Trump calls the national security apparatus' bluff

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  • https://www.theamericanconservative.com ... s-dunford/

    Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record
    His national security team had been trying to box him in like every other president. But he called their bluff.
    By Gareth Porter • December 28, 2018

    The mainstream media has attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as impulsive, blindsiding his own national security team. But detailed, published accounts of the policy process over the course of the year tell a very different story. They show that senior national security officials and self-interested institutions have been playing a complicated political game for months aimed at keeping Trump from wavering on our indefinite presence on the ground in Syria.

    The entire episode thus represents a new variant of a familiar pattern dating back to Vietnam in which national security advisors put pressure on reluctant presidents to go along with existing or proposed military deployments in a war zone. The difference here is that Trump, by publicly choosing a different policy, has blown up their transparent schemes and offered the country a new course, one that does not involve a permanent war state.

    The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon.

    But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

    By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria.

    In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.”

    Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting, where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy.

    Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the U.S. had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.

    Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States.

    Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”

    Trump’s national security team had prepared carefully for the meeting in order to steer him away from an explicit timetable for withdrawal. They had brought papers that omitted any specific options for withdrawal timetables. Instead, as the detailed AP account shows, they framed the options as a binary choice—either an immediate pullout or an indefinite presence in order to ensure the complete and permanent defeat of Islamic State. The leave option was described as risking a return of ISIS and leaving a power vacuum for Russia and Iran to fill.

    Such a binary strategy had worked in the past, according to administration sources. That would account for Trump’s long public silence on Syria during the early months of 2018 while then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Mattis were articulating detailed arguments for a long-term military commitment.

    Another reason the approach had been so successful, however, was that Trump had made such a big issue out of Barack Obama giving the Pentagon a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. As a result, he was hesitant to go public with a similar request for a Syria timetable. As CNN reported, a DoD official who had been briefed on the meeting “rejected that any sort of timeline was discussed.” Furthermore the official asserted that Mattis “was not asked to draw up withdrawal options….” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs, also told reporters, “the president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline.”

    Nevertheless, without referring to a timeline, the White House issued a short statement saying that the U.S. role in Syria was coming to a “rapid end.”

    Mattis and Dunford were consciously exploiting Trump’s defensiveness about a timeline to press ahead with their own strategy unless and until Trump publicly called them on it. That is what finally happened some weeks after Trump’s six month deadline had passed. The claim by Trump advisors that they were taken by surprise was indeed disingenuous. What happened last week was that Trump followed up on the clear policy he had laid down in April.

    The Syria withdrawal affair is a dramatic illustration of the fundamental quandary of the Trump presidency in regard to ending the state of permanent war that previous administrations created. Although a solid majority of Americans want to rein in U.S. military deployments in the Middle East and Africa, Trump’s national security team is committed to doing the opposite.

    Trump is now well aware that it is virtually impossible to carry out the foreign policy that he wants without advisors who are committed to the same objective. That means that he must find people who have remained outside the system during the permanent war years while being highly critical of its whole ideology and culture. If he can fill key positions with truly dissident figures, the last two years of this term in office could decisively clip the wings of the bureaucrats and generals who have created the permanent war state we find ourselves in today.

    Gareth Porter is an investigative reporter and regular contributor to The American Conservative. He is also the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
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  • He backed down and decided we should stay...……..
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  • JawnDough wrote:He backed down and decided we should stay...……..


    Naah... I'm not gonna get my knickers in a twist over anything John Bolton says. It may take a while to wind down but we will definitely be out of Syria within a few months.

    Trump wanted to do this last year but the neocons begged and moan, so he gave them six months to get a plan together. Their only plan was "stay there forever", I reckon. No thanks.

    It took 11 months from D-Day to Hitler blowing his brains out. We've been in Afghanistan for 17 years. WTF are we trying to accomplish at this point?
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  • https://nationalinterest.org/feature/am ... ange-41077

    January 9, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Americas Tags: Foreign PolicyDonald TrumpChinaRussiaStrategy


    America's Old School Foreign Policy Ways Must Change

    Washington's policy elites are determined to mire America down in a morass of multiple distractions in peripheral theaters. Donald Trump wants to change their boorish ways.
    by Greg R. Lawson


    President Donald Trump has upset the elite Washington, DC establishment. This was most apparent following the surprise resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. It was also apparent when he announce that he planned to reduce and remove the number of troops in Syria and Afghanistan.

    Mattis is a great American; however, Jim Mattis’ entire worldview has been shaped by the bipartisan consensus that formed during the Cold War and reached sacrosanct status after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, this consensus is wrong and has led to nearly three full decades of failure.

    The consensus pushes for simultaneous confrontation of great powers Russia and China. Rather than seeking a “Reverse Nixon” to China to counter the rising power of China; instead, the United States is putting pressure on both and pushing them into a marriage of geopolitical convenience. This forced marriage foreign-policy plan is also “ America’s Ultimate Geopolitical Nightmare .” Recently, Graham Allison brought a graybeard sensibility by outlining the same possibility.

    This is geopolitical malpractice. Yet, this is not all that the DC consensus has gotten wrong and that Trump has gotten right.

    The consensus also argues that America should maintain what is effectively a permanent presence in Syria and Afghanistan. This is particularly problematic given that the United States has been in Afghanistan over four times as long as the time it took for it to defeat both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II and with no end in sight according to policy elites.

    Doing this all at the same time the United States confronts what could well metastasize into a massive debt crisis. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Social Security and Medicare systems are projected to run a $100 trillion cash shortfall over the next thirty years.

    Yet is the “establishment,” not Trump, which refuses to change direction while telling the American people that this is the only way to “be safe.” Now, rather than focusing on America’s greatest challenge—the rise of China—while dealing with unsustainable spending, U.S. policy elites are determined to mire America down in a morass of multiple distractions in peripheral theaters.

    That is not what a large portion of the American public wants nor is it what that sector of society voted for when they elected Trump as president—or even Obama prior to Trump. Further, it is also a serious overstretch that violates the old adage of the great Prussian strategist, Frederick the Great, “He Who Defends Everything, Defends Nothing.”

    The core problem is one of hubris born of a unique confluence of events in world history. America’s time as the unipolar superpower was ushered in upon the Soviet Union's collapse. Yet, rather than seeing this as a temporary phenomenon that would fade as other powers emerged from the end of the post World War II and Cold War eras, policymakers chose a hegemonic geopolitical strategy that has failed.

    That strategy blindly facilitated China’s rise without obtaining the kind of domestic changes so long promised. At the same time, the elite have exacerbated inherent Russian fears of instability along its frontiers by pushing NATO to its borders and not taking it seriously as far back as the Kosovo air war conducted by NATO during the Clinton administration. The strategy also led to the shifting of the balance of power in the Middle East and creating the petri dish for an entire next-generation of terrorists.

    These mistakes are compounded by the reality that the global order that shaped the bubble world of the elites was dead long before Trump ran for president. In particular, economic power is shifting from the Western world of Europe and the Americas back towards East Asia. This is a monumental shift that changes the direction of most global history since the discovery of the New World back in the 1400s. Still, U.S. policymakers blithely kept acting as if the rest of the world was just emerging from the ashes of World War II and America could bestride the globe as a colossus and face no adverse consequences.


    Despite all of these errors and the current mood of domestic dissatisfaction, no other single nation, including China, has the base from which to produce success than the United States. However, the margin for error is not infinite and a course correction is needed in the very near term before the power imbalances complete their shift.

    While Trump may not ultimately be the one to craft the comprehensive strategy for the future, but he is, at least, proving to be the necessary “bull in a china shop” that is destroying old and outdated ways of thinking. He should have an appropriately staffed administration in place that will not hinder his accomplishments.

    Greg R. Lawson is a contributing analyst for Wikistrat.
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