Posted on April 23, 2017
Trump fumbles on Syria and Iraq
The preponderance of statements from the Trump administration on Syria indicates that the president’s policy is to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. If that comes as surprising news, perhaps that’s because Donald Trump opposed the toppling of another Baathist strongman who had used chemical weapons against civilians in his own country. Trump has been harshly critical of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, so much that he said during last year’s South Carolina debate that George W. Bush should have been impeached over it. If ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was such a terrible thing to do, then how can it be such a brilliant idea to eliminate Assad?
Last July, Trump explained his position on Iraq like this. “Saddam Hussein was a bad guy … but you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were a terrorist, it was over. [sic]”
Before we deal with the baselessness of that claim, could everybody please agree to stop trivializing Saddam’s atrocities by dismissively conceding that he was “a bad guy”? That’s like describing Damien as a precocious child. Heck, Alec Baldwin is a bad guy, but that would hardly justify attacking him with Tomahawk missiles. Saddam Hussein was a sadistic, mass-murdering tyrant. So is Bashar al-Assad.
To claim that Saddam’s primary relationship with terrorists was that he killed them is, at best, oblivious. In fact, Saddam was the ruler of a terror state. He funded countless terrorist groups, including those he knew to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. He operated terrorist training camps – including one that was apparently a hijacking school – to which he recruited foreign jihadists. He deployed terrorists from these camps to other countries, where he assigned them to conduct “martyrdom operations.” He harbored wanted terrorists, including Abu Abbas of Achille Lauro infamy, Abu Nidal, and ’93 World Trade Center bomber Abdul Rahman Yasin.
He collaborated with terrorist organizations in other countries, which is probably why he kept Iraqi embassies around the world stocked with firearms, missile launchers and explosives. He paid Palestinian families to turn their children into suicide bombers. He allowed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group, which had gotten its startup funds directly from Osama bin Laden, to operate in Northern Iraq, where it terrorized the Shiites, and plotted to overthrow the government of Jordan.
Where is the evidence, on the other hand, that Saddam was so good at killing terrorists? He was not known to ever have clashed with any recognized terrorist organization, their animosity toward him being largely a fiction of the anti-war harrumphing class.
Saddam Hussein did not merely have connections to terrorism; he was himself a terrorist kingpin. Bashar al-Assad is not. For all of Assad’s evils, he actually is the one who’s killing lots of terrorists, for the simple reason that ISIS is trying to take over his country. Trump is undoubtedly aware of this, but he would just as surely be unmoved by the argument that Assad is “a bad guy” who at least is good at killing terrorists.
Regardless of what the willfully ignorant “what we know now about Iraq” chorus says today, President Bush had no responsible choice but to remove Saddam from power, and therefore subsequently to engage in the undesirable task of nation-building. To say that everything hasn’t gone as hoped would be an absurd understatement. Yet the new Iraqi government remains in power, it is not a threat to America or its allies, and it is battling ferociously against the terrorists from ISIS, an organization whose operational leadership is dominated by Saddam’s former officers. In short, we’ve won the Iraq War – loath as all the officially serious people may be to admit it.
President Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” platform, condemns the Iraq War despite its obvious necessity to America’s security. Now, he wants to oust Assad from Syria, in the absence of any American interests, and without regard for the consequences.
Our current policy in Syria is not so much America First as it is Trump First. By attacking the Assad regime, Trump one-upped President Obama, by upholding the “red line” pledge from which Obama had backed down. In addition, he created a rift between himself and Assad’s most powerful supporter, Russian president Vladimir Putin, thereby making speculation that Trump is beholden to Putin sound all the more ludicrous. Well, bully for Trump, but what about America? Contrary to popular belief, he and it are not one and the same.
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