Empire Files: Trump’s Syria Deception

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In Part II of our series Trump Expanding the Empire, Abby Martin addresses the surprise order from Trump that he was “ending the war” in Syria.

Having drastically escalated the war in Syria and Iraq, find out what’s behind the supposed troop withdrawal and the hidden facts in the policies.

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As we continue our series “How Trump is Expanding the US Empire,” Trump has jolted the establishment by announcing the removal of US troops in Syria.

The US military has 800 bases around the world, with soldiers in 70% of the world’s nations. Obviously, reigning back the US empire anywhere, and removing troops anywhere is a good thing.

So it’s been really atrocious to see the Democratic Party establishment working with most of the GOP and Pentagon to attack this decision from the right, decrying any troop withdrawal as dangerous for so-called national interests.

It’s amplified the claim by liberal pundits, journalists, and Democratic Party leaders like Hillary Clinton, that Trump is some kind of “isolationist” who wants to reign back America’s expansive military machine.

So, what is going on? Is Trump really curtailing the US empire and pushing back against the military industrial complex that has dominated US foreign policy since Eisenhower? No, in fact this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Like in Afghanistan, Trump is simply removing the troops he himself added in Syria since taking office.

While Trump railed against Obama for putting US troops in Syria, he left office with less than 300 US troops there––but through 2017, that number grew to around 2,200 today, approaching 10 times the number under Obama.

But it’s hard to know the true number, since Trump broke with Pentagon policy and actually stopped disclosing troops deployments to Syria and Iraq––how democratic!

And just as Trump started hiding from the public his large troop deployments, he broke with Obama’s policy of only sending Special Operations to Syria, but started sending large units of conventional forces.

And while I was the first to call Obama the drone king, Trump has drastically ramped up US bombing in every region of the world, along with a massive amount of civilian casualties. Not too surprising, considering he campaigned on a new major war to not only “bomb the shit” out of alleged “terrorists,” but their families too.

Trump definitely kept that horrific promise. In 2017, the number of US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria increased 50%. But they became far more deadly for non combatants. While his airstrikes were a 50% increase from Obama, he increased civilian casualties by 215%, killing an estimated 6,000 civilians in a year.

Trump himself takes credit for that spike, bragging about giving the generals more freedoms to unleash their weapons of mass destruction.

And let’s just get this out of the way. The US military is not fighting a war in Syria to “defeat ISIS” just like it’s not fighting an endless war in Afghanistan to “fight terrorism,” just like it’s never fought a war anywhere for “human rights” or “democracy.”

The reasons they say at press conferences are never the reasons they talk about behind closed doors.

In reality, all these wars are about expanding US control. Syria has been a target ever since the won independence from British and French colonialism in 1963––and along with other Pan-Arab victories in the region like Libya, Iraq, Egypt and beyond, they were all on the chopping block for American capitalism.

And let us not forget that Trump’s first foreign policy act was crossing another line Obama was too scared to do, when he launched strikes against the Syrian state from the dining room of Mar-A-Lago. It’s the type of escalation that could lead to a new world war, but was flippantly carried out over chocolate cake.

The US Empire’s proxy in the Middle East, Israel, carried out even more bombing. Trump ushered in a new phase where Israel began targeting Syrian forces––bombing them at least 10 times in the last two years! These airstrikes would likely never happen without approval, assistance or orders from the Pentagon.

Remember, Trump didn’t announce an end to the US operation in Syria. He simply said he’s removing 2,000 troops. Nothing about the continued bombing, which he dramatically escalated in his first year. And even though bombings dropped in intensity in 2018, after there was basically nothing left to bomb, large numbers of airstrikes continue, contradicting the claim the war is over. In the last two weeks of 2018 alone, the Pentagon says they carried out over 1,000 “engagements” in Syria and nearly 500 airstrikes.

Nothing about supporting it’s foreign surrogates, like Turkey, to do all the dying in place of US troops. Trump has been pushing his far-right collaborator Erdogan to purchase vast amounts of US anti-aircraft weapons, no-doubt for proxy aggression against Iran, Russia and Syria.

Not to mention there are over 5,000 private mercenaries in Iraq and Syria already working for the US; Trump has said nothing about removing them.

And even the withdrawal timetable keeps changing. On December 19 Trump ordered a “rapid withdrawal” of US troops from Syria, to be carried out within 30 days. But four days later, he tweeted that the “rapid withdrawal” is now a “slow pull out.” Sarah Sanders also reassured the war-hungry press that US forces would be “ready to re-engage” “at a moment’s notice in Syria.”

He even sent his cretin John Bolton on an apology tour to assure Israel that the US could leave some troops in Syria indefinitely, while building up forces in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey to fight Iran.

Trump bizarrely diverted questions about the changing timeline by criticizing Obama for not bombing Assad. And in one of the most brazen imperialist statements ever made by a US president, Trump admitted that there was nothing for big business to steal in Syria’s deserts.

It seems like Trump and his friends are only interested in what resources they can pillage and what markets they can open and plunder as a consequence of US invasions. The thing is, Trump isn’t talking at all about withdrawing any troops from Iraq, where he wants to pillage the oil.

If you look at a map of where US troops actually were set up in Syria, it is literally just a few miles from the border of Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, where the US military has bases and large numbers of troops already stationed. So it’s really just a repositioning of US forces.

And when you see that Syria is actually completely surrounded on all sides by hostile US lapdogs, most hosting large US military installations and American troops, the ability for the Empire to withdraw troops but continue aggression is pretty clear.

While Trump’s Syria troop withdrawal got all the attention, what went totally under the radar is that he simultaneously announced the indefinite extension of the criminal occupation of Iraq.

Trump campaigned on opposing the Iraq war “from the beginning”. But the reality is he was actually just for the war being done “the right way.”

But it doesn’t so much matter what Trump said about Iraq before he had any political power. Now that he’s Commander in Chief, what he’s done is all we can go by.

By the 2008 election, public opinion was deafening: the people wanted troops out now. It’s a central reason Obama was elected.

Under Obama, the number of troops precipitously dropped from around 180,000 to just 5,000 through the last years of his administration. While Obama did start adding larger troop deployments in 2016 to “fight ISIS”, Trump came in and hit the gas.

By the end of his first year in office, Trump had nearly doubled the number of US troops in Iraq. And they were doing much less “advising and assisting” and much more “killing and dying” on the front lines.

So much so that more US troops have been killed there during two years of Trump, than in the previous 4 years combined. 37 soldiers have lost their lives for Trump’s ISIS mission, but you would never know it by watching the news, as if the war is long over.

Trump essentially cemented a new Iraq war, and doing so means that at any moment it could escalate in size and violence.

US presence there is a powder keg ready to blow. And remember, he coupled this with a ruthless bombing escalation that caused civilian casualties to skyrocket.

In a single series of US airstrikes in 2017, possibly over 500 civilians were killed at once in what became known as the Mosul massacre. It was the single largest death toll inflicted since the war began in 2003. That blood is on Trump’s hands.

Of course, this airstrike was not the only one like it. It’s likely thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed by US bombs ordered by Trump’s cabinet, but they’re not really concerned. Over the summer, the Pentagon stated that “we’ll never know” how many civilians the US killed under Trump’s leadership. And I guess they’ll never care.

For those of us who care about ending the crimes of the Empire, we have to look at these actions in a larger context; that a scale-down of military operations in one area also means a pivot to build-up operations elsewhere.

In Syria and Iraq, all US troops, airpower and mercenaries should be brought home immediately. Not these minor reductions in favor of more bombing and sanctions that Trump is giving us.

While nobody should oppose the fact Trump is removing these troops, we shouldn’t give him credit either; he is the one who ramped up bombing, ramped up troop numbers and ramped up death and destruction in the region.

Trump is a war criminal, and that’s what he will always be, for the death and destruction his aggressive policies have caused, where millions more are now suffering under the boot of US domination.

A real end to these criminal wars will not come from any president, or member of either ruling class party. It will come from the only force in history that has won progressive change: a grassroots movement of millions of people demanding it.

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