This parallels, almost to the day, the statements that most of his top Cabinet officials made last year about Assad's fate being left up to the Syrian people, as the US was no longer going to be in the regime change business anymore.
These Cabinet officials included Secretary of State Tillerson, UN Ambassador Haley, and Press Secretary Spicer -- but crucially not Secretary of Defense Mattis, who was asked directly about this matter during a press conference with his British counterpart in London, and completely dodged the question, which was as good as an answer that he -- and the Pentagon -- still wanted regime change.
The Deep State responded to Trump's attempt to pull the US out of Syria by not just bombing a government airfield over there, but by more than doubling the number of Americans on the ground (at least 2000), building more bases to dig in its presence in the northeast, amassing a private army of Kurds that threatens to provoke Turkey into attacking their American masters, and shifting the rhetorical frame away from non-intervention and toward Assad must go, the US will stay in Syria forever, and Russia and Iran are pulling the puppet-strings and may need to be attacked as well.
* * *
Everyone who apologized for the strike on Syria a year ago by saying it would go no further than a few pock marks on a little airfield has been proven totally wrong. Not just regarding the series of escalations that the US did in fact take after bombing the airfield, but regarding the whole framework and tone of viewing the situation.
Obviously if Trump gives the Pentagon an inch, they will take a mile. Military intervention and occupation is a self-sustaining process, where one action begets more actions. It is not a one-time, cathartic, get-it-out-of-the-system release of energy, characterized by negative feedback loops. It is founding a little armed colony that will grow and grow and grow.
The other discredited framework is that we shouldn't worry until it's too late and the really bad shit has already happened. This approach views our commentary, whether on the internet or in phone calls to our Congressmen, as akin to calling a coin that is tossed in the air. Will the call be accurate or inaccurate?
In real life, accuracy of a prediction does not matter as much as survival from the process whose outcomes are being predicted. If the person calls "war" and the coin lands "no change," nothing is lost. Innocuous false alarm. If the person calls "no change" and the coin lands "war," there are massive negative consequences -- not just the war itself, but the lack of preparations you now suffer from, after assuming the coin would land "no change".
This asymmetric pay-off function means we should always err on the side of mobilizing to head off disaster once we see that the war-coin is tossed into the air.
And with a self-sustaining process like collective violence -- whether a mob rioting or an army invading -- we can never know ahead of time the order of magnitude of the damage done. Maybe only a few individuals will be killed -- or a few dozen, or a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million. All it took was the assassination of one individual, Archduke Ferdinand, to ignite a positive feedback loop that ended up killing tens of millions.
In a negative feedback loop, one person or at most a few people get killed, and that's the end of it. Some robber who shoots someone to steal their wallet, or two guys who get into a deadly fight in a bar when one steps on the other's shoes.
This is individual-level violence, not collective. Any further individuals have a rapidly smaller motive to get involved in the existing violence -- it's just a beef between those two guys who bumped into each other, no need for any bystanders to take offense and get involved.
If the killing is between members of entire groups -- Team A vs. Team B -- then anyone on Team A has a motive to get involved in killing anyone from Team B, and vice versa. That makes each killing like a contagious event that spreads in an epidemic, where if one person gets killed from Team A, it provokes multiple members of Team A to strike back and kill multiple members of Team B. One killing begets multiple killings. Collective violence like this could be between two races in a race riot, two groups of fans for rival soccer teams, or two armies on opposing sides of a conflict.
When we are faced with the decision to get involved in collective violence, the disaster can easily turn out to be orders of magnitude worse than we thought possible, as it feeds on itself. It must require the most catastrophic immediate threat to us, to even consider getting involved.
And needless to say in this case, Syria poses the American people absolutely no threat. They have never attacked us, are not attacking us now, and have no plans to attack us in the future.
The worst attackers from the Middle East have been the Saudi Arabians, who carried out 9/11. Yet they are our #1 allies in the world -- no one has so brutally attacked us and gotten off scot free. The Pentagon prioritizes its alliance with jihadist nations who can help it to attack Iran in their part of the world, rather than its duty to protect the American people on our side of the world. Imperialism is necessarily globalist, and weakens the core nation in order to prop up the crumbling borders on its far-flung fringes.
* * *
As this pathetic process repeats itself all over this year, almost right down to the day, how can Trump and his allies do better this time to resist plunging us further into the Syrian quagmire?
This is all the more important in 2018 since the Russians are far more involved in Syria, and have stopped giving the US the benefit of the doubt about the Trump administration being anti-interventionist. They have clearly stated that a US attack based on a hoax chemical attack may be met with the gravest consequences.
First, Trump must realize that he personally has zero political capital when it comes to deciding military policy, where he is dwarfed by the combined political capital of the Pentagon and other warmongering institutions like the CIA. At every major decision, he has said "I don't want to do this, and I campaigned against doing this, but the Pentagon has my head in a vise, and I have no choice but to surrender to their orders." Syria, Afghanistan, now Syria again.
Aside from giving the Deep State the inch that turns into the mile, he signals weakness by pushing so strongly in one direction and then, one week later, parroting his enemies so strongly in the opposite direction. It makes it clear that he got out-maneuvered and has not only folded, but has chosen to spread his enemy's propaganda for them.
The only recent precedent we have for a president resisting the Deep State that wanted to get us further involved in a factional conflict, was Obama in 2013. Not coincidentally, it was the same country of Syria, same region of Eastern Ghouta, same phony pretext of chemical attacks, same jihadist allies of ours, and the same demand by the Deep State and its mass media mouthpieces to Do Something militarily.
And not coincidentally, on Twitter Trump himself lobbied Obama non-stop and in the most unequivocal terms not to get us entangled any further in Syria.
How did Obama wiggle out of the Deep State's headlock? He could not take them on personally, since no single person can outmatch the political capital of the entire Deep State when they are foaming at the mouth for war.
Instead, he passed the buck to the Congress and to the American people -- putting the decision up for a prolonged public debate. Although the Deep State outweighed the political capital of Obama himself, they did not outweigh the political capital of the entire American citizenry and its representatives in Congress.
And the more they heard about it, the more they talked about it, and the more they thought about it, the more they wanted nothing to do with it. Opinion polls showed it was deeply unpopular -- and worse, that it was most unpopular with Republican citizens (which may, in fairness, have been partisan naysaying). Getting an endorsement from Congress was dead on arrival.
So, it never happened. The Deep State had been arming, funding, and enabling its proxy forces in Syria, and would continue to stand by these jihadist militias as they tried unsuccessfully to topple Assad. But Obama and his allies kept it from getting orders of magnitude worse -- no thousands of Americans on the ground, no amassing a private army of Kurds right along the Turkish border that would provoke that regional power into attacking their NATO ally, and no prospect of the other nuclear superpower launching a punishing attack on the US since Russia was not involved in Syria in 2013.
* * *
Trump's Achilles heel is his blindness to institutional forces, and seeing relations in entirely personal terms, as well as his obsession with countering whatever Obama did, whether it was good or bad. So it may prove impossible for him to copy Obama's successes, if framed that way. Thus, it is imperative for his allies to frame the decision to give Congress and the American people the final say-so, in terms that flatter his ego.
It would not be passing the buck to tell the Deep State "hey, it wasn't my decision" -- it would be giving a voice to the Forgotten Man and Forgotten Woman, none of whom were chanting "Death to Assad" at the Trump rallies. And it would not be copying Obama's proven success -- it would be taking a historically bold move that no other president had the guts to try, far more bold of a move than whatever Obama may have tried.
It will probably require lying to Trump about what Obama did in the same situation -- tell him that Obama just choked like a dog before the generals, whereas Trump will pull off an ingenious trick by throwing the matter to prolonged public debate, where it will die of its own unpopularity. Trump has already started calling Obama weak for ignoring the "red line," so it will take some effort to convince him that Obama was secretly doing the bidding of the Pentagon, and that he should make it a public debate instead.
We don't have to like the kind of people and situations we're dealing with here, but that's the best shot we have to keep the Deep State from getting America further entangled in the Syrian civil war.
Nevertheless, we should remain realistic that this task will be even harder to pull off in 2018 since Trump just idiotically made John Bolton his National Security Adviser, who will be constantly in his ear agitating for war. Again, spend more time framing the bold move Trump can take to make this a referendum with the public and Congress, and less time calling him an idiot for making an idiotic decision that is fait accompli for now.
And do whatever you can to weaken and damage Bolton's reputation, framing anything that goes wrong as Bolton's fault. McMaster was garbage, and presided over last year's escalation in Syria, but Bolton is worse still.
Don't bother lobbying directionless, sycophantic Hannity on Twitter -- more sympathetic will be Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, and perhaps Lou Dobbs, who openly groused about "Oh please don't get us sucked into another one" when Bolton was on air a few weeks ago. And the usual libertarians in Congress like Rand Paul, who has good rapport with Trump.
And of course, prepare to vote out every Republican in the midterms and for Bernie in 2020. We're not getting what we voted for, and it's time for a little regime change within our own country before it becomes a shithole itself.