Monday, January 7, 2019

Reaction to the Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Syria, and Thoughts on Kurdistan

     On December 19th, 2018, claiming that I.S.I.S. has been defeated in Syria, President Donald Trump announced that within thirty days, the U.S. military would withdraw 2,000 troops from that country, in a complete withdrawal.
     I applaud the move to leave Syria; and to leave any country. I hope to hear more announcements like this about Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries. I also hope that, as soon as possible, the U.S. dismantles its 800 or more military bases overseas, and stations no troop farther than 100 miles from our shores.
     But while I support leaving Syria, I have some doubts as to whether the president may have ulterior motives in leaving Syria, and may not have peace in mind as a genuine interest or motivation.
     I have written this article in order to make it publicly known what my position is on Syria, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country; by publishing both my immediate reaction to the announcement, as well as my opinions on the story as it has developed between December 19th and now (January 7th, 2019).

     Before reading my initial reaction to the news about Syria, it is necessary to explain a bit of background information.
     Concerning the first paragraph below: Murray Bookchin was a libertarian communalist political philosopher and social theorist, who developed a school of thought which has come to be known as Bookchinism. Shortly after Trump's announcement that the U.S. would pull out of Syria, Murray Bookchin's daughter Debbie, an author and a supporter of Kurdish autonomy, tweeted in criticism of the announcement. The autonomous region of Turkey called Rojava, is populated by Kurds, and is governed according to Bookchin's principles; namely, it is a decentralized federation that values regional autonomy.
     Concerning the end of the second paragraph: I consider our alliance with Israel to be a significant contributing cause to the reason why the U.S. was in Syria to begin with. Israel and Syria aren't just neighbors, they have a border dispute; over the Golan Heights. The claims that I.S.I.S., and supposed Iranian proxy terrorist group Hezbollah, are in the country, may well be true, but they also serve as convenient excuses for the U.S. to promote joint U.S.-Israeli interests in the region. If we want to fight Iran, then we should fight Iran directly, not its proxies (not that I want us to fight Iran, I don't).
     Concerning the third paragraph: Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was described as calling for the destruction of Israel when he quoted Ayatollah Khamenei, who said “The regime that is occupying Jerusalem will vanish from the pages of history.”, which could be merely an expression of grief over the tragedy that led to the occupation of Palestine, the Nakba, in which 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, when the Israeli state was founded.
     The following is the original text of my first published reaction, written on December 21st, 2018, and posted to Facebook.

     Noam Chomsky and Murray Bookchin's daughter both say that Trump's move to pull troops out of Syria will only put the people of Rojava in danger. Rojava is quite possibly the best example of a libertarian communalist society in the Middle East, if not the whole world, right now. They may not even be able to survive without American help.
     But on the other hand, America simply leaving them the fuck alone could cause Rojava to grow stronger. Aside from it being none of our business in the first place, because we're not supposed to have strong allies like Israel anyway.
     The fact that there's a link between Syria and Hezbollah and Iran, is meaningless to me. Iran doesn't want to destroy Israel; the comments of Ahmadinejad (quoting the Ayatollah) were willfully distorted to achieve that appearance.
     Also, we have a giant military base in Southeast Turkey, at Diyarbakir, which is a staging facility for our wars in the Middle East. So maybe dismantle that base, and Rojava will be fine.
     But what the fuck do I know?

     Two days later, on December 23rd, 2018 - after a friend rebuked me for being too cautious about the possible negative consequences of the U.S. military leaving Syria, and too open to the idea of keeping U.S. troops there - I wrote a second reaction to clarify my position. That reaction read:

     To be clear, we should get the fuck out of Syria and Afghanistan as soon as possible, leaving neither troops nor bases behind.
     It's hard to say that, knowing that us moving out could expose Syria to a power vacuum that could be filled by Turkey, which the U.S. has had too good relations with, despite its [Turkey's] abuses.
     I don't fear the Syrian power vacuum being filled by Iran, because Western media have lied about Iran's intentions so much. Not to say that there would be no problems if that vacuum were filled by Iran, or even Russia.
     Whenever we get out, and whatever happens, I hope that leftists, Democrats, and libertarians are not ashamed to admit Trump "being right", if it means ending our involvement in one of the many wars we're currently involved in.
But we also need to be aware of how the filling of the Syrian power vacuum by Turkey  which I think will be the inevitable result of our exit  was really enabled by America and other Western actors to begin with.
     We need to not only get out of Syria, but also think about ending our ties with abusive regimes such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other nations that have committed serious human rights abuses (long imprisonment, cruel and unusual punishment, corporal punishment, human trafficking, gender oppression, etc.).

     I'd like to add some comments, clarifying my position on human rights, the nations that abuse them, and the fallacy that imposing import tariffs help restore human rights to nations which abuse them.
     I would not consider Israel immune from allegations and investigations of human rights abuses (with its occupation of territory in defiance of international law, and its refusal to promise not to sell nuclear weapons to other countries, and a number of other problems). Nor would I consider it inappropriate to wonder whether China's human rights and labor abuses should be criticized. Every country should be looked at; every government and every authority should be questioned; not excluded, Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

     I say that we should suspect every country of abuses, full well knowing that if we do not trade with a country, then we are likely to have war with that country. That is why I do not support tariffs, because they don't work. Tariffs impose a cost on domestic importers in America, not the foreign firms they're intended to target, so they don't hurt the governments and firms that are carrying out the abuses. The state and its cronies can change the law and legally steal people's money, in a way that deflects and defers and externalizes the costs of the tariffs onto other people, and they do.
     Foreign tariffs only make money for the foreign government, at the expense of foreign exporters and American importers. Money in the hands of governments will never be used to help workers, nor to make-up for nor prevent abuses, but only used to continue and sustain those abuses. If Americans can understand that, then we should also be able to understand that our foreign trading partners might not want to pay a tariff that effectively results in the donation of money to the U.S. military.
     Think about it: If money is fungible, and any tax can be matched with any spending purpose, then isn't that what is happening? The tariff helps the U.S. government balance its budget (as if it ever does that), or at least helps the government sustain itself, so that it can run the military, the Office of the Trade Representative, and every other thing it does.

     My point in saying this is that we ought to have free trade – that is, free movement of labor and capital – with every country that does not commit, or condone, human rights and labor abuses, and other types of deprivations of civil rights and civil liberties. We shouldn't have a situation in which we try to simply tax our problem away, by taxing things that don't make sense to tax. Taxing the importation of goods only makes that good more expensive, more costly, available in fewer places, or all of the above.
     We should make sure that we are not ourselves guilty of the crimes of which we accuse other countries, and raise our standards for ourselves first, to set a good example, instead of expecting other countries to be better than we are. And if we want to identify certain countries, and their governments, as ones that support and condone abuses, then we should apply our standards equally to all nations. But, of course, we cannot go to war with all governments at once, based on the idea that all countries commit abuses. But we should decide which countries are the worst, and start thinking about how ready we are to wage war against them.
     If a country is worth going to war with, then we should cease trading with it immediately – not restrict trade, not have highly regulated trade, not set up an intricate system of licenses and permits for trading – we should stop trade entirely. I say that, full well knowing that if we do not have trade with a country, then we are more likely to have war with it. But if it is decided that allowing trade with a certain country is only helping its government clamp-down control on its people, then we should declare civil liberties violations and human rights abuses as the reason for the war, seek formal congressional authorization of a declaration of war, and fight that war quickly and efficiently, finish it, and bring all troops and bases home.
     Additionally, if we are going to have war with a country because its government is harming its people, then we should make no distinction between an abusive government, and its cronies which are legally entitled to property and wealth under that regime. If the government is condoning those abuses, and the “private” firms receive any form of taxpayer funding, then the government is complicit in any workplace abuses occurring at government sponsored firms.

     The next section, concerning the future of Kurdistan and the relevance of Syria's location to the oil industry, is based on notes written on January 3rd and 4th, 2019.

     The areas in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq which were formerly held by I.S.I.S., are on or near areas predominantly occupied by Kurds. I suspect that the U.S. military desires to maintain the presence of Turkey, the U.S., and their N.A.T.O. partners. I believe that the U.S. military can achieve those objectives with or without its own presence there, through leaving the task to Turkey and others.
     It is possible that the U.S. has found a way to leave Syria and achieve its own objectives as it pertains to the future of the Kurdish people. It's even possible that the Trump Administration is planning to support an independent, autonomous Kurdish state, which the United States would co-opt, so as to maintain the illusion that the Kurdish people's interests are really being put first in that country (instead of the interests of Western actors who don't want a truly free Kurdistan and invite more Western influence and interference).
     Although I do support Kurdish autonomy and independence, I'm not certain that statehood would be best for the Kurds. Granted, in a world of nation-states, statehood is practically the only way they can get the world to take them seriously. But I believe that, given enough time, nearly any state will oppress (and even mass-murder) a certain percent of its own people, and therefore, the world does not need another state.
     It is a consolation to me that the Kurdish state would likely be federated and decentralized, as Kurdish-majority regions in Syria and Iraq tend to be. Decentralization at least helps to diminish and diffuse the risks associated with centralizing power too much. But a Kurdish government oppressing its own people too much is not my only concern.
     I am also worried about the hubris of the American government, in thinking that it can help bring peace to the Middle East; after all the damage it has caused, and after even conservative hero Ronald Reagan admitted that we have continued to underestimate the complexity and irrationality of Middle East geopolitics.
     Western media tell us that the British and French government simply “messed up”, and “didn't care” where they drew the national boundaries that resulted in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the modern-day borders. As a matter of fact, those boundaries were delineated deliberately by the British government, as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy. The idea was to keep tribes of different languages, different sects of Islam, and different religions, all fighting against each other, instead of banding together against their common enemy, the British imperial invaders. That the location and diversity of peoples in the Middle East were ignored in that process, was intentional, not accidental. And not just including the Kurdish people, but especially the Kurdish people, who were (and are) scattered across four nations as a result of that agreement.
     Even if America can have a seat at the negotiation table (with Kurdish, Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian leaders), it probably shouldn't, because American leaders would just tout their own role in resolving the problem so much, that it irks the other countries that have to make major concessions just to come to the table. Considering the American track record in the Middle East, it would not only be pointless to have America at the negotiating table, it would make the road to Middle East peace and Kurdish autonomy longer and bumpier.
     Another reason that the prospect of Kurdish autonomy is worrisome, is that former Vice President Joe Biden might try to take advantage of the issue in order to jump-start a likely run for president in 2020. I believe that Biden might try to portray himself as a longtime supporter of Kurdish independence, since he has been promoting the idea of partitioning Iraq into three areas (one mostly Sunni, one mostly Shi'ite, and the other Kurdish).
     While a Biden presidency could very well result in a rapid acceleration of a project to achieve Kurdish independence, there is no guarantee that that project would not deteriorate into an overly centralized, excessively Western-influenced country that is full of American military bases. Additionally, Biden has a sexual harassment scandal brewing, which, if he is the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump is sure to bring up during the debates. If that happens, it will not end well for Biden, and Trump will easily win a second term. I want to prevent that, but not at the cost of allowing Joe Biden to run the country. I would vote for someone else, or not vote at all.

     I would like to note that, in addition to promoting Israel's interests in Syria, another major reason for U.S. presence in Syria is the relevance of Syria's location to the interests of the oil industry.
     Syria has very little oil – and, at that, only on its outskirts – but the fact that it is situated between the Mediterranean sea to the West, and oil-rich Iraq and Iran to the East, makes it a very important area of geopolitical and economic strategic interest.
     The U.S. and its allies want to build a new oil pipeline - the proposed Qatar-Turkey pipeline - across parts of northern and eastern Syria. The proposed pipeline supported by the Russians and Iranians – the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline – would run the pipeline through only the Western part of Syria, near the Mediterranean Sea.
     Both proposed pipelines would brush the southern edges of Kurdish-majority territory. As far as I.S.I.S. goes, the Western-backed pipeline would cut across territories formerly controlled by I.S.I.S., while the Eastern-backed pipeline would not.
     It's hard to tell which pipeline would result in more havoc, environmental damage, or interference in the everyday lives of the Syrian people, or the Kurdish people for that matter. For all we know, Syria could feel worried about interference from both East and West, and favor neither pipeline. Stuck between Iraq and a wet place (the Mediterranean and the Western oil interests), if you will.
     That's why I have decided not to draw any conclusions on foreign policy from these facts relevant to oil. I merely wish to point these facts out, so that anyone wishing to develop their own opinion on the relevance of oil to the Syrian and Kurdish conflicts, and to U.S. involvement in the region, may do so.

     Another cause for my concern about whether our leaders' claims that we are leaving Syria are genuine - and that the exit is going according to plan, and that what we think is happening is really what's happening - came up just the other day.
     On January 6th, 2019, National Security Adviser John Bolton said that, while we will be leaving northern Syria, our exit from Syria does not have a timetable for withdrawal of ground forces. He also said that the U.S. will not leave until Turkey's government guarantees the safety of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters who helped defeat I.S.I.S..
     It has also been reported that Bolton reassured Israeli leaders that the U.S. will continue to help protect Israel from Iran after the U.S. withdraws troops from Syria.

     It's possible that a complete U.S. withdrawal from Syria might be delayed, or made only a partial withdrawal, due to Israel's influence. Although the Israeli narrative and Netanyahu's reputation have weakened significantly in recent months, the State of Israel will remain America's #1 ally in the region for the foreseeable future, barring a radical change in either U.S. foreign policy or Israeli leadership (or both).
     I would like to see the U.S. have the same policy towards Israel, Syria, Kurdistan, and all the other countries of the world alike: the U.S. military should withdraw all troops and dismantle all bases in all other countries, and whether the lack of U.S. presence in a country causes its government to grow weaker or stronger, more independent or less, it should be none of our business.
     Regimes in the Middle East will come and go, they don't need Western arms dealers arming them to the teeth – publicly nor privately – to make them look guilty by association, and look tyrannical because they have the means to attack others (whether they do or not).

     I won't call it unfair to argue that the U.S. should at least stay in Syria, or wherever else, long enough to fix the damage it has done over the decades. But what are the chances of that happening, really? Like I said before, it would require a radical change in U.S. policy.
     Still, though, I would rather have the U.S. simply stop interfering in other countries' internal conflicts, instead of sit around waiting for the American government to suddenly be run by honest people with decent, respectable, and realistic goals.

Written on December 21
st and 23rd, 2018, and January 3rd, 4th, and 7th, 2019
Originally Published on January 7th, 2019