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Trump Needs to Rein in the Neocons Within His Administration

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

PARIS -- U.S. President Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of pulling America out of foreign conflicts. He recently took a step toward keeping that promise by announcing plans to withdraw troops from Syria, and there are reports that he's also evaluating a potential troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.


Trump's instincts are correct. However, there are forces within his administration itching for war with Iran, or just for war in general. They aren't going to give up on their dreams that easily. Trump needs to shut all back doors that could lead to any American fighters remaining after a formal withdrawal.

The average American doesn't care about war in the Middle East. That's for countries in that region to deal with. There is not a single entity in the Middle East that poses an existential threat to the United States. America's Middle Eastern allies have purchased more than enough U.S.-made weapons over the years to handle the situation without any further assistance from American taxpayers.

It figures that as soon as Trump decided to pull American troops out of Syria, the neocon proponents of forever wars convinced him to keep troops there until the U.S. received assurances that Turkish forces wouldn't harm the Syrian Kurds.

Look, Syria has a government. It once again controls nearly the entire country. It also has an army. The Kurds IN SYRIA have explicitly turned to the SYRIAN government for protection, making an appeal to President Bashar al-Assad. Why is America getting involved?


Moreover, Russia -- a regional partner that was invited by the Syrian government to establish a presence in the country, at least until this mess is sorted out -- is also guaranteeing protection for the Kurds.

"We are convinced that the most rational and the only correct solution to this issue would be to put [Kurdish] territories under the control of the Syrian government, Syrian armed forces and Syrian administrative structures with the understanding that the Kurds should be provided with all the necessary conditions in the places of their traditional residence," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week.

Lavrov also noted that the U.S. has established two dozen military bases in the Kurdish zone and has left a ton of weapons there as a result of supplying the Kurds. Is that what the neocons are intent on preserving by pressuring Trump into establishing a buffer zone in the area?

A buffer zone established under humanitarian pretext can become a vacuum from which further shenanigans can be launched -- which is why neocons love buffer zones. For neocons hell-bent on war with Iran, Syria has never been anything more than a gateway to war with Iran anyway.

Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has repeatedly ranted against Iran at rallies here in Paris hosted by the Iranian opposition. Last September, he reportedly asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for striking Iran, according to the Wall Street Journal. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an audience in Cairo earlier this month that the mission was to "expel every last Iranian boot" from Syria.


Wasn't Syria supposed to be about defeating the Islamic State? Trump said that mission has been accomplished. Trump is the commander in chief, so why is his secretary of state now redefining the mission as expelling Iran from Syria?

It's not America's business to expel Iran from Syria. Iran worked with Russia in Syria to defeat ISIS. Syria isn't asking for America's help in expelling Iran. It has its own allies to assist in that endeavor, if it chooses to ask. Syria is a sovereign country that has the right to decide which foreign entities are welcome within it. But how do you evict a heavily armed 250-pound brute who's intent on staying to play policeman?

Can neocons ever just leave the Middle East alone? It doesn't seem so, based on regional history. How can we trust that they're not going to go behind Trump's back and authorize covert operations that circumvent the Pentagon? Such covert operations led to years of conflict in Latin America with little or nothing to show for it.

Any attempts to extend neocon interests in Syria (or anywhere else in the Middle East) through anything other than the formal presence of uniformed troops explicitly invited by the country they occupy would be the very definition of propagating terrorism. Those who support such activities would be no different than the terrorists they claim to be fighting.


These warmongering neocons seem to view the Trump presidency as a crowbar to pry open the U.S. Treasury in furtherance of their own interests. Trump needs to tell them there will be no American involvement in these foreign conflicts, either covert or overt, after the withdrawal of uniformed troops.

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