Oct 28, 2019
After Trump green-lighted the Turkish invasion of northern Syria in the second week of October, he was attacked by both Democrats and Republicans for abandoning the Kurdish militia that had been the most loyal U.S. ally in the Syrian civil war. Trump defended himself in his usual crass way. After the Turkish army had taken the territory it wanted, the Turkish government agreed to a cease-fire, and Trump tried to portray himself as an anti-war president, claiming he had in fact “saved a lot of lives.”
Trump then spewed the usual dishonest victim-blaming. “Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries ... Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand ... How many Americans must die in the Middle East in the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts?”
In reality, the U.S., Britain, and France created this situation in the first place. They carved up the region out of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I into “protectorates” of the various powers. After World War II, they rearranged the map to ensure their domination could continue when these countries became independent. Since then, the U.S. has stoked the flames of ethnic and sectarian rivalries whenever that benefitted its interests.
When the Arab Spring hit Syria in 2011, the U.S. hoped to take advantage of it to ditch Assad, the head of the Syrian state, in favor of someone more amenable to U.S. interests. U.S. policies helped turn a movement that began with economic and democratic demands into an ethnic and religious civil war. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, and Iran all got involved, and each was at different moments encouraged or held back by the U.S. They turned Syria into a battleground between competing militias. When ISIS emerged in Syria, as a direct consequence of the U.S. war in Iraq, the U.S. switched policies again, accommodating itself to the continuation of the Assad regime and pushing Kurdish militias to retake the ISIS territory, village by village, offering them support. But now that they have done the dirty work for the U.S., they are disposable.
While Trump said that “we’re getting our troops out” of Syria, in fact, Trump’s moves don’t even reduce the U.S. presence in the country. Soon after Trump declared victory with the cease-fire, his defense secretary announced that the U.S. was sending an armored force to eastern Syria to secure the country’s oil fields. Trump admitted as much himself, tweeting, “When these pundit fools ... ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL....”
This crude admission offends other politicians only because it lays bare their underlying motivations. Democrats and Republicans alike are worried that Trump’s bluntness might make it more difficult for the U.S. to find willing partners in the future. But in fact, Trump just more openly expresses the perspective of U.S. imperialism that all of these politicians defend.