By George Szamuely
22 May, 2020
President Donald Trump, if he is re-elected in November and no longer fearing desertion of his anti-interventionist supporters, may well shed his remaining inhibitions against embarking on new military adventures.
A Trump second term, particularly if it is hamstrung by Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, is likely to be defined by an appetite for military intervention.
Back in 2016, Trump had run on an explicitly anti-interventionist platform. The United States, he reiterated, had to stop wasting money trying to solve the world’s problems.
Trump accused the Bush administration of lying about Iraq and declared that the Iraq invasion “started ISIS [Islamic State, IS], it started Libya, it started Syria… everything that’s happening started with us stupidly going into the war in Iraq.” He even suggested that Saddam Hussein could have been a useful ally against Islamic terrorism.
Trump ridiculed the Obama administration’s regime-change policy in Syria for backing the wrong side: “We are fighting Assad. And we’re fighting for people and helping people that we don’t even know who they are. And they may be worse than Assad.” Like Saddam, Assad could have been a useful ally of the United States: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” Trump said during one of the presidential debates. On Libya, too, Trump repeatedly insisted that the world would be much better off were Muammar Gaddafi still in power.
However, the promised reorientation of US foreign policy never happened. Not only has there been no withdrawal from Iraq, Trump has threatened Iraq with sanctions should it insist on removal of American forces. Earlier this year, Trump announced that, as a condition of US departure, Iraq would have to reimburse the United States for money it had invested in an air base.
In Syria ‘to keep the oil’
There has been no departure from Syria either. Trump twice launched missile attacks on Syria, supposedly in retaliation for chemical-weapon attacks. On April 7, 2017, Trump hurled 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat airfield, where President Bashar Assad had allegedly launched his chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun from. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed,” Trump said. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.” Trump repeated the exercise a year later, this time hitting some government storage facilities and a scientific research center. “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster,” Trump said of the alleged chemical-weapon attack. In a tweet, Trump called Assad an “animal.”
Far from withdrawing troops from Syria, Trump now insists that they will stay indefinitely, ostensibly to secure Syria’s oil fields. “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” Trump said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has implausibly claimed the goal is to “deny ISIS access to oil revenue.” However, with ISIS defeated and controlling no territory in Syria, and with the US not exactly short on oil, it is obvious that the real goal is to deny the Syrian government “access to oil revenue” and thus the ability to rebuild its country – a regime-change policy by other means.
Regime change ops continue
Trump has repeatedly threatened Iran with war. He withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018, and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Through his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, he has sought to deny Iran any revenues from oil sales. As if that were not enough, Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, following that up with a warning that, should Iran retaliate, the US would strike “52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Regime-change operations continue unabated. After seeking to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicólas Maduro through sanctions, Trump, in January 2019, announced that the United States would henceforth regard opposition leader Juan Guaidó as ‘interim president’ of Venezuela. As early as August 2017, Trump was threatening to use force against Venezuela. “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Trump said at the time.
More recently, the Trump administration accused Maduro of engaging in “narco-terrorism,” claiming that his government had intended to “flood” the US “with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States.” The State Department offered a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.
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