The establishment response to Trump’s announcement that he plans to withdraw US ground forces from Syria borders on hysteria. Defense Secretary Jame Mattis resignation fostered a similar response. Most mainstream media is screaming that chaos now reigns in Washington and that decades of US alliances are being discarded. As has been noted by others, liberals and neocons are opposing the possible withdrawal and suddenly want to assert Congress’s power to wage war—a power very few in Congress have even mentioned in at least a decade despite the ever-expanding combat operations of the Pentagon. Meanwhile, certain anarchist groups and some leftists are decrying the withdrawal in the name of the mostly Kurdish Bookchinites who compose the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). According to these groups and individuals, the SDF will come under attack by Turkish forces and most likely collapse if the US ground troops leave.
Before I continue, let’s get some stuff out of the way quickly. I’m glad US ground troops are leaving Syria. I hope they are leaving Afghanistan. I’m glad Mattis resigned. He was considered the sane voice in the Trump administration only because the US is a sociopathic nation. In other words, Mattis is also a psychopath and a mass murderer, who once told his soldiers to shoot everyone they met as US forces destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah, killing more than five thousand people and razing it to the ground. Furthermore, I don’t think Trump is antiwar or anti-imperialist. I oppose him and his worldview as much as I have opposed any other president’s in my lifetime. Trump is not against imperial war. He just wants to choose his own enemies. As further proof that he isn’t against war, Trump isn’t cutting the military and DHS budgets by half. In fact, they are increasing.
If the withdrawal from Syria and the drawdown in Afghanistan do occur, a number of scenarios open up. One thing that is certain is that people in the regions affected will continue to be attacked by US forces and others involved in each conflict. US attacks will continue to be primarily from the air via manned and unmanned aircraft. An increasing likelihood is that as US forces leave, more and more operations will be conducted by US-based mercenary forces. According to various sources, Blackwater has reconfigured itself again and recently paid for a full page advertisement in Recoil (The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle) magazine. This ad has led various observers including the military-focused website Military Times to ask in a December 21, 2018 article,“Is the war in Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere ― about to be privatized?” (Military Times)
If the conflicts are outsourced to the private sector, one wonders where the Pentagon’s forces will be re-deployed to. An examination of the Department of Defense website and other official sources provides no clues. This could be because of the Trump-induced government shutdown or it could just be what the military calls classified. After all, as anybody who has a friend or family member in the military knows, the specifics of military deployments are rarely provided to anyone not in the military. It is important to remember, however, that US forces are currently in Jordan, Nigeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel and many other countries in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as offshore and on land around the world. One hopes that the Trumpists are not interested in bringing the US war on the world elsewhere.
Let’s go back to the situation of the mostly Kurdish SDF. The struggle this group and its previous incarnations have waged is about as close to heroic as one finds in today’s world. It is in large part due to this heroism on the battlefield that encouraged the Pentagon to support them. That success is also why the Turkish government wishes to destroy the movement. Of all the Kurdish organizations the Turkish government has tried to destroy, it is the SDF’s precursors—the PKK—that has frustrated Ankara since the PKK’s inception. The US military found the Kurds to be convenient pawns. However, the US has no interest in supporting their endeavor, only in using their bodies to achieve some imperial goal. The withdrawal means that that goal was not achieved and the Kurds get used again. The lesson isn’t that folks should support imperialist forces sometimes, but that imperialists can never be trusted and therefore never supported. As far as the United States and the Kurdish people are concerned, the relationship has always been one-sided. Time after time, Washington has made an alliance with this or that Kurdish nationalist organization only to leave that organization high and dry once Washington’s imperial needs were met. Unless those who make up the SDF have completely ignored this history, it would seem to me that they have at least a few contingencies for when the US drops them once again. They had to know that any alliance with US forces was at Washington’s whim and could be withdrawn at any time. Those in the west who oppose the withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria in the name of the Kurdish struggle are denying the SDF their own agency. Indeed, that denial brings their support perilously close to paternalism.
As a long time observer and critic of US policy and the US military, I am skeptical of any grand positive outcomes coming from the proposed removal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. However, if it means that US imperialism is weakening its grip on those regions of the world even in the short term, then that is a good thing. Naturally, only time will tell, if anything is going to tell at all.