The groundwork is already laid for America’s next war(s) in the Middle East and, in the process, one of the last relatively undamaged areas of Syria (at least before the Turkish military began to pound it with air strikes and artillery, then moving in tanks) is about to be added to the rubble of the region. The damage that began with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 could now spread to yet another country, Turkey, already filled with Syrian refugees but relatively unscathed so far. At the moment, an autocratic Turkish president, angry over American backing for Kurdish forces in northern Syria and jockeying for popularity in his own country, is potentially repeating on a small scale the American blunder of 2003. He’s blithely invading Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Syria, assuming that all will go splendidly, while President Trump’s military finds itself, as it has so many times in these years, between a rock and a hard place.
The U.S. has approximately 2,000 troops in northern Syria and, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson only recently announced, they are slated to stay there not just until the last ISIS fighter is wiped off the face of the Earth, but possibly until the end of time (a decision for which the Trump administration naturally has no congressional sanction). Washington’s latest stated goal: to support Kurdish fighters in the region and play a role in undermining both Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and its Iranian backers. (Good luck with that!) Those troops now find themselves caught between NATO ally Turkey (which has let Washington use a key military base against ISIS) and American-trained and -armed leftist Syrian Kurds, who have done most of the hard fighting (and dying) against the Islamic State “caliphate.” The Turks, who consider those Kurds “terrorists” (and backers of longtime Kurdish insurgents in Turkey), are angrily demanding that all U.S. troops immediately and unconditionally leave the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Manbij before they move in militarily (a demand already rejected by the head of U.S. Central Command). And oh, yes, the remnants of ISIS, driven back and no longer a “caliphate” or much of anything else, are still fighting.
So much for Donald Trump’s “victory” in Syria. While no one can possibly know what will come of all this, as with so much else in American war-making over these last 17 years, it’s reasonable to assume that it won’t be good, or peaceable, or end particularly well, or possibly at all. Count on one thing: you won’t soon read about an American military unchallenged and victorious in a Syria brought to order. Quite the opposite: if recent years are any indication, the damage will only spread, more civilians will die, more homes will be destroyed, more populations will be uprooted, and embittered locals, angry at the U.S. among other participants in this mayhem, will be primed to join yet newer terror groups.
TomDispatch regular and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William Astore looks at this now eerily familiar process of American war-making, twenty-first-century style, and suggests what kinds of damage it’s already done, not just in distant lands, but here at home and what we, the people (formerly, “We, the People”), might consider doing about it.