Trump wants you to believe he's withdrawing from Syria because he hates America's 'endless wars'. The truth is very different

When reporting from Iraq, I regularly saw the consequences of US intervention followed by a failure to deal with the consequences of that intervention. What's coming isn't pretty

Ahmed Twaij
New York
Friday 11 October 2019 18:30
Turkey begins ground operations in northeast Syria

The sudden withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, immediately followed by Turkish military advances, has shocked many and left Donald Trump facing his latest wave of criticism. Explaining his decision, the president yesterday tweeted, “I am trying to end the ENDLESS wars.” Trump’s track record, however, suggests something different: that he is a man infatuated with military strength and power.

Despite frequently suggesting US military expenditure is too high, this president’s paradoxical end to endless wars has not been reflected by a reduction in US military spend. Throughout Trump’s presidential campaign trail, the President advocated the withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East, given how “we waste millions there” and the money should instead be used to “rebuild the USA.”

Trump’s annual budget for national defense has been relishing a year-on-year rise since he took office. The latest budget cost the American taxpayer $750bn for defense, nearly $200bn over that of Barack Obama’s last budget and a 4.7 per cent rise over the previous year.

Despite the incessant calls to withdraw troops, Trump’s policies have failed to surmount into the rebuilding of America. As military costs skyrocket under the administration, budget cuts are witnessed elsewhere including Medicare, even after Trump pledged to not shrink such healthcare funding during the campaign trail. Trump shows no interest in reducing military expenditure and has been consumed with flexing his military might, highlighted through funding his 4th July conspicuous and pseudo-authoritarian military rally.

The narcissism of Trump’s military involvement in the Middle East extends only to headline-grabbing theatrics. Can we forget the ineffective use of the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan? Trump, fixated on his image as a strong leader, savored the idea of taking credit for defeating Isis. In northern Syria, Trump’s initial involvement helped bolster his narrative that he caused the collapse of the terror group. As Isis no longer holds territory in northern Syria, opportunities for front-page news praising US “heroic” attacks on Isis - which Trump believes he deserves to be made a “national hero” for – no longer exist, making withdrawal an easy option.

Having spent time as journalist in Iraq, I witnessed firsthand the results of US intervention in the region, as well as sudden withdrawal, especially in Mosul. After a near-year long military offensive, involving US-led coalition airstrikes, the Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces, the war on Isis in Mosul increased in violence as the coalition became progressively frustrated with the time spent on liberating the city. Bombs dropped by US planes could be heard and felt as regular as a drumbeat with civilians desperately seeking refuge elsewhere.

Streets along the outskirts of Mosul with Iraq Special Forces

Walking through Mosul, to this day, you see the city as an unrecognizable shadow of its former self, substantially due to US airstrikes. The famous Mosul University is partially turned to rubble; schools and hospitals have been destroyed, leaving children with no access to education and doctors seeing patients in tents. Western Mosul and its Old City have been turned into debris whilst its citizens remain displaced and living in camps. According to Airwars, the US-led airstrikes in Iraq led to the deaths of between 6,250 and 9,600 civilians, with the destruction to infrastructure and civilian property far greater.

The Iraqi army sacrificed 34,000 soldiers in the three-year campaign against Isis, compared to the US military losing only 54 in armed combat. Ending the endless war in Mosul meant that Trump could take credit for dropping bombs on Iraq — but the American military left the nation struggling to rebuild its basic infrastructure.

No compensation was provided for the innocent civilians suffering the fate of the barrage of US airstrikes. Conflating the US’s responsibility in the destruction of the region with hand-outs, Trump has made it known he does not believe in "nation building." The withdrawal from Syria reflects a similar mindset: since the common enemy of Isis has been defeated, any path towards stability stopped being a priority.

A former Isis watchtower in Mosul

Throughout his presidency, Trump has perpetuated wars elsewhere in the Middle East and has not attempted to end them. The Saudi-led war in Yemen has long been fuelled by an ongoing US arms trade with Saudi Arabia as well as military training. Such deals have promoted an effectively endless war that has witnessed a civilian death toll nearing to 100,000, with no end in sight.

Trump’s obsession with tensing his military strength has left the world on the verge of another crisis in the Middle East. Constant fear-mongering over the so-called Iran threat has led to rising oil prices and the sounds of beating war drums echoing across the Persian Gulf. The hiring of trigger-happy John Boltonn — who once wrote, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran” — as his National Security Advisor, has led the US to the brink of war with the nation. Post-Bolton, Trump continues his inflammatory rhetoric, regularly threatening Iran with what will inevitably also be an endless war.

The withdrawal from Syria was to be expected by Trump, whose reasons for withdrawal are unrelated to the reality. More interested in the drama of violent conflict, we cannot expect this president to promote international development and stability post-US intervention. Trump is engrossed in instigating endless wars, but less enthused in dealing with the consequences.

If the endless war in Syria has ended, should we not expect a reflection in the reduction of military spending and therefore concurrent boosting of public services across the US?

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