Horrifying the entire US foreign policy establishment, US President Trump announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Syria on Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement threw the entire US foreign policy establishment – right, left and center, Democratic, Republican and “independent; all of it without exception – into a tizzy. Far right Trump supporting US Senator Lindsay Graham commented “If Obama had done this, we’d be going nuts right now; how weak, how dangerous.” Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, is known to oppose this move as are Trump’s two most trusted advisors – National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Bolton and Pompeo might be dismissed as yahoo war hawks, but also horrified are the strategists in the Council on Foreign Relations as expressed in their journal, Foreign Affairs.
Who weakened; who strengthened
A Washington Post editorial on the withdrawal made matters clear. They commented on who will be weakened and who strengthened by this act: Israel and US ally the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF – the Kurdish dominated military unit armed by the US) will be weakened; Iran, Turkey and the Islamic State will be strengthened. (Note that nowhere is Assad mentioned in this editorial. So much for the myth that US troop presence in Syria is about “regime change.”)
There is some question as to whether this is not just one of those whims of Trump that will wither and die over the next few days. Most certainly that’s what the military brass will try to achieve. Reuters, however, has reported that all US State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria immediately. It seems this report is accurate as a State Department representative seemed to confirm “the movement of State Department personnel.” If so, it means two things: First, that the troop withdrawal is going to happen, and sooner rather than later; and second, that renewed fighting in Northeast Syria (where US troops are stationed) will be the immediate result.
Affects in Syria
This will have several affects within Syria and the region in general:
The US forces helped cobble together a military force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The main and centralizing component of the SDF is and has been the Kurdish military wing, the YPG. Various other elements of all sorts of different stripes have been brought in, mostly those forces – both significant and tiny in size – opposed to the Islamic State. All along, there has been a tendency for the SDF to fragment, both along ethnic (mainly Arab vs. Kurdish) as well as political lines. It has been the protective umbrella of US imperialism, including US military assistance and air cover, that held the SDF together. If and when US military presence ends, the SDF will collapse. Some of them will turn towards the Turkish forces. Others towards Assad. Already the PYD – the political arm of the Kurdish control over NE Syria – has essentially worked out a deal with Assad. If the US leaves, the PYD will be forced to directly link up with Assad in order to protect itself from Erdogan and Company. This will include inviting Assad to send his troops into Rojava. Over a fairly short period of time, this will mean the end of “autonomy” for Rojava.
It will also strengthen the influence of the Iranian regime, both in Syria, where it is playing a devastating role, and throughout the region. Because of that, it will mean that Israel is likely to step up its intervention in Syria. This means that Iranian sub-imperialism’s main regional rival, the Saudi regime, will also step up its activity in the region. The withdrawal will also mean that the Turkish regime will intervene further into Syria, including an overwhelmingly likely military invasion into at least part of Rojava.
Putin and bourgeois international “legality”
Putin, of course, has saluted this withdrawal (which he probably ordered). Among other things, he’s commented that the US troops are there “illegally” because unlike the Russian troops, the US troops aren’t there at the invitation of the recognized government. It is amazing that so-called socialists have repeated this claim, as if bourgeois diplomatic “legality” trumps the interests of the working class. And, anyway, in that case, these socialists should support the Saudi’s murderous intervention into Yemen, since that intervention has been at the request of the officially “recognized” Yemeni president, Abdrabbuh Hadi!
“Socialists” in the US
All of this further reveals the complete misunderstanding (to put it mildly) of much of the “socialist left”, including the so-called “peace movement” here in the US. On the one hand, they tended to denounce the Free Syrian Army for having gotten (very minimal) arms from the US. This same “left” has tended to uncritically support the PYD. But with the withdrawal of US troops there, it will become even clearer that the PYD is militarily dependent on the US. So, if the Free Syrian Army is to be condemned for having received US arms, then how about the PYD?
In addition, all the news and commentary about the US withdrawal (of its minimal number of troops) proves once again that the purpose of US involvement is not “regime change” as opposed to what it was in Iraq; the purpose has been to combat the Islamic State and to maintain influence in at least part of Syria as well as in the region as a whole. The overthrow of Assad was never going to help those purposes.
For International Working Class Solidarity
Some on the left will now be crying about another “betrayal” of the Kurds. Others will shout from the rooftops about this “defeat of US imperialism.” They all completely miss the point. The US presence served to guarantee that nothing within its orbit would lead to a real working class revolt against the brutal Assad regime. It always functioned to assure capitalist stability in Syria and in the region – at least as much as possible. These “socialists” fail, once again, to see the role of the working class as an independent force in society, including in Syria and in the region. Socialists should be organizing protests at Turkish embassies and consulates around the world and also trying to link up with the Turkish working class, especially those elements that have been on strike or struggling against the Erdogan regime. Through this, they could help to develop international working class solidarity in action, not just words, as Oaklandsocialist is working to do with Iranian workers.
Where did Trump get his marching orders?
Until now, Trump’s Number One foreign policy objective in the region has been to destroy the Islamic State and weaken or possibly even attack Iranian. So how to explain this withdrawal?
Just a day or two before Trump’s order, he had been on the phone with Turkish president Recep Erdoğan. The Turkish regime, of course, has its own interests in the region, especially that where US troops are located. These troops serve as a buffer between their Kurdish allies and the Erdogan regime, which wants to wipe them out as it sees them as a threat to build into a Kurdish movement in Turkey itself. However, despite their few numbers (only about 2,000), Erdogan dares not attack them since it would most certainly provoke a broad and deep response by the US government. It is nearly certain that once removed, Erdogan’s troops will attack at least the northern border of the region, and once having occupied that a deeper invasion seems likely.
According to al Jazeera, among other things there was an apparent deal for Turkey to buy missiles from the US instead of from Russia. But that doesn’t seem to be enough to push Trump to announce this withdrawal.
No the only way to explain it is by looking at Trump’s paymaster: Putin. The presence of these US troops, few as they may be, are a stumbling block to Putin’s imperialist designs on Syria, as well as to those of one of his allies in the region, Iran’s Rouhani. Who else would have the power to push Trump to stand up to his entire administration, including his closest advisors (Pompeo and Bolton)? It can only be explained by the fact of his long term money-laundering relationship with the Russian oligarchs, on which Putin rests. (We have written frequently about this relationship.) Putin’s “kompromat” – compromising information – on Trump is not imagined.
Oaklandsocialist predicted it
In fact, the author of this piece speculated (on Facebook) on the very day of Trump’s announcement that possibly the “order” came from Putin through Erdogan. After all, it would be too obvious for Trump to have been speaking directly with Putin. So Putin’s close regional ally, Erdogan, would be the obvious choice as messenger.
The US capitalist mainstream
This will not be taken lying down by the main defenders of the interests of US capitalism. They will now be pushed even further towards focusing on Trump’s long-term money-laundering relationship with the Russian oligarchs. In fact, future Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, hinted as much, when she commented that Trump had acted out of “personal… objectives”. In the same comment, Pelosi referred to former Trump National Security Administration head Mike Flynn’s having admitted that he was a “foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict.” This is hitting closer and closer to home.
In fact, just the Sunday before, member of the US House of Representatives Jackie Speier (D, CA) wrote a piece for the SF Chronicle outlining Trump’s crooked real estate deal with Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. In this deal, Rybolovlev made a multi-million dollar payoff to Trump in the form of a way below-market-value real estate purchase. Speier’s piece seems to have been based on a document she received nearly a year ago. So, why did she wait so long?
The mainstream of the US capitalist class has been struggling with might and main to get their president under control. His order for withdrawal of US troops from Syria proves that this will not happen. Clearly, this will not happen. So far, they have just been nibbling around the edges, with the Mueller focus on campaign violations and lying to the FBI. Their reluctance to get to the heart of the matter stems from two causes:
- First is the fact that the entire real estate industry is involved in money laundering for drug cartels and similar gangs. (See this article, for example.)
- Second is the fact that this revelation – that a US president is not looking out for “America” – would create an uproar throughout US society that would threaten general political stability.
Trump’s order for withdrawal of US troops adds pressure on the mainstream of the capitalist class to get to the heart of the matter. When they do, it will tend to open a can of worms. The depths of the degeneration of the US capitalist class will start to be revealed in all its “glory” as well as the conflicts at the top starting to rip them apart
even further than has happened already. We should remember the Watergate scandal. The Watergate break in was known well before the reelection of Nixon, but it had no effect on the public consciousness at that time. It was only months later, when the mainstream of the US capitalist class decided that Nixon had to go and their media started to make a big issue of it – it was only then that it had a big effect on the consciousness.
It is similar today, except that the class tensions are so many times greater, which is exactly why they have tried to keep their conflict with Trump under control. But if it gets out of control, as Trump’s latest concession to Putin could well push it to be, then a real political crisis could break out. If, among other things, the depths of the money laundering in the real estate industry starts to leak out, then the Democrats will be implicated in this too. Among other things, combined with all the other factors, that could be a large impulse towards the building of an alternative – a mass working class political party in the United States.