Syria: Where Trump’s Foul Words Connect to His Feckless Actions

Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic about how Trump views captured and killed American soldiers made quite the impression last night:

When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him. But his cynicism about service and heroism extends even to the World War I dead buried outside Paris—people who were killed more than a quarter century before he was born. Trump finds the notion of military service difficult to understand, and the idea of volunteering to serve especially incomprehensible.

On Memorial Day 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, a short drive from the White House. He was accompanied on this visit by John Kelly, who was then the secretary of homeland security, and who would, a short time later, be named the White House chief of staff. The two men were set to visit Section 60, the 14-acre area of the cemetery that is the burial ground for those killed in America’s most recent wars. Kelly’s son Robert is buried in Section 60. A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. He was 29. Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “Trump can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

So far (it’s Friday morning as I type this), Trump defenders and anti-anti-Trumpers are largely in denial mode. It’s media-bashing all the way down, even among the few trying to explain away Trump’s comments as based solely on World War I (leaving aside Trump’s barrage of “loser” labels for John McCain and Bush the Elder). By the time you read this, there may be a shift to the assertion that Trump’s actions regarding the military are more important than his words; Trump’s actions in supposed support of our military is already being cited as “evidence” against Goldberg’s story.

This begs the question: what is Trump actually doing vis a vis our fellow Americans who are in uniform?

Tom O’Connor and Naveed Jamali provide an answer in Syria (Newsweek).

A growing number of incidents involving U.S. and Russian forces in Syria has highlighted yet another strategic blindspot in the Middle East for Washington, as its shifting politics leave U.S. troops essentially stranded to guard oil and gas resources while Moscow presses on with a five-year effort to stabilize the war-torn nation.

“It’s a clusterf**k in Syria,” one senior U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Newsweek. “We don’t have a strategy.”

Syria, if you recall, has been suffering under the tyranny of the Assad family for over half a century. In 2011, the Syrian people rose up against Bashar Assad’s regime. Assad, backed by his Russian and Iranian allies, proceeded to attack any popular rebel forces he could find, while leaving Deash (a.k.a., ISIS) alone. Yours truly has been particularly focused on how to free the Syrian people of both Assad and Daesh.

Trump would have us believe he is laser-focused on Daesh. The facts say otherwise. O’Connor and Jamali provide further details.

Mohammed Hassan, a Syrian Kurdish fixer and journalist who has witnessed and recorded a number of U.S.-Russia encounters firsthand, said the two countries’ diverging strategies were readily apparent.

“The strategy for the Russian forces is to be deployed in all of north and eastern Syria,” Hassan told Newsweek. “They are planning to do this, but about the Americans, they are just interested in the oil and gas fields in areas like Rmelan, like Al-Hasakah, like Al-Shaddadi, like Al-Hol and like Deir Ezzor.”

Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist, put the situation in perspective, comparing it to another bloody quagmire for the Pentagon.

“The oil fields that U.S. forces are now occupying do not produce anything that comes to North America, and has no value save either for Russia and the Assad regime or the SDF allies whom we have abandoned,” he told Newsweek. “Trump is sitting on this field and risking U.S. lives to say ‘we took their oil.’

To be precise, Trump‘s actual words were these.

As you know, in Syria we’re down to almost nothing, except we kept the oil.

Never mind the Syrian people suffering under Assad. Never mind the Russians and the Iranians preserving another dictatorship. Never mind Daesh reviving as we went “down to almost nothing.”

Trump’s focus: “We kept the oil.”

As Nance put it: “U.S. soldiers are dying to fulfill a feeble man’s pledge.”

… and thus do the actions of Donald Trump link up with his words.

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