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It’s Too Soon to Celebrate Trump’s Syria Withdrawal


Yes, it’s possible that President Trump will follow through with his announcement that he’s going to pull out all U.S. troops from Syria. Just don’t bet the farm on it. Already Trump has shifted from pulling out the troops immediately to pulling them out four months from now. No one should be surprised if, four months from now, he comes up with a reason for keeping them there even longer.

After all, don’t forget that last October Trump promised to release those JFK records that the CIA has been keeping secret for 55 years, on grounds of “national security” of course. The day before the deadline for release, Trump declared that he was going to follow through with his promise to release the long-secret records. The next day — the day of the deadline — Trump announced that he was granting the CIA’s request to extend the time for secrecy for another three years. It was a testament to the power of the CIA and the rest of the national-security establishment.

Now, I don’t mean to rain on the parade of those who are celebrating Trump’s supposed rebirth of non-interventionism. But there are two factors at work here that need to be emphasized: One, Trump is clearly not a non-interventionist and, two, the enormous power of the national-security establishment to bend U.S. presidents into complying with its will.

It’s true that during his presidential campaign, Trump criticized the interventions into which the U.S. government has embroiled our nation on a permanent basis — Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.

But let’s not forget what happened after Trump was elected. He kept troops in Iraq. He expanded troop levels in Afghanistan. He expanded troops in Syria. He’s also got troops killing and dying in Africa.

Let’s also not forget the many generals with whom Trump surrounded himself after he was elected. He appointed a general — James “Mad Dog” Mattis — as his secretary of defense. He appointed a general — John Kelly — as secretary of homeland security and later chief of staff. He appointed a general — Michael Flynn — as his national-security adviser. When Flynn departed, he appointed a general — H.R. McMaster — to replace him as national-security adviser.

And let’s not forget that he appointed a CIA director — Mike Pompeo — to be secretary of state. And that he brought John Bolton, one of the conservative movement’s fiercest pro-intervention proponents, into his administration.

Those are not the actions of a non-interventionist. Instead, they are the actions of a person who has bought into the notion that the United States has now become a full-fledged, permanent military nation, one that has no choice but to remain embroiled in never-ending foreign wars and interventions.

Over the Christmas holidays, Trump paid a surprise visit to troops in Iraq. Yes, that Iraq! The country that the Pentagon and the CIA invaded and occupied some 15 years ago. While there, Trump declared that his troops in Iraq could easily be resent into Syria should the circumstances warrant it.

That’s not exactly the mindset of a non-interventionist, especially since it didn’t even seem to occur to Trump that U.S. troops have no business in Iraq either, especially 15 years after the initial invasion, which ostensibly was to find WMDS, which were never found during the many years of a subsequent brutal, deadly, and destructive military occupation of the country.

In fact, it is ironic that one of the justifications for sending troops to Syria and resending them to Iraq was to defeat ISIS, which is the group that formed as a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. It’s also worth mentioning that ISIS has never had the ability or interest to invade, conquer, and occupy the United States.

It also is worth mentioning that the real reason that U.S. troops were sent into Syria was in the hope of effecting a regime-change operation against the Assad regime and its Russian supporters.

Trump also announced that he intends to withdraw half of the 14,000 or so U.S. troops still serving in Afghanistan, some 17 years after the initial U.S. invasion of the country. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if he withdraws half of them, that still leaves half of them to kill and die in that forever war. That’s not exactly a non-interventionist position.

Moreover, let’s not forget that Trump has troops killing and dying in Africa. Again, that’s a position that is not exactly consistent with non-interventionism. And then there’s the brutal war that the Trump administration is waging in Yemen in partnership with the murderous Saudi regime.

What good does it do to withdraw some troops from one interventionist campaign only to expand their presence in other interventionist campaigns?

What everyone needs to recognize is the overwhelming ability of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA to bend the other three branches of the federal government to its will.

They’ve clearly done it with the federal judiciary, which established a pattern of deference to authority practically from the time the national-security state came into existence after World War II.

It’s the same with Congress. No congressman dares take on the deep state for fear of losing military projects in his district.

It’s no different with the president. Not one president since John F. Kennedy has taken a firm stance against the national-security establishment and its racket of foreign empire and interventionism.

Trump is the first since Kennedy to make a few waves against the deep state, but mostly during his presidential campaign. As soon as he was elected, he folded and was absorbed by the national-security state, immediately buying into its ever-increasing justifications for more interventions and more tax-funded largess. Why, the military alone now spends more than the next seven countries combined, and Trump, even while expressing an intent to bring troops out of Syria and Afghanistan, is eager to grant the military’s request for even more money. And that despite the fact that the federal government is running close to a trillion-dollar deficit and has a debt of almost $22 trillion.

Will Trump fulfill his promise to bring U.S. troops out of Syria within the next four months? Will he pull out half of the troops in Afghanistan during that same period of time? Possibly. But anyone who is hoping that Trump is restoring America’s founding foreign policy of non-interventionism is almost certainly going to be feeling that hope until the day that Trump leaves office.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.