On its face, the news about Trump planning to withdraw US forces from Syria, and thousands from Afghanistan, appears to be a welcome change. But given the track record of disappointment on foreign policy from the Trump admin, let's put these announcements in perspective.
First, they have not happened yet -- the last time Trump said he wanted to pull the US out of Syria, the Pentagon's jihadist allies staged a fake chemical attack, and the military bombed Syria again. And the last time Trump threatened to withdraw Americans from Afghanistan, the Pentagon made him read a neocon speech in primetime, followed by sending thousands of Americans more back into Afghanistan.
Second, assuming these changes do happen, they do not represent fulfilling a campaign promise -- i.e., fixing a problem that existed before he came into office, and that he was elected in order to fix. Although the CIA was happy to use the jihadist militias as their proxy against the secular Syrian government, we did not have thousands of American boots on the ground, occupying a third of the Syrian land mass, until the Trump admin.
If all that happens is that these forces are withdrawn, it would represent a return to the status quo ante Trump. That's better than continuing to keep them there, but not a bold reversal of an existing policy -- that would require no interference in Syria at all, boots-on-the-ground or otherwise, or switching sides to help out Assad against the jihadists.
The same goes for Afghanistan. After Trump's threat to withdraw troops in August 2017, the Pentagon punished him by sending "about 4,000" Americans back into the country, in addition to the "roughly 8,500" who were already there. Now the reports refer to "more than 14,000" Americans in Afghanistan, meaning the Pentagon last year sent at least 5,500, not 4,000, and likely more.
So, if Trump forces a withdrawal of 7,000 now, for all we know that's just the same number that were sent last year -- again, more of a return to the status quo ante Trump. A true reversal would be to announce that we're withdrawing all Americans from Afghanistan, with only the pace left to be sorted out.
Contrast these two changes with the one real foreign policy change that Trump has achieved so far -- holding the summit with "Chairman Kim," reversing not just every Reagan-era president, but those of the previous New Deal era as well. Nothing further has developed from that summit, but the meeting itself was a big ice-breaking deal, and not to be minimized. When the non-militarist Bernie realignment takes over in 2025, the path toward full withdrawal from Korea will have already been paved by the Trump-Kim summit.
In related news, General Mattis has resigned, confirming a major part of the blind item discussed in this post a couple months ago. Blind Gossip's inside WH source says that throughout October, John Bolton had been scheming to replace Mattis with neocon fellow traveler and Iran hardliner psycho Frank Gaffney, with the president's blessing.
I noted how dark that news was, portending some major action against Iran after the new Congress is sworn in. I reminded people that it's way too premature to declare "At least Trump isn't as bad as George W. Bush because there's no Iraq War". That war did not begin until that president's third year, after the mid-terms, just as his father's Gulf War did not begin until the admin's third year, after the mid-terms. At this point in the admin, we are simply not in a position to judge how war-mongering it will wind up -- even the Bushes waited until year 3.
The spin that Mattis has given, and most are accepting, is that his resignation has to do with Trump's sudden decision to pull troops out of Syria. But this resignation has been in the making for months, and has nothing to do with that. It is just a convenient excuse instead of resigning for apparently no reason. Therefore, Mattis' resignation cannot be interpreted as a loss for the neocons, i.e. "The guy who wanted to stay in Syria just got booted from the WH". It's really, "the guy who couldn't get along with Trump any longer" has left, with an apparently much more neocon war-monger ready to take his place.
For all we know, the ascendant neocons like Bolton and Gaffney will cut their losses in Syria in order to focus all the more single-mindedly on Iran.
And notice: Trump did not say Assad was not an enemy, that Syria is neutral or friendly toward the American people, etc. He framed Syria, Iran, and Russia as our enemies, and claimed that by fighting ISIS, who in turn are fighting Syria-Iran-Russia, we were only helping our enemies. On the campaign trail, Trump said all the secular strongmen were perhaps "bad guys" but were far preferable to the only alternative, the radical Islamic terrorists. Hussein, Assad, Qaddafi -- it was either them, or Medieval psychos who drown people in steel cages. So he has not even returned to his campaign-trail rhetoric and framing of those leaders and their governments, and remains committed to the neocon view of them.
Nor has he criticized Saudi Arabia for its support and participation in radical Islamic terrorism, like he did on the campaign trail and for years in the conservative media before that. Now he's as buddy-buddy as you can get with the jihadists of that nation, with Jared serving as MBS' butt boy.
He has not criticized our support for Israel, but then that is consistent with his longstanding agreement on that policy. The point is, his stance on Israel is also fully status quo.
Unwavering, ever-expanding support for the jihadists and the Zionists, and unquestioning antagonism toward Iran, is not a reversal of longstanding US policy in the Middle East. If Trump is truly throwing off the shackles of the neocons, is he about to re-commit to the Iran nuclear deal? That would be one of the easiest things to do, since it would not require a whole new plan, but simply signing back onto an existing agreement of the previous admin. Is he going to fire Bolton and replace him with Rand Paul?
I know people want a reason to celebrate, but we've been down this road too many times during the Trump admin. Even if he withdraws the numbers stated from Syria and Afghanistan, that is only correcting his own admin's mistakes, not delivering on a campaign promise to fix the state of affairs of the Obama-or-earlier period. And nothing suggests a re-orientation of policy away from the jihadists and Zionists, or away from their main target, Iran.
When Gaffney replaces Mattis, our foreign policy in the Middle East will get far more disastrous, and we should be prepared for that now, so we don't get blind-sided by it after assuming that removing troops from Syria, and removing the new troops from Afghanistan, means the neocons are on the way out. It may just mean they're consolidating their efforts for one last Hail-Mary plan against Iran, before the Bernie realignment forecloses on that possibility for the next half-century.