The World

Apr 12, 2018

Syria would test any president. It is far, far beyond the abilities of Trump.

As Trump contends with forever-mounting pressure at home, his already feeble hold on the Middle East continues to slacken.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Donald Trump is finding that the Middle East is coming apart in his hands. The Trump cheer squad is so quiet about this, there is almost anti-noise. In the past two months, the US’ NATO allies Turkey have invaded northern Syria to crush the independent Kurdish city of Afrin, a centre of activity by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

The Turks say the YPG are just the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), fomenting terror inside Turkey. The YPG say they’re independent, and the Turks not only want to make Kurdish independence impossible, but also crush the self-managing "canton" system the Kurds have established. This includes their revolution in gender equality, which has women as 50% of the YPG’s forces, its commanders, and has dual mayors -- male and female -- for Kurdish towns, on both sides of the border.

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28 thoughts on “Syria would test any president. It is far, far beyond the abilities of Trump.

  1. Bob Hatton

    Let’s not pretend this situation has anything to do with gassed civilians or rebels (presumably you mean Islamists but failed to mention this).
    This always was about regime change and geopolitical manoeuvring.
    The gassing story is merely a pretext.

  2. RL

    Thanks for a frightening and informative piece Guy.
    It’s a huge irony that the Kurds among all these warmongering, male dominated groups have some semblance of gender equality and all are trying to destroy them and their independence.

  3. Dog's Breakfast

    It is the Turks that worry me the most, or more specifically Erdogan, who looks every inch a monstrous dictator who will gladly sacrifice his fellow citizens to maintain power, at any cost.

    Syria’s Assad is a monster, but predictable at least. He will always be so.

    The Kurds, well I don’t know any personally, but they seem like the good guys in all this, and far and away the most formidable of boots on the ground army. Turkey will do anything to avoid them getting any land, power, autonomy.

    And Russia, and Trump, and the opportunist Iranians and Israel. What could go wrong.

    Time to build that bunker.

    1. Bobby

      A bunker won’t save you in the coming years

  4. graybul

    Seriously, why does a mired American nation continue to embrace an interventionist, line-umpire role in the Middle Eastern cauldron? The days of great Empires seeking wealth, power and status via subjugation of hapless smaller nations now well past use-by-dates. The Globe has revolved many, many times. Why not leave to mid tier Russia/Turkey/Iran/Israel; the quagmire of the Middle East to splash around in? If one or another truly believes there is still glory in the inevitable entrapment; so be it.

    American focus surely, must be to negotiate an acceptable, balanced relationship with China. China will continue to pursue, reclaim an historical heritage. The American challenge is to transition. Renew, repair the severely frayed social fabric that if left untended will surely destroy both past, present and future claims to world leadership. China as a competitive ally is infinitely more productive than foe. The American hegemonic powerhouse is no longer sustainable.

    The world knows this. China believes this. The world’s peoples await evidence that America accepts transition. American military dominance is a reality. Use of force to deny change or renewal, unacceptable.

    1. Nudiefish

      Great questions, Graybul.

      Part of the answer lies (I think) in the particularly American deceit that they are adept at controlling foreign interventions. Thinking back, the US’s only really successful operation in this regard since WWII was the invasion of Grenada. And that was a tiny little island with a mostly single majority ethnic community. Everything the Americans touch seems to turn to sludge, mainly because they only have a sledge hammer in the toolkit and therefore lack finesse, both military and political.

      Lastly, they confuse American domestic self-interest with that of the local political, religious, national, economic interests or regional realities.

  5. zut alors

    The NY Times published an unconfirmed quote by Trump back in 2016. During a private briefing on the US nuclear arsenal he inquired – three times – “If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

    Trump sees a nuclear warhead as ‘checkmate’ in global politics – after all, it brought WWII to an abrupt end. But what further hell may have occurred had Japan also had nuclear weapons. Unlike in 1945, the USA no longer holds all the cards, to date their reputation as a successful military superpower is vested in the destruction of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. A reputation which is overblown as the USA has been a dud force in every war waged since, a long string of embarrassing and expensive losses. Trump foolishly & naively imagines his next book will be ‘The Art of the Win’.

    1. Longfulan

      It is a matter of some contention that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had anything to do with ending the war. Paul Ham in his book ‘Hiroshima’ looks at the Japanese government cabinet papers at the time of the bombings. It seems that the maniacs in charge did not care a jot about the suffering of the people. It is more likely as Ham suggests, that it was the declaration of war upon Japan by the Russians that forced their hand. The Japanese government felt that the Russians would be less sympathetic toward their (war criminal) emperor than would the Americans.

      1. zut alors

        I’m familiar with Ham’s well researched book. If he’s right it means the USA won by default.

  6. Nudiefish

    And so the old Middle East “problem” rolls on.

    This part of the world has stomped on greater Western thinkers and political leaders than the current POTUS. Trump’s stumbling will probably end exactly as we all imagine it might.

  7. David Thompson

    I’ll have some of that “small” chance (i.e. longish odds) of the Douma incident being a mix of fabrication and exaggeration, GR, any day of the week.
    The 2 ‘humanitarian’ organisations that have remained in lock step in Syria, for years, are the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” and “The White Helmets”. They are always ‘first with the news’ of any Assad government ‘atrocity’ against the people of Syria, pics, videos and all.
    The White Helmets were the first to claim Douma was chlorine gas attack.
    To quote on the SOHR claim of what happened:
    “Interestingly the MI6 outlet in Coventry, the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights (SOHR), does not confirm a ‘gas’ incident. In its version of events some 40 people died after their shelter collapsed:
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a higher death toll, saying at least 80 people were killed in Douma, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside them.”
    So, how about we wait until the OPCW inspectors have had a squizz at the Douma site, before reframing your market?
    As of a few hours ago, the OPCW was still saying it will take up the Russian and Syrian offer of ‘safe passage’, so they can inspect the site, despite the fact the US et al knocked back the Swedish drafted/Russian refined resolution at the UNSC to do a proper inspection, and promptly.
    At this stage, the OPCW are saying they expect to land in Syria in the next few days.
    P.S. If you have doubts about the above mentioned “MI6” being connected to those ‘humanitarian’ outfits in Syria, I suggest you look up “James Le Mesurier British Mercenary”, and take a look at his CV.
    From there, I suggest “Max Blumenthal Sophie McNeill White Helmets” as your next port of call.
    You know Max? Wrote “Goliath”;

  8. AR

    By defining the FBI search of his counsel’s property as a ‘break-in’ and “an attack on our country” he is now in full Sun King, l’etat c’est moi, mode.
    It is history how the US deals with such attacks so will this be the first air strike to be called on the FBI?

  9. Saugoof

    Having the probably most incompetent leader of a major country ever in power during a crisis is never a good thing. That said though, we should have learnt by now that Trump’s tweets are more often than not just messages to his base with no follow-up. He’s the king of gesture politics.
    I’m not saying that this isn’t going to escalate, or that Trump isn’t dumb and uncaring enough to start WWIII, it’s just that so far on most things he’s really been all talk, zero action.

    1. Cruuze

      Let’s hope that his mindless twittering is simply that. Serious games to be playing though – Russia is the last country that should be provoked into a war for no good reason whatsoever.

  10. Arky

    The media suspects telling us how great Trump is at foreign policy because North Korean Kim decided he wanted to meet Trump are being suspiciously quiet now, aren’t they?

    The idea Trump tamed NK was a load of hooey. NK foreign policy begins and ends with “keep the Kim family in charge of NK”. They procured nukes as a deterrent against foreign invasion, not to commit mutually-assured-destruction if they can at all avoid it. They’re playing Trump and not the opposite.

    Syria is one of the messes brought to us by the Republicans and their invasion of Iraq followed by the utterly botched occupation of Iraq. Nice job breaking it heroes. I have no idea how it can be fixed and neither does Trump.

    1. David Thompson

      “Hooey” indeed, Arky.
      Sergey Lavrov – the best FM anywhere, since Chou En Lai – is in North Korea, as we speak.
      The Russians are guiding the North Koreans, the Chinese are guiding the South Koreans.
      Vladivostok, Q3/Q4 2017, a Putin steered meeting of 5 nations – his own, China, Nth and Sth Korea, and Japan. Economic development plan, all 5, a half dozen streams of economic activity. To close, Putin offered ‘Moon Man’, the Sth Korean new honcho of seemingly sound principle, the opportunity to present said ‘plan’ to the assembled media throng (sans Western ‘experts’ of course – it was Vladivostok, after all).
      Moon Man starred at the presser, and everything went forward as planned.
      ‘JAPAN!?’ I hear the skeptics scream, to which I rely, ‘Where do they live, exactly?’

    2. Bobby

      Rubbish. Syria is the result of high birthrates giving a country an oversupply of young men who are under the thumb of a brutal regime of a different religious background.
      Civil war was always on the cards in such a place.

      1. AR

        Syria was, and is, the freest arab country – there was a reason Iraqi Xtians fled there after the US invasion.
        The only ‘young men’ (sic!) under the thumb are those excitable enough to have been swayed by salafist/wahhabi propaganda & incitement.
        Every religious & ethnic minority in the ME, and there are at least a dozen muslim schisms alone, can live in Assad’s Syria – the majority of his army is Sunni, including the majority of the battle hardened commanders, and they know perfetly well what would happen if the Saudi funded, inspired and supported jihadis were to rule.
        They, and we, have seen it.
        That’s why they fight to defend the secular society Assad allows.

        1. Bobby

          Delusional. It might only be jihadists now left fighting Assad. But it wasn’t jihadists who first started wanting democracy and protesting before Assad crushed their protests.
          The far left have become the useful idiots of the world’s most brutal dictators

          1. David Thompson

            You seem to have missed the 8 year drought that sent streams of young people from rural and regional Syria to overload their cities.
            And, mid way through that drought, the fabulously principled West slapped shirtloads of sanctions on Syria, just as Clinton and Albright had done to Iraq in the ’90’s, causing the deaths of 500,00o Iraqis.
            Saddam had been a favourite of the West when he was spraying Iranians with Amerikan CW’s in their war.
            Assad had been a Western favourite when he was providing ‘rendition’ facilities for Dubya’s Amerika in the Iraq war.
            As for Albright, when asked later whether the sanctions that killed 500K Iraqis had been worth it, Albright answered in the affirmative.
            There’s no “left” and “right”, just Neocons and Neoliberals, with plenty being both, when it suits.
            But, there is lots of useful idiots, and most of them still believe “left” and “right” still exist.

      2. Cruuze

        Bobby you might want to read up a bit more. The Syrian government is one of the only secular forms of power in the region who allow all manner of faiths to live in the country. Unlike our fabulous Saudi friends who still love to stone women to death for driving. Switch off the cnn

        1. Bobby

          Where secular in your mind means as long as you’re part of the Alawite minority you can rise to the top positions in the country. Too bad if you’re not I guess.
          As I said. The far left have become the useful idiots of the world’s most brutal dictators.
          The Greens are actually a boon for Labor in Australia. The drag the real morons out of the ALP and put them in a Party where they have no real power to do much harm

          1. Cruuze

            Factions aside, both you and I know that the US/UK and EU interest in Syria has nothing to do with the way Assad treats his people good or bad. Take a glance at Israel popping off civilians in their own side of a stolen country, or Yemen, nobody gives a rats arse. Our allies care zero about human lives, only power. Any arguments that they are there for anything otherwise is pure BS. How many lives have these so-called ‘brutal dictators’ taken when compared to the massacres conducted under the pretence of allied liberation, freedom and democracy. I wonder how the people of Iraq and Libya are loving their freedom living among the death and destruction of US-sponsored Jihadists. US-installed ‘dictators’ Saddam and Gaddafi were our buddies while they were playing ball – until of course, they talked about dropping the dollar. No, my friend, we’ve only made these places worse. From what we called terrible, to what is now a living hell. I do admire your faith in our system though despite the evidence of what we’ve done.

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