the 1992 Pentagon Plan objective. Iraq and Libya are destroyed but Syria and Iran are still standing. It cost the American taxpayer $5.9 trillion, according to the Watson Institute of Brown University. Usually touchy about the way their tax dollars are spent, Americans seem ignorant of that fact. Millions of peoples have been killed, maimed or displaced. Last but not least, the presence of American troops in Syria is illegal, as was Iraq's 2003 invasion. Attempting to redress the Middle East policy, Donald Trump is going about it the wrong way, bordering on treasonous. You do not walk away from a mess you created. You fix it. You meet with your partners and adversaries and work out a deal as fair as possible to all parties concerned. Instead what do we have? A messier situation in which the United States appears weaker. Russia and Turkey enjoy a say in Middle East affairs they did not have in 2003. The Arab League is set to readmit Syria after an eight years expulsion. Benjamin Netanyahu who knew about Trump's decision beforehand, responded by announcing that Israel will "increase actions against Iran with U.S. full support". This does not bode well for all parties concerned. The United States will spend more money, kill more people and spray more desolation in a region which is longing for peace. Will this ever end?

(1) It had no connection whatsoever with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

(2) Westley Clark's speech at the Commonwealth Club of California, Oct. 3, 2007.

(3) George W. Bush and Donald Trump are putting an end to this policy of de'tente. Bush unilaterally withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002, and Trump is cancelling the INF treaty. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 is due to be renewed in 2021. If it is not, a policy of de'tente initiated by John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev after they tested the depth of the nuclear abyss during the Cuban crisis, will be terminated
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Former Vice President Citigroup New York (retired) Columbia University -- Business School Princeton University -- Woodrow Wilson School

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