How the Pentagon Used Trump’s Fixation on Plunder to Get Its Syria Occupation Reinstated

"'This is like feeding a baby its medicine in yogurt or applesauce' said the official"

The Pentagon used the president’s fixation on plunder to get him to agree to maintaining a U.S. military presence in Syria:

A U.S. official with knowledge of operations in Syria said that Trump’s interest in the oil provided an opportunity for the Pentagon, which was unhappy with the initial decision, to temper his insistence on a full withdrawal and allow counterterrorism operations and airspace control to continue.

“This is like feeding a baby its medicine in yogurt or applesauce,” said the official [bold mine-DL], one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity about internal U.S. deliberations.

It doesn’t bode well for U.S. interests when the president’s subordinates are determined to manipulate him into perpetuating an illegal military deployment in a war zone and the president is gullible enough to be so easily swayed because of his crude desire for stealing other countries’ resources. The confused quasi-withdrawal from Syria exemplifies everything that’s wrong with how Trump runs U.S. foreign policy.

He makes poor, ill-informed snap decisions and fails to consult with anyone, but then he allows himself to be talked into some half-a-loaf compromise policy that is the worst of both worlds.

The president frequently makes poor decisions and even when he moves in the right direction he does so for the wrong reasons, but then his subordinates try to trick him into reversing himself for their own bad reasons. Because the president is deeply ignorant and easily swayed by hawkish advisers, he always falls for the trick.

That leaves the U.S. with policies that the president doesn’t really like interrupted with sporadic bursts of confused, frenetic activity as he tries to change them and then gets manipulated into doing more of the same. Trump’s subordinates rely on his lack of discipline and focus to prevent him from doing things they dislike, and Trump’s own ineptitude encourages them to keep doing this because they assume that they can get away with it.

In this case, Trump suddenly ordered the redeployment of U.S. forces without warning to the people that would be affected, and his subordinates had been so determined to frustrate the president that they were completely unprepared for the order when it came. This latest trick with using the oil to bait Trump into signing off on the indefinite military presence that his subordinates want will work for a while until the president decides that he doesn’t like being compared to a fussy infant who needs to take his medicine. Then there will be another abrupt decision without any of the necessary preparation, and more chaos will ensue. This is what a broken and incompetent foreign policy process looks like, and both the president and his subordinates are responsible for the mess.

Either way, the U.S. ends up with an open-ended, illegal military deployment in Syria, and the only debate is over what the absurd justification for the mission will be. For the moment, the official administration position is that U.S. forces are there to control and exploit another country’s natural resources. Adam Weinstein sums it up:

The United States is now officially the globe’s hired muscle for commodities protection; its explicit foreign policy is now “Yes, blood for oil!”

Everything about this is illegal, and there is no longer even a pretense that the U.S. has any legal basis for having a military presence in Syria. Our forces are simply seizing control of territory and resources because they can, and the president boasts about it to the world. Endless war has been horribly distorting our foreign policy for decades, and this is just the latest example.

1 Comment
  1. CHUCKMAN says

    It seems to me that portraying Trump as someone who can be easily lured by Pentagon officials at the prospect of plunder to change a major decision is superficial, especially given a major decision governed completely by Trump’s political prospects and judgments.

    Foreign policy as such does not really exist for Trump. The topic likely goes into the same mental trash bin as international organizations, “globalism,” and migration and refugees. Foreign affairs are just an arena for making gains in domestic political combat.

    Trump’s political instincts are powerful, gut-level ones. He much resembles a high-level predator constantly sniffing the breeze for the scent of prey. Such instincts are not easily deflected or defeated.

    Everything we really know about Trump – and, quite uniquely in modern history I think over so brief a time, we know an extraordinary amount of detail from many books and articles by insiders – simply does not support the idea of someone easily manipulated. Not at all.

    Most insiders were baffled in their attempts to influence him, even in good ways. That includes people a good deal smarter than the average Pentagon general, but it also includes former top-level generals. Everyone agrees that he just does not listen to anyone, no matter what the person’s job title or qualifications, when what they are saying contains even a hint of anything which opposes his instincts.

    While Trump is an erratic, rash, impatient, angry, and unpleasant man, he is also an unbelievably stubborn one, an almost textbook-perfect narcissist, one utterly convinced of his own rightness and remarkably proof against the ideas and arguments of others.

    Trump functions at a gut level, and that’s just what the stuff about “plunder” and “feeding a baby” is intended to appeal to readers with. Yes, Trump is greedy – although I think no more so than most of the important players in Washington. But in this case, greed takes second place, at best, to political survival.

    Trump is nothing less than obsessed with getting re-elected, and all of his twists and turns in Syria reflect that drive. He keeps making adjustments in what he is doing according to the political pressures he feels from different interests. Withdrawal was intended to appease the anti-war vote he desperately needs to supplement his not-quite-large-enough base. The anti-war folks made it possible for him to win in 2016.

    But adjustments to the size and nature of that withdrawal reflect another important interest.

    Nothing about American policy in the Middle East can be understood without taking account of Israel.

    The Neocon Wars are not given that name for nothing. And efforts in Syria are just one theater in those wars, a theater where the decision was made to pursue the country’s destruction not through conventional invasion as in Iraq, something which had immense costs and many undesirable side-effects for the United States.

    Israel wanted Syria toppled or broken up, but it was on the losing side in the main proxy war. It hung on to the hope of weakening Syria, as by creating a northeastern rump state for the Kurds, but that idea never was realistic given Erdogan’s attitude towards Kurds.

    Trump’s original withdrawal, intended to attract anti-war voters – especially given the likelihood that the Democrats will oppose him with someone with no hint of being opposed to war, Biden or Warren – ignored what Israel wants. Trump has been reminded of what Israel wants – whether directly or by the Pentagon and CIA, both of whom have close working relationships with Israel.

    So, a new scheme of occupying oil resources was hatched. This new hybrid scheme keeps an American presence in the region while allowing Syria to reclaim a considerable part of its lost territory, yet deprives Syria of a valuable natural resource, particularly critical with national reconstruction efforts ahead, efforts Trump has always been very uncooperative about, again looking to what Israel wants.

    Trump does not need help, whether from the Pentagon or anyone else, in responding to what Israel wants. Such activity has been a dominant feature of his administration – as we’ve seen in everything from giving away what was not his to give in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to needlessly generating intense new hostilities against Iran and appointing people like Bolton and Pompeo to high office – Trump responds to Israel as few other presidents have.

    And that responsiveness has a lot to do with his depending on some extremely wealthy American campaign contributors who help his sense of security both as to re-election and a possible impeachment. He can depend on them so long as he puts their major interest, Israel, as a top priority, and he has consistently done so.

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