From the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the mainstream media and officialdom over General Mattis’ (welcome) departure, you would think that the Rapture had come and Washington’s ruling class was being unjustly left behind to eternal perdition. And if not that, then the Mattis Affair is alleged to be at least its secular equivalent – an unwarranted and unforgivable affront to the good and the brave of the Imperial City.
Then again, exactly what was so existentially harmful to America’s security about Trump’s decision to get out of Syria – the apparent reason for Mattis’ ballyhooed resignation?
The fact is, you can’t find a trace of threat to America on the map. Syria is now a tiny, broken country of ruin and rubble with a vastly diminished religiously and ethnically fractured population of 18 million; GDP of barely $60 billion; per capita income of only $3,000; a trickle of oil production (25k barrel/day); and a depleted and battle-ravaged military that cannot possibly operate outside of its own borders and barely controls the lands inside them.
In short, Syria has no economic, strategic or military relevance whatsoever to the safety and security of the American homeland. And that’s as in none, nada, nichts and nugatory.
If you are not looking through the distorted lens of Imperial Washington’s group think, in fact, the whole brouhaha over getting out of Syria is not even a close call; it’s inexplicable.
Except….except for Washington’s imperial dictate that Russia and Iran are not allowed to have any role there – even though both have been invited by the country’s duly established government in Damascus. Moreover, the derivative postulate from that high-handed writ is even more absurd.
In the first place, neither the pipsqueak nation of Iran with a GDP of $450 billion or the pint-seized nation of Russia with a GDP of $1.5 trillion have ever threatened to attack America. Nor do they have the military means to do so – since their combined defense budgets of $75 billion amount to about one month of Pentagon spending.
Besides, attacking America would be an act of abject national suicide if they tried, which their perfectly rational leaders understand fully well and have no intention of attempting.
So Washington’s fulminating and harrumphing chorus never explains how the modest economic and military presence of Russia and Iran in the godforsaken remnant of Syria would suddenly magnify their already nonexistent threat to America’s security. The War Party just assumes that any diminution of the Empire – even 220o US troops in what amounts to the empty desert quarter of Syria’s northeast – cannot be tolerated.
In fact, a look at the current "who controls what" map of Syria makes perfectly clear that Trump’s withdrawal order has no bearing at all on US national security. Now that the Washington’s abortive, illegal and counterproductive attempt at "regime change" in Damascus has completely failed and Assad and his allies control most of the territory and overwhelming share of the population and economy, America’s military presence Syria serves only the demented anti-Iranian policy of Bibi Netanyahu and the neocon branch of the War Party.
As shown in the map below, the northeast of Syria is now controlled by the Kurdish YPG (yellow), but most of that territory is desert or consists of impoverished Arab towns and villages east of the Euphrates. The true Kurdish communities occupy far less territory and hug tightly along the Turkish border.
So the only reason northeast Syria is controlled by the Kurds is that the US military armed, trained and gave massive air-support during the period in which the YPG successfully dislodged ISIS from its occupation of these bedraggled lands. But the YPG’s current area of control will drastically shrink and in a heartbeat – once its U.S. military sponsors deport.
Surely, it is not America’s job to promote and defend the detachment of a rump Kurdish state (yellow area) from the existing territory of Syria. And if the American forces leave and the YPG retreats to its own historic corridor along the Turkish border (which it would do of necessity) does that mean that ISIS will recover these territories?
Not at all. With the Syrian state restored and the fighting forces of the Iranians and Russians in support, any attempted revival of the Islamic State would be crushed by Assad and his allies.
Since eliminating the Islamic State was the ostensible reason for Washington’s military intervention in Syria in the first place, of course, a follow-on question necessarily recurs. To wit, what’s wrong with allowing the sovereign government of Syria and its chosen allies and friends to finish the job and keep the only significant non-government controlled area of Syria ISIS-free?
Needless to say, the skunk in the woodpile is self-evident. The only reason American forces are needed in the yellow area of the map below, and also at the Al-Tanf border crossing in the south (light green area) is to keep the Iranians from having a land-bridge from Iraq across Syria to its allies in the Hezbollah controlled regions of south Lebanon.
In a word, the true mission of the small contingent of US forces in Syria is to contain Iran, not fight ISIS. Like the case of the YPG occupied territory to the north, the light green area around Al-Tanf , which is currently occupied by the CIA recruited, trained and paid for New Syrian Army, would revert to government control immediately upon the US exit.
Again, so what?
It is abundantly clear that the small remaining salient of ISIS controlled territory (black area) east of Palmyra will be expunged by the Syrian government – with no help needed from the New Syrian Army. And when the US military leaves Al-Tanf this uninvited rebel militia will forthwith sell its American weapons for what can be had on the black market, abandon its uniforms and disappear across the border.
Beyond that, the government now controls all of the major population centers including Aleppo (4 million), Damascus (3.8 million), Homs (1.5 million) Hama (1.4 million) and Del Az Zor (1.0 million). At the same time, the remnant of the Nusra Front/al-Qaeda around Idlib (light green area) is now thoroughly encircled by the alliance of Turkish forces (light blue) and Syrian/Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah forces (darker green) per the so-called Astana Group arrangement to stabilize the country and eliminate the last vestiges of rebel control around Idlib in an orderly manner without the bloodbath feared earlier this year.
Indeed, the Astana Group (Russia, Turkey and Iran) has also just agreed upon a 150-strong committee representing all legitimate Syrian factions to write a new constitution next year, which would then pave the way for UN-supervised elections and a peace and reconciliation process that would encourage millions of refugees to return to their homeland.
From a purely humanitarian prospective, you really couldn’t ask for a better scenario than that for the long-suffering people of Syria, who became the victims of a vicious civil war and a murderous ISIS caliphate – neither of which would have happened save for the billions of arms that the Washington and Riyadh have poured into the country in quest of Regime Change and in contravention of all international law and norms of noninterference.
Yet the dead-end "remainers" of official Washington insist on jeopardizing a return to order and economic recovery in Syria in order to keep the government-invited and ISIS-fighting Iranians and Russians out of the country.
Indeed, we just heard a numbskull host on the once and former "progressive" MSNBC network argue that Washington is properly horrified at Trump’s action because it "ceded control" of Syria to the Iranians, Russians and…..wait for it…..the Syrians!
Yet that’s how Imperial Washington rolls. Its official group think has become so poisoned by an utterly false demonization of Russia and Iran that it would sacrifice American blood and treasure in order to protect Syrian from the Syrians!
Actually, the situation is even more absurd. A quick perusal of the map does remind that Iran doesn’t actually border Syria and that Iraq is juxtapositioned in-between. Since Iraq was supposedly liberated by Washington at the expense of massive cost in American blood and treasure, you would think that if the Iranian land bridge to Lebanon needed to be cutoff, the Iraq would be just the place to seal it off tighter than a drum.
Alas, you would be wrong. That’s because the Shiite government in Baghdad – allegedly Washington’s bought and paid for puppet – won’t or can’t do it.
Yet does that dispositive fact of life give the Imperial City cause for reflection?
Nope. Just deploy troops next door in Syria where they are unwanted and are bivouacked in violation of both international and domestic law because that’s they way the Empire rolls.
And if an untutored outlaw, who was put into the Oval Office by the American people, not cotton to the rules of Empire – why then demonizing him for selling out America’s security in outright McCarthyite fashion.
Not surprisingly, the straightforward reality depicted by the map above – which dramatically underscores that the Washington campaign for Regime Change has failed – is being obfuscated by endless red herrings offered up by Washington remainers, and especially the deplorable ranks of ex-Generals who come on cable TV to emit War Party agit prop.
The first of these – that ISIS will stage a comeback and Washington will be forced to come back to Syria – is complete tommyrot. The horrific Islamic State flickered briefly mainly due to the billions of American weapons it captured in Iraq and from the US supported rebels in Syria and from the modest cash flow from the eastern oilfields. But both of those resources have tried up.
The reality now is that the Syrian and Russian air forces control the air space, and the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies are capable of suppressing any residual ISIS resistance on the ground. The only reason the Islamic State even briefly established its benighted caliphate on Syrian soil during 2014-2016 is that Assad was on his backfoot militarily owing to the massive flow of US/Saudi weapons and money to the mainly sectarian Sunni and jihadist opposition.
Likewise, the related canard that ISIS arose because Obama pulled out of Iraq too soon is truly laughable. ISIS arose because Washington destroyed the tolerable peace between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurds which Saddam Hussein had established under the banner of Baathist nationalism; and then got itself lethally armed because Washington foolishly turned over billions worth of state of the art American weapons to a nonexistent Iraqi national army – weapons which ended-up, instead, in the hands of ISIS when Mosul and Anbar province were abandoned by the Shiite government in Baghdad.
The other big red herring – the claim that Washington can’t abandon its YPG/Kurdish allies – is especially mendacious. Decades of Turkey’s civil war against its large Kurdish minority, and the fact that half of the 30 million Kurdish population lives across the Turkish borders in northern Syria, Iraq and Iran, meant that hiring a Kurdish mercenary army to fight ISIS was a known hazard from the get-go.
Erdogan warned vociferously against it, and became nearly apoplectic when the US army backed YPG – which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, rightly or wrongly – nearly established a continuous span of control from Afrin in the northwest (see map above) to the Iraq border in the east.
So by the lights of the perpetual war advocates in Washington, a tactical decision to arm the opportunistic, anti-Turkish Kurds to fight ISIS is supposed to become a permanent obligation to protect them from Turkey to the north and the sovereign government of Syria in Damascus to the south.
That’s Imperial Rome all over again.
Besides, the alleged massacre of the Kurds in the event of Washington’s withdrawal
is mainly a scary bedtime story circulated within the beltway to smear any one
with the common sense to say Washington should get the hell out of a country
it has no business occupying or meddling in.
With ISIS’ defeat in Syria and Turkey’s pivoting to a friendly relationship with Russia, in fact, the Turks have no need to invade eastern Syria and drive out the Kurds as they did last year in Afrin.
Owing to their participation in the Astana Group, and therefore defacto rapprochement with Assad, they are more than well-positioned to get an agreed four-party settlement which ends up with the YPG largely disarmed and its ambitions for a separate state nullified. As Tom Luongo astutely observed,
Turkey was one of the major partners in the mission to destroy Syria. And now they have joined with Russia, Iran and China in negotiating the peace process.
They have gone from “Assad must go!” to “Assad can stay.” It is an admission that the US plan for balkanization of Syria will eventually fail…..
The truth is, there will be no revival of ISIS or massacre of the Kurds under the Donald’s long overdue decision to do in Syria what the dovish GOP statesman from Vermont, Senator George Aiken, advised LBJ to do about Vietnam back in 1968: Namely, to declare victory and bring the troops home – a wise course of action that still rings with truth 50 years later.
And that gets us to General Mattis and his grandstanding resignation. Contrary to the mainstream media narrative, the man was far from the "adult" in the room. He is actually a short guy with a big mouth and an institutionally-instilled affinity for Empire and all its works.
As to the former attribute, his endless series of nasty quotes is hardly reflective of the wise civilian leadership that is supposed to govern our military forces. Instead, it just the smart-mouthed rhetoric of a guy who spent 40-years in a Marine barracks fighting wholly unnecessary wars against crudely armed insurgents who didn’t cotton to foreign legions bombing, droning, burning, demolishing and occupying their native towns, villages and farms across the middle east.
I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me I’ll kill you.
The only thing you can say about Mattis – notwithstanding his 7,000 book library and ostentatious carrying of the Mediations of Marcus Aurelius to battle – is that he was an unthinking warrior for the Empire who proved to be adept at inflicting the massive technological violence of the American war machine on the inhabitants of Kuwait in Gulf War 1.0, and then the same on the beleaguered lands and populations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Needless to say, there was nothing especially "adult" about any of that unnecessary mayhem. Instead, it was just dutiful implantation of the wholly misguided and destructive projects of Imperial Washington.
Thank heavens Mattis has now been fired from the Oval Office twice – first by Obama for his virulent antipathy to Iran and then by Trump for his ceaseless resistance to the withdrawal from Syria which the Donald announced way back on March 30.
On Christmas Eve, there could be no better gift to the American people – or the long-suffering populations of the middle east who have been subjected to Mattis style we’ll-kill-you-if-even-look-cross-eye at our occupation of your lands – than the Donald’s tweet of good riddance to Mattis and hopefully more of Washington’s Mad Dogs of War to come.
David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.