Apparently, there’s this whole war in Syria I’m supposed to be patriotic about. Congress didn’t declare it, I didn’t get to vote on it, and most people don’t know where Syria is much less which American regiments are involved or what they’re actually doing. I knew something about it, and my instincts told me nothing good can come of it so I’m glad we’re leaving. Of course, for the permanent bureaucracy–the one we’re not allowed to change by voting–any withdrawal from anywhere is unthinkable.
There’s even talk that Trump is reconsidering our 17-year war in Afghanistan. The generals are appalled. I would be too if I had built an entire career and a chest of medals on a lengthy live-fire exercise that never actually accomplished anything. But over here in net tax-paying world, there are some questions that need answering.
The question before us is a relatively simple one: What would be the criteria for removing our remaining troops from the Iraqi, Syrian, and more general Middle Eastern conflicts? Or, for that matter, from Afghanistan, where we have been trapped for more than 17 long years of still open-ended occupation?
If the answer to that question is that only when each of these countries is a healthy pro-American democracy, and Islamist terrorism has ceased to be an “enduring” threat to the West, then the answer, as the old Bob Mankoff joke has it, is “How about never — is never good for you?”
Or consider what a shocked Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. of the Marines, the incoming commander of Central Command opined after hearing the news of Trump’s withdrawal of 7,000 troops from Afghanistan yesterday: “If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe [the Afghan forces] would be able to successfully defend their country. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that one of the things that would actually provide the most damage to them would be if we put a timeline on it and we said we were going out at a certain point in time.”
Get that? After 17 years, we’ve gotten nowhere, like every single occupier before us. But for that reason, we have to stay. These commanders have been singing this tune year after year for 17 years of occupation, and secretaries of Defense have kept agreeing with them. Trump gave them one last surge of troops — violating his own campaign promise — and we got nowhere one more time. It is getting close to insane.
Here’s Congressman-elect and Afghan war veteran Dan Crenshaw’s attempt at an explanation:
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) December 21, 2018
I’m going to assume Mr. Crenshaw does not actually read me or Steve Sailer and said this without a trace of irony: we invade the world because we invite the world.
Or as Dave Pinsen brutally puts it:
Who wants to believe he lost his eye for a mistake?
— David Pinsen (@dpinsen) December 22, 2018
The other rationale I’ve heard is that Americans cannot forsake their staunch and historical allies the Kurds who, again, most Americans don’t know and couldn’t locate if they tripped over them.
The Middle Easterners I know tend to regard the Kurds, fairly or unfairly, as free-riding barbarians at the back end of everywhere. The British and French didn’t bother giving them a country when they were drawing up the place, and they were serious imperialists, so I doubt we could do any better.
The whole region could use some muscular secular nationalism in order to become serious countries. When civil war broke out in Syria, five million Syrians just left rather than fight for their country. And ISIS was literally the worst of the worst; illiterate savages with rifles and RPGs. Syria’s professional military still couldn’t defeat them without Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese Hezbollah. But I bet the next time something like this comes up the Syrians will tear them to pieces.
Remember Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait? All the wealthy Kuwaitis left because Kuwait isn’t a real country; it’s just a tiny, retrograde kingdom that we pretend is an actual, serious country. There’s not really anything to fight for except oil money, and that’s kind of the whole tragedy of the Middle East. Nobody really cares about the “country” because countries there haven’t really existed in that sense for a long time. They’ve been vassals of successive empires for over two millenia. They were drawn up and “given” independence by the British and French in the 20th century.
To their credit, the regions’ peoples are beginning to evolve a nationalist sensibility. Syrians are becoming “Syrian,” not just members of various clans all knifing each other in the ribs. Same for Jordan and Iraq. The Lebanese are extremely nationalist so long as nobody looks too hard at the premises underlying the National Pact. Traumatic, polarizing national conflicts tend to foster nationalism in the people who emerge on the other side (watch this monumental, and practically banned, film). Subsidizing a disruptive, landlocked Kurdistan instead of fostering national unity and balances of power doesn’t seem very productive unless you think divided, chaotic Arab countries are good for Israel. I’ll just leave that here.
The US policy elite used to pride themselves on realpolitik, but everybody seems to be in this crazed ideological phase right now. If they read my blog and Chronicles Magazine, they’d realize the Age of Ideas is over.