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Trump Does Something Right for Once

It’s entertaining to read and watch the collective horror being expressed in the US media and the Congress as President Trump unexpectedly calls for a quick end to US military involvement in Syria, where for years US forces and CIA-trained fighters have been wreaking havoc and death and sowing chaos in a doomed effort to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.

There’s the New York Times, still grimly trying to gin up a new Cold War with Russia, huffing in an editorial that the president is ignoring his own advisors like National Security Director John Bolton (this is a bad thing?) and the recommendations of his generals and his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (isn’t Trump the commander in chief?). There’s Sen. Lindsay Graham, whom the Times says feels Congress has been “blindsided” by the president’s decision to pull out 2000 US troops from Syria within 30 days — the same Graham who never was troubled by US presidents sending troops into other countries without Congressional approval, but who for some bizarre reason doesn’t like having them brought home without permission.

I even heard a reporter and a host on NPR yesterday agreeing that the president, in ordering the US out of Syria, was “ignoring the wishes” of his generals in the Pentagon, whom we were told, “want the US to stay in Syria for years” to “provide stability” in the region.

Really. Stability!

Have these people looked at the photos of Syria over the years of US involvement in that nation’s brutal civil war? Have they seen the cities bombed to rubble by US aircraft? The hospitals struck? Have they observed the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming out of that country desperate to flee the violence often caused by the US directly, or by forces backed by US special forces and CIA trainers — forces that include elements of the same Al Qaeda movement that the US is supposedly fighting in places like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in our country’s endless “War” on terror?

I say it’s entertaining to listen to and to read the horror expressed in the corporate media over this sudden Trump volte-face on Syria, but really, it’s not that funny.

Who knows why Trump is suddenly turning from wantonly launching waves of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian urban targets to calling an end to US military operations in that benighted land. Whatever the reasons, though, it is a long-overdue right move.

Some articles have noted that the US intervention in Syria was begun by President Obama with a bombing attack in 2014, which is true. These articles have gone on to sometimes add that Obama’s invasion was an “illegal” action because it was launched without Congressional approval. This is actually wrong. It is an illegal US war, but not because of a lack of Congressional authorization but because it violates international law. A country that invades another land without UN Security Council authorization, when that invaded country poses no imminent threat to the invader, is committing the highest crime under the UN Charter (a treaty to which the US is a signatory): a Crime against Peace.

President Trump since taking office, perpetuated that vile crime, and even enhanced it with his rocket attacks, but he is finally doing the right thing. Credit where credit is due.

Now he should move quickly to continue down this correct road by ending all support for Saudi Arabia in its illegal and murderous war on neighboring Yemen, and by finally ending America’s longest war, the disastrous one against Afghanistan which President George W. Bush launched, also illegally, in 2001.

President Trump, we know, is a man without principles, a sociopath who’s only real driving passion is his own self-gratification and ego-boosting. He is corrupt to the core, dismissive of democratic norms, and thrives on promoting discord and racial animosity, even to the point of separating immigrant children from their parents and keeping them in dog cages. It is hard to imaging a more reprehensible human being as a national leader. And yet before he allowed himself to be swallowed up by the Washington foreign policy and military establishment early in his presidency, he at least briefly made sense in one way. That was when he talked about the need to get the US out of the “nation-building” business and to end America’s confrontational approach to Russia and China. “Why can’t we make friends?” he asked sensibly.

He quickly surrendered and stopped talking that way, though, once in office, appointing generals to head his Pentagon, his National Security Council and even to be his White House chief of staff, and bringing neo-conservatives into his inner circle — people whose worldview is that the US must dominate the globe militarily. These advisors have led to a situation where the US is now pulling out of arms treaties negotiated with Russia all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency, pushing NATO to be more aggressive in threatening Russia, arming Russia’s former province of Ukraine, threatening China in the South China Sea, and boosting military spending beyond even what the Pentagon asks for.

Now, when in a rare moment of lucidity, Trump suddenly calls a halt to one of the more demented military policies he inherited from his drone-obsessed and Special Forces-loving predecessor — the US military intervention in Syria — the media and even some members of his own party are treating it almost like an act of treason by the president.

What a sad joke.

One can only hope that the president will realize he’s being led by the nose by a bunch of crazed war-mongers who care nothing about him, but who have rather been using him, massaging his ego and catering to his love of parades and military salutes, in order to get the militarist foreign policy and the massive military spending that they crave.

It’s not the generals and the armchair warriors in his inner circle and in media and Congress that Trump should be listening to on this issue though; it’s the troops — the people who come home from tours of duty in Syria or Afghanistan or Libya or Somalia or Yemen or Niger or wherever else the Pentagon sends them saying bitterly that they don’t know why they were there fighting or stirring up trouble.

I just wrote a cover story in the Nation magazine exposing how the Pentagon has for a generation or more been making up the numbers in its quarterly and year-end financial statements in order to trick Congress into endlessly inflating its budget in an epic theft of resources from the American people that now sees the US war machine laying claim to over 54% of all federal government discretionary spending. When I look at our decayed roads and bridges, our third-world mass transit systems, our overcrowded and dilapidated urban and rural schools and crumbling inner cities, our declining environment, our inability to confront the threats of rampaging climate change as evidenced by ever more catastrophic hurricanes and forest fires, our underfunded retirement and health care programs (the latter which still leave tens of millions of us unable to see a doctor or afford timely medical treatments), it infuriates me.

Instead of simply endorsing that extraordinary vacuuming up of resources in the interest of war, armaments and planned destruction, we should be praising Trump for this first little step towards sanity in ending US involvement in Syria, and encouraging him to pick up on his forgotten campaign talk about ending hostilities with Russia and China and getting the US out of the global war business.

No, I am not a Trump supporter. Everything about this president is a nightmare: his misogyny, his racism, his willful ignorance about history and science, his corruption, his appeal to the basest impulses of the white working class he calls “my uneducated supporters.” But if he will do this one big thing right — ending America’s militarism abroad, ending its globe-encircling campaign of illegal wars and special forces actions, and its dangerous provocations of Russia, China and Iran, perhaps finally ending the almost seven-decade-long state of war between the US and North Korea, and pulling the US military back inside the country’s borders where we can start reducing it to a size more appropriate to a country that is at peace — then I’m more than willing to praise him for making a greater contribution to peace than any of his White House predecessors in my lifetime. Hell, I’ll be the first to endorse him for a Nobel Peace Prize!

Not that I’m expecting this. Who knows why he woke up yesterday and decided to tweet out his decision to shut down the US military operation in Syria? It might have been something he ate before going to bed. Maybe he’ll launch another Tomahawk attack on Damascus next week. But for the moment, credit where credit is due. Maybe praising occasional good behavior can change bad behavior.

Meanwhile, no, New York Times editors, no NPR hacks, no Congressional critics, you’re all wrong. Ending an illegal US war is not “treason,” nor is it stupidity. It is sound policy, and it should be praised, whoever does it…even President Trump.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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