The Empire Steps Back

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

What everyone is most upset about with regard to Syria isn’t the bloodshed or anything having [to] do with human rights. It’s the decline in American control of the Middle East. This is 100% about US imperialism taking a hit.

— Rania Khalek, (@RaniaKhalek) October 14, 2019

A series of Donald Trump’s decisions, culminating in the decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, has set off a cascade of effects that are dramatically changing the geopolitics of the Middle East and the internal politics of the United States.

Two months ago, I wrote an article opposing the impeachment drive and stating that Donald Trump is not going to be removed from office by impeachment proceedings. I said: “Donald Trump will be removed from office one way: by an election.”

At that time, in the wake of the fizzling out of the Mueller Report and testimony on Russian “collusion,” the new smoking gun was “obstruction of justice.” “The evidence is overwhelming,” Jamie Raskin said, echoing more than 90 of his Democratic colleagues, “10 different episodes of presidential obstruction of justice.” Walls closing in.

Somehow, even after Mueller’s “very, very painfultestimony, the impeachment drive by the Democrats had intensified to the point that it was de rigueur for every major Democratic presidential candidate, and for anyone calling themselves “progressive,” to demand impeachment proceedings. Because “obstruction of justice.”

Of course, the Democrats were not going to create an irresistible political tide that would get enough Republican senators to vote to oust Trump with that “obstruction of justice” issue, and they knew it. The chance of that was effectively zero.

The odds on that are now changing significantly. What happened to change the impeachment calculus? That might move enough Republicans?

The answer is nothing that’s in the Ukrainegate smokingburger, which replaced the obstruction-of-justice smokingburger, which replaced the Russiagate smokingburger. Interpretations of the Zelensky phone call are just that—interpretations. Stipulate the worst: Trump tried to wheedle some personal political benefit from a foreign leader. Shocked! Shocked! Are we?

Really? Does anybody think that, if we read through the transcripts of every conversation between US presidents and foreign leaders over the last fifty years, we wouldn’t find scores of such transactions? And, uh, Hunter Biden, not to mention the Clinton campaign and Foundation. The Republicans can bat that phone call away, and they will face no political groundswell among their voters, or even the general public, to take sides in a family feud among different corrupt factions of a corrupt political elite.

To say nothing of the most outrageous examples of using foreign leaders to political advantage. Richard Nixon conspired with the leaders of South Vietnam to prolong the Vietnam War, and LBJ knew it. Ronald Reagan conspired with the leaders of Iran to prolong the confinement of American hostages, and a bipartisan commission covered it up. But they weren’t presidents at the time? Really, that’s an argument for dismissing these cases? What do you think these guys did when they were presidents? No, Nancy, now that I’m president I cannot seek a political benefit from a foreign leader! And why were these cases ignored and actively covered up, except because they were considered—even if a little extreme—SOP in US politics?

The success of the Democrats’ impeachment drive depends on one thing: getting enough Republican senators to vote for conviction. No, nothing in the Trump-Zelensky phone call or anything like it is going to move Republicans to temper their defenses against the Democratic onslaught, let alone move enough of them in the Senate to vote to remove him from office.

If Republicans do stop defending him against that, it will be because they have become radically disaffected with him about something else.

That something else is real, though it probably will not be explicitly stated in impeachment charges. It’s the simmering bipartisan concern about Trump that has been brought to a boil by recent series of events and decisions: his unreliability as a trigger-puller, his aversion to ordering big military attacks. This is certainly a damning fault in the eyes of most Republicans (as well as Democrats), a disqualifying failure or responsibility from the warden of the US empire. That’s the impeachable offense that could well get enough Republican votes to convict him.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump expressed his opposition to wasteful foreign interventions clearly and repeatedly enough, and was skewered by the Democrats whenever he did, as they promoted lies and war and lies about war (specifically about Ukraine, as I noted) for their political benefit.

He also expressed his disdain for the obligatory nod to US sanctimony, when he responded to Joe Scarborough’s complaint about Putin killing people: “I think our country does plenty of killing also,” and when he pushed back on George Stephanopoulos regarding Ukraine: “The people of Crimea…would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

These kinds of thoughts are anathema to hawkish Republicans. They could only be ignored because they assumed: 1) he wasn’t going to win, 2) it was empty campaign rhetoric, and 3) as President, he would be boxed in and managed by the shepherds of the national-security state. Only one of those assumptions turned out to be entirely false, and it’s the uncertainty about how the other two are now playing out that might undermine his support among Senate Republicans.

In the last few months, Trump has made decisions either to reduce US military presence or explicitly not to take military action that was expected and planned. These were rhetorically and substantively anti-interventionist positions that are anathema to imperialist Republicans. The most consequent of these in the impeachment context are those regarding Iran, and, relatedly, Syria.

The dangerous fuse of Republican discontent with Trump was lit with Trump’s decision in June to call off the military strike on Iran, after Iran’s downing of a US drone. That event followed attacks on Norwegian and Japanese tankers in the Persian Gulf that the US government blamed on Iran. A narrative had been established for US politicians and media: Every nasty thing that happens in the Middle East is to be blamed on Iran. It’s a narrative with a specific target and a specific goal: to manufacture consent for a military attack on that target—Iran—when a good opportunity was either concocted or presented itself.

Iran’s acknowledged destruction of a valuable US military asset provided that opportunity. Trump’s decision—on the profound advice of Bolton, Pompeo, et. al.—to launch an attack on Iran was the inevitable next scene in the script. His decision, made a few hours later, to cancel the attack was something else again. It was a decision made “without consulting his vice president, secretary of state or national security adviser,” with “forces… already in motion… more than 10,000 sailors and airmen….on the move,” and with “only 10 minutes to go.” Per the NYT, that decision “stunned,” ”flabbergasted,” and outraged his closest advisers and key Republican allies. It was an unprecedented deus ex machina, an impermissible interruption that, especially for Republicans, just doesn’t fit in the epic story of American “presidentialness.”

Leftish Trump opponents have not, I think, recognized what an extraordinary important, and praiseworthy decision this was by Trump. Has there been a more positive decision of such consequence made by any president in the last thirty years?

Yes, it was the reversal of a prior, terrible decision of his. And, yes, it’s subject to reversal again because of his inconsistency and his many other terrible decisions regarding Iran and the region. But on its own, it stopped an onslaught of immense destruction. That it was a reversal of something he had set in motion only makes it more extraordinary as a presidential act.

Moreover, Trump was not alone in the process of re-thinking his decision. The Washington Post tells us that, from the get-go, the decision to strike Iran had “divided his top advisers, with senior Pentagon officials opposing the decision to strike and national security adviser John Bolton strongly supporting it.” And during those hours of reconsideration, as the NYT reports: “there continued to be pushback from Pentagon civilians and General Dunford.”

In other words, this wasn’t just a matter of peripatetic Trump; it was a matter of an ongoing tension between the fervently Zionist neocons, represented by the likes of Bolton and Pompeo, and the military realists, as represented by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford. Let’s not—as hawkish Republicans and Democrats certainly will try to—hide that tension in the tale of Trump’s personal inconsistency.

That tension defines something that Trump and every American president is inconsistent about. In the US context, that Trump changed his mind in the direction he did at the last minute is, again, extraordinary—one might even say “courageous.”

Sure, better not to have ordered the attack in the first place, but, in such circumstances, I’ll take reconsideration and second thoughts to sticking to one’s guns.

What we see here is that, for all his bluster, Trump knows when to be scared of a fight that will certainly hurt and not benefit the US, unlike the missionary (whether Zionist, Christian, or secular “humanitarian”) interventionists—including past presidents Obama and Bush, the man “progressive” impeachers would have president, Mike Pence, and every one of the present Democratic contenders, with the possible exception of Sanders or Gabbard. Certainly, in the same circumstances (having decided for the neocons, still getting pushback from the military), none of those Democrats, with the noted exceptions, would have made the re-consideration Trump did, and we would be at war with Iran now.

Anti-Trump lefties may not want to recognize how radical Trump’s decision to call off the Iran strike was, but senior Republicans sure do.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a not unimportant player in the unfolding impeachment drama, said Trump’s decision to cancel the Iran strike “was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness.” To which Trump responded, in tones matching Obama’s best anti-stupid-interventionist campaign rhetoric: “No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!” Republicans were likening Trump’s refusal to strike Iran over the drone downing to Obama not striking Syria over the chemical weapons “red line” pretext. Having Republicans and his own advisors see him as “all too reminiscent … of Mr. Obama” is not a look that will help Trump among imperialist Republican senators.

Indeed, that remark of Graham’s was made after Trump’s second dramatic failure to respond with military action—this time to the September 14th Houthi attack on Saudi oilfields, which was framed by neocon Pompeo as an “act of war” by Iran and, implicitly, against the United States. Even the liberal NYT accepted the framing that Trump “let down his Arab partners by failing to respond more forcefully to Iranian aggressions.” quoting one Gulf political scientist that: “Trump, in his response to Iran, is even worse than Obama.”

What’s important for the purposes of impeachment possibility, of course, is whether Trump’s Republicans allies see it that way. And they do. Here’s Graham again: “This is literally an act of war and the goal should be to restore deterrence against Iranian aggression which has clearly been lost.” There it is: Trump “lost” deterrence against, is “losing” the Middle East to, Iran.

Former C.I.A. official Reuel Marc Gerecht echoes and amplifies the line to NYT reporters at the ultra-neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The president’s repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions has been a serious mistake.”

It was a week after this putative “act of war” by Iran and non-military response by Trump, on September 23rd, that a group of “moderate” freshmen Democratic congresswomen who had “formed a bond over their national security background,” joined by two freshmen male colleagues, also military veterans, wrote a Washington Post (WaPo) op-ed that, as CNN puts it: “changed the dynamic for House Democrats, and indeed — the course of history.”

These women call themselves the “badasses,” a name that one of them, Chrissy Houlahan, says, “came organically from the group since we all had either served in the military or in the CIA.”

So, it was no squad of “progressives,” but a cohort of Democrats bound by national-security/intelligence “service” that “opened the floodgates,” and persuaded Nancy Pelosi to move with them “from hard no to hell yes on starting an impeachment inquiry.”

They say their position changed so suddenly and dramatically that week in September because, as CIA veterans and all, they were shocked, shocked that POTUS “may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent.” Reading their op-ed, you’ll find no hint that they share their colleague Gerecht’s concern about “the president’s repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions.” No, no, these military and CIA badasses keep their “steadfast focus” on “health care [and] infrastructure.” Sure.

Now, making things worse for himself, Trump “Throws Middle East Policy Into Turmoil” by announcing a “withdrawal” of US troops from northeast Syria. This “touched off a broad rebuke by Republicans, including some of his staunchest allies,” whose response has been apoplectic: “some of the sharpest language they have leveled” against him. Here are the leaders of the Senate Republican caucus that will vote on any impeachment referral:

Liz Cheney: It’s a “catastrophic mistake that … threatens America’s national security”

Marco Rubio: Trump’s decision “is a grave mistake that will have severe consequences beyond Syria. It risks encouraging the Iranian regime [and]… will imperil other U.S. national security interests in the region

Lindsey Graham: “if he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.” And: “This to me is an Obama-like decision” and “if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.”

Their ostensible outrage is that Trump’s decision “betrays our Kurdish allies,” since it opens the way for a Turkish invasion to subdue Kurdish forces who aligned with the US. And the decision was impulsive, throwing “supporters, foreign leaders, military officers and his own aides off balance,” and does effectively greenlight what is an outrageous offensive by Turkey to steal Syrian territory and ethnically cleanse Kurdish areas.

But Turkey has already invaded Syria with US blessing, under the Obama administration, betraying the same Kurdish allies. As I wrote in a 2016 essay: “Vice-President Joe Biden stood beside Turkish President Erdogan and commanded the Kurds to back off and let Turkey have its way—to actually surrender territory they had won from ISIS to Turkey, and to the Free Syrian Army, Faylaq Al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and re-costumed-ISIS jihadis who follow in the wake of Turkish tanks.”

“We have made it absolutely clear to . . . the YPG that participated” in the taking of Manbij and other towns “that they must move back across the river,” Biden said. “They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances will get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period.”

Tough love Joe, who at the time was trying to reassure Erdogan that the US was not complicit in the coup attempt against him. The US government was always going to accede to its NATO ally over its more-dispensable Kurdish “partners.”

My point above about the jihadis coming in Turkey’s wake is still quite relevant and undermines the whole “protection from ISIS” narrative. The US itself cheered ISIS on, as Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry admitted. Turkey supported ISIS and trafficked ISIS soldiers, arms, and oil across its border with Syria throughout the conflict. That 2016 Turkish invasion made liberal use of jihadi proxies, including ISIS, which calmly turned territory over to Turkish-backed forces, with some ISIS fighters just changing their uniforms to join them.

In the current invasion, Erdogan is playing the same game. He explicitly says, for example, that “The Turkish army won’t enter Manbij. We’ll be content with providing assistance to Syrian opposition and tribal forces.” Erdogan wants to avoid a direct conflict with the Syrian Army (SAA) and its Russian allies, so those “forces”—now branded the “Syrian National Army” or the “Turkey-Supported Opposition” (TSO)—will be the ground-level fighters of Turkish attacks. They include the various jihadi factions within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the US created, any ISIS cadres who wish to join as the TSO deliberately releases them, and some angry Syrian Arabs who were thrown out of their homes by Kurd militias (who have been no angels in seeking to establish their ethno-state). You know, the kinds of “forces” that the US government and media insisted for years were “moderate rebels,” and are now acknowledging are ruthless killers who are executing captured Kurd fighters as well as civilian political leaders.

Incredible: US officials are now admitting “rebels” from the “Free Syrian Army” that are embedded with the Turkish army are intentionally freeing ISIS prisoners, while massacring civilians These are some of the “moderate rebels” the CIA armed and trained — Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) October 15, 2019

It’s the SAA and its allies that were the most effective at destroying ISIS and jihadi “forces” over the last eight years. For neither Turkey nor the US was ISIS ever anything other than a weapon against the Syrian government and a convenient pretext for “protective” intervention. And the Kurds were always more pawns than “partners.”

And the spectacle of countries/actors like the EU, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, all of whom financed and armed an invasion of Syria by foreign jihadis for 8 years, now objecting to Turkey violating the “territorial sovereignty” of Syria demonstrates the death of irony.

Turkey is illegally extending its prior illegal invasion of Syria into sovereign Syrian territory that the US had illegally taken control of. Mark Sleboda puts it well: “Turkey is invading the US invasion of Syria.”

Neither Trump’s staunch Republican allies, nor his Democratic opponents, nor any of those countries give two hoots about the Kurds, let alone Syria’s “territorial integrity.” They are not upset and outraged at Trump because he opened the possibility of Turkey repressing the Kurds; they are upset and outraged because he made the Kurds finally see what fools they were to ally with the US and to turn instead to an alliance with the Syrian government. US politicians’ crocodile tears for the Syrian Kurds are really rage at losing their allegiance.

The Kurdish commander of the US-created Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi, is now saying: “if you’re not [protecting my people], I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region,” and writing in Foreign Policy that “The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection.” He may also say: “We do not trust their promises,” but he knows very well that some kind of autonomy agreement with Damascus is preferable for Syrian Kurds to Turkish occupation and ethnic cleansing.

So, the SDF has formally “agreed to the deployment of the SAA” throughout the group’s ‘self-administration’ area (“to all areas starting East from Ain Dawar to Jarablus in the north”), calling on the SAA to do its “duty to protect the country’s borders and preserve Syrian sovereignty.”

As I write, the SAA and allied forces have already, often greeted with celebration, entered the towns of Ain Issa, Tel Tamer, Qamishli, Kobani, Raqqah, and Manbij—where they’ve taken over a US base.

As the NYT reports: “If Syrian government forces can reach the Turkish border to the north and the Iraqi border to the east, it would be a major breakthrough in Mr. Assad’s quest to re-establish his control over the whole country.”

The problem now isn’t that the Kurds no longer have any allies; it’s that the Americans don’t.

The Kurds have now recognized and joined the alliance that really is capable of preserving their own lives and Syria’s “territorial sovereignty”—which is precisely what the US, NATO/EU, Israel, the Gulf monarchies, and Turkey, have been trying to destroy for eight years.

This is what Trump’s McCain-Republican frenemies are pissed-off at. Led by Lindsey Graham, they’re pissed-off at Erdogan—not for killing Kurds, but for disrupting the game which used protection of the Kurds as a “humanitarian” alibi for dividing Syria and overthrowing its government.

The American troops that Trump moved out of the way were not protecting the Kurds from Turkey, they were protecting Turkey from itself—from Erdogan’s hubris in overplaying his hand and entering into what at best will be a quagmire of occupation and resistance from Syrian Kurds, and at worst a direct conflict with the Syrian army and its Russian ally, which Erdogan definitely does not want.

But most of all, those US troops were protecting the ongoing, long-term project of state-destruction in the region on behalf of Israel. The splitting off of a Kurdish area and the presence of US troops in it—under the pretext of a protective force, but really as a constant dagger pointed at Damascus and maintaining the threat of US-led regime change—were lynchpins of that project, which was supposed to culminate in a state-destroying military attack on Iran.

The McCain Republicans are pissed-off at Trump for completely upending—perhaps even finally ending!—that project.

The suite of decisions Trump has made, starting with the decision to cancel the strike on Iran, were accompanied by rhetoric that gets him into even more trouble, especially with those McCain Republicans.

“I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home and bring them home as quickly as possible.”

“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars.”

[Regarding Turkey and Syria] “That has nothing to do with us,” he said. He said he could understand if Syria and Turkey want territory. “But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they’re fighting over Syria’s land?”

[Regarding whether his decision to pull back from Syria had opened the way for Russia and the Syrian government] “I wish them all a lot of luck. If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them,” he added.

[Responding to Lindsey Graham’s criticisms] “The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

“Ridiculous endless wars,” “Let them fight their own wars”—anathema for a serving president to say. Acceptable as campaign rhetoric, but never to be said for real by a president in office—especially a president attacked for his “repeated failure[s] to militarily respond” to designated enemies.

All of this marks a new and real danger for Trump in the impeachment process. When Graham, “usually one of the president’s most vocal backers,” warns that unless Trump reverses (!) his decision, it “will be the biggest mistake of his presidency,” that sounds a lot like a threat.

There’s another element that appears in all the neocon, McCain-Republican (as well as McCain-Democrat) objections, which can be seen, for example, in Lindsey Graham’s remark that Trump’s decision is: “a big win for Iran and Assad, a big win for ISIS.”

Note the logic here: Turkey disappears as the enemy, and ISIS gets added at the end for the scare factor, but it’s the “win” for Syria, which in his view also means a win for Iran, that’s the real problem. It always goes to Iran.

It’s crucial to understand all the implications that underlie and make sense of such a statement. After all, there’s no “win” for Syria in the Turkish invasion of its territory unless it results in the Kurds turning to Damascus and the SAA for their protection. If Graham’s professed interest in protecting the Kurds were real, that would be a good thing. But it also brings Syria closer to finally winning against the eight-year US-sponsored regime-change and state-destroying operation, which is Graham’s and the US’s real agenda, so it therefore becomes a bad thing. This discourse reveals that Graham, like the rest of his colleagues, is not worried about whether the Kurds will be protected from Turkey, but whether they will reconcile with Damascus.

And how can the Turkish invasion of Syria possibly be construed as a “win” for Iran, which has “warned its neighbor not to move forward with its military operation” and held unannounced military drills near its border with Turkey? Only if everything that’s happening in Syria is a function of a project directed against Iran. Only if Syria’s winning back the allegiance of the Kurds as well as its actual territorial integrity is a “loss” for the US in an offensive against Iran.

It always goes to Iran.

Graham is here expressing what’s actually behind the growing urgency of the neocon national-security apparatus to replace Donald Trump with Mike Pence—‘cause, you know, that is what impeaching and convicting Trump will do—and why it may adversely affect Trump’s chances with Republican senators.

One cannot understand what’s happening in Syria, or what’s happening in impeachment, or the relation between the two unless one understands the role of Israel in determining US policy and influencing US politics in general. US policy in the Middle East is completely incoherent until one understands the extent to which it’s Israeli policy.

One cannot complain that Trump’s Syria decision caused “chaos” without recognizing the chaos that US intervention throughout the Middle East since 2001—in Iraq, Libya, and Syria—has already caused, and was designed to cause, for the sake of Israel. Because, as Middle East Monitor reports: “the [former] chief of Israel’s military intelligence, General Aviv Kochav, has said that the chaos in the Arab world favours Israel and is something that he believes should continue.”

And one cannot understand what’s happened and happening in Syria, and what the US politicians really think is “wrong” with Trump’s decision, without placing it in the context of the US-Israeli strategy that was famously revealed by Wesley Clark (and studiously ignored by US media), to “take out seven countries… starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.”

Iran has always been the ultimate target. Syria was a stepping-stone, the part of what Israel saw as the “Tehran-Damascus-Hizbullah alliance” that became ripe for removing in 2011-2. This was made explicit in a State Department report, authored by James Rubin (Christine Amanpour’s husband), that appeared in a Hillary Clinton email chain: “The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.” Or, as high-ranking Israeli officials gleefully foresaw: “Syria’s fragmentation into provinces, … the formation of an Alawite district in the coastal region… a Sunni province …and …a Kurdish province in northern Syria.”

That Iran has been the ultimate target is also made clear in an exceptionally important and detailed NYT report, “The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran” (published before the Syria decision), which I urge everyone to read. It chronicles how “Hawks in Israel and America have spent more than a decade agitating for war against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program,” and asks “Will Trump finally deliver?” It details Benjamin Netanyahu’s obsessive “personal crusade” against Iran, and his attempts to cajole, browbeat, and bluff the US into attacking Iran for the Jewish state—to the point that the US ambassador to Israel thought: “Israel might consider it an advantage to strike in the final phase of the [2012] election,” believing it “could force the United States’ hand to be supportive or to come in behind Israel and assist. Because otherwise, President Obama could be accused of abandoning Israel in its moment of need.”

Israel used this “can’t refuse Israel” ideology to make sure the Obama administration “meticulously refined” “military plans for an Iran strike” that, if he didn’t use, would be a “loaded gun,” “inherited” by the next president.

But Trump hasn’t picked up that gun. Despite his embrace of so many aspects of Netanyahu’s agenda, Israelis now fear that “the American president in whom they had invested so much hope has gone wobbly.” Why? Because of his “last-minute decision to abort the attack in June,” which has “led to a concern among Iran hawks in both Israel and the United States: that the president ultimately might not have the resolve to confront the threat with military force.”

As Haaretz reports, in a more recent editorial “Netanyahu’s Iran Policy Has Collapsed”: “Trump’s putting up with the attack on Saudi Arabia and leaving the Kurds high and dry are warning signs to Israel, that it cannot count on Netanyahu’s friend in the White House.”

And the BBC: Netanyahu’s “signature Iran policy … was rocked by the president’s reluctance to flex US military muscle in response to an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations….[which] evinces the utter collapse of the security doctrine that has been advanced by Netanyahu, [and] has been compounded by Mr. Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of north-eastern Syria.” Israel is now “facing the reality of an unpredictable and transactional president who has deep reservations about using US military might, is afraid of getting involved in another Middle East conflict.”

Those hawks in Israel and the United States may be giving up on Trump, but one would be a fool to think they are giving up. They’re just looking for another “friend in the White House”—and right quick. The election is too far away, and its results too unpredictable.

Trump is slithering filth and dangerously mercurial and random. But the recurring liberal bashing of him for non- and reduced military intervention and for not loving bad guys like the CIA and FBI and John McCain truly is knee-jerk. — vastleft (@vastleft) October 9, 2019

Leftists may be loath to acknowledge it, but, for whatever reasons he made it, Trump’s decision on Syria—the culmination of a series of non-interventionist decisions—has “marked a major turning point in Syria’s long war” and has, indeed, “upended decades” of imperialist and Zionist plans for the Middle East It deserves to be recognized and supported as such by all leftist anti-imperialists as much as it is recognized and denounced as such by the entire spectrum of US-imperialist politics and media. It’s a very good thing, a positive aspect of the Trump-effect I’ve written about previously.

We leftists can point out that Trump’s non-interventionist rhetoric, and even decisions, do not always translate into reality. All US troops have not yet been withdrawn from Syria. US troop presence in the Middle East increased by 14,000 since May. He just sent another 2,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. His policies on Palestine, Venezuela, and even Iran are criminally aggressive, even if they have not yet involved a military attack. We know that he’s impulsive and changeable, and, most importantly, weak. Even if he has a sincere desire to end ridiculous, endless, and wasteful wars, it’s a shallow impulse, ungrounded in anything but self- and US-centered principle. That makes him weak, and it’s why he surrounds himself with neocon deep-state actors on whom he depends and who often ignore or actively oppose him—especially when it comes to his non-interventionist instincts. He is certainly as much of, if more erratic, an imperialist/American-exceptionalist and world bully as any US politician.

That’s the dangerous aspect of Trump’s incoherence that we leftists, for good reason, focus on. But his right-wing critics, and would-be and erstwhile neocon advisors like Bolton (“the whistleblower’s Deep Throat”?) see and fear the other side of his “unpredictable and transactional” character—his call for better relations with Russia, his desire for a deal with Kim Jong-Un, etc.

But most of all, and most importantly in relation to the Middle East and the sacred imperatives of Israel, they see that one big flashing yellow light that they despise: he’s reluctant to pull the trigger on a big attack on the principal enemy. They can maneuver around him, and push him largely where they want him to go, but when it comes to a decisive strike, he’s the commander-in-chief; he needs to give the order. In a series of what for them are crucial moments, Trump has shown himself to be unreliable for that. They want a commander-in-chief on whom they can rely to pull the trigger. Like Mike Pence.

And in this Syria decision they see, correctly, that, no matter how many troops and ships he is moving around the Middle East, Trump has effectively collapsed a longstanding imperialist and Zionist project for Syria and possibly Iran that neocon policy makers had no intention of giving up on. They may yet get him to reverse that or over-compensate for it with some worse aggression, but he seems to be “undeterred,” and “doubling down” on it, “despite vociferous pushback from congressional Republicans” and “top advisers.”

The Democrats need at least 20 Republican senators to convict Trump and throw him out of office. That is no longer impossible. Many McCain Republicans are now on record as seeing Trump’s policy decisions as a threat to “national security” and to fundamental US and “allied” interests, especially in the Middle East.

A “veteran political consultant,” cited by a conservative blogger, made it specific: “The price of Graham’s support… would be an eventual military strike on Iran.”

Impeachment and conviction are still unlikely. Perhaps because Trump will pay Graham’s price—in which case, watch the pressure dissipate. Or, in the better case, and the one Trump seems to be sticking with, precisely because ending ridiculous, wasteful wars and keeping campaign promises and “Let them fight their own wars” are very popular pitches with the Republican (and not only Republican!) electorate. That might well prevent too many Republican defections.

So, the Republican politicians who want to vote against Trump for his aversion to military strikes (and their allied media—watch how FOX and Breitbart coverage evolves) will have to go along with the Democrats and the media fronting other issues. They’ll have to subtly soften their defense of Trump against Ukrainegate charges, starting even during formal impeachment hearings in the House. Unlikely, but no longer impossible. Fundamental imperialist and Zionist policies are at stake.

Kid yourself not. No matter what the formal articles of impeachment say, if Donald Trump is removed from office by impeachment, if more than twenty Republican senators vote to convict him, it will not be because of Russiagate or Ukrainegate of Bidengate or any other ruse issues bleated about constantly in the media, but because he is just too “unpredictable and transactional” to be counted on to pull the trigger when it counts. 100%.

Jim Kavanagh edits The Polemicist. Follow him on Twitter @ThePolemicist_.