Trump’s “America first!” in the case of Syria Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1-2019

Trump’s “America first!” in the case of Syria

In December 2018, Trump announced the immediate withdrawal – within 30 days – of American troops from Syria. It is interesting to note the three contradictory justifications Trump gives for his decision, which obviously bypasses the foreign and security policy establishment: a) the USA has defeated IS, b) rivals or opponents such as Russia and Iran are now forced to fight IS alone, c) Erdoğan has assured him that Turkey will take over and deal with IS:

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” (12.19.2018) “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others, who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight. Russia, Iran, Syria and many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hit us they are doomed.” (12.20.2018) “President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria....and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right ‘next door.’ Our troops are coming home!” (12.23.2018)

These successive statements – together with the subsequent denials and denials of the denials, including the accompanying actions of the Americans ‘on the ground’ – show how the President defines America’s global political interests, exemplified by the case of Syria, and the status he assigns to the other powers involved.


The commander-in-chief of the US military power declares – shortened to Twitter dimensions, as is his style, but unmistakably – that domestic conditions in Syria are not the target of his nation’s military involvement in the Middle Eastern country: not “nation-building” anyway, but also no “red lines” that, if crossed by the local ruler, would obligate America to do anything. The only reason for an American presence in Syria is the liquidation of an Islamist quasi-state on the Euphrates. And as far as this is concerned, he takes the liberty – in the tradition of the “mission accomplished” announcements of his predecessors – to declare the enemy finished without a fussy assessment of the current frontline of the enemy. The concerns of his military staff play no role in this decision, which in turn means that the boss expects his troops to comply with his fact-finding without further ado; the fact that there could be any reason not to is beyond his self-confidence as president of the greatest military power in world history. The fact that the USA began its involvement in Syria together with allies and launched it as an example of the legal requirements of a free and peaceful world order is especially irrelevant to the victory message: With his sovereign decision – “done!” – Trump renews his rejection of any such universal, collectively enforced demands for order, which his predecessors, up to and including Obama, have used for decades to align the world of states with America as the leading power. The partner states which the USA has involved in its ongoing world order project, especially in the Middle East, and which it has functionalized for its role as a global power responsible for everything, are confronted with the fact that they are not even worthy of a non-commital consultation. Trump does not – like his predecessor – confront them with the alternative of ‘submission or irrelevance’; he immediately assigns them the status of insignificance in America’s fiddling with the management of force in the world of states.

The president explicitly absolves his state of the function of “policeman” – the most critically tinged expression for America’s energetically executed claim to leadership in the world. And he does so with a remarkable two-stage justification. He cites the expenditure of American money and valuable human lives – meaning American lives, not those of the sheriff’s deputies and certainly not those of the other side – which, in his perception, is not offset by any return worth mentioning. Instead, he contrasts the American costs with the benefits for others who are pursuing their own interests – whatever they may be – in Syria, who are pursuing the destruction of the militant supporters of the caliphate for their own reasons, and who have benefited from the services of the USA for practically nothing. Trump rejects these services, i.e. America’s role not only as world policeman, but also as authoritative overseer, prosecutor, judge and enforcer in every violent affairs around the globe – once again and in this specific case – as a mistake in which his unrivaled powerful nation has made itself into a useful idiot of foreign powers, exploited by all sides. He is not announcing a retreat from the position of a superior military ready and able to intervene everywhere; on the contrary: he immediately combines the fact that he is dissolving what appears to him to be an entanglement in foreign affairs with the announcement that he is in the process of creating “by far the most powerful military in the world.” The hopeless military inferiority of partners and opponents alike in the long term is thereby certified; and with their unflattering classification as parasites on America’s enforcement of order, they are deprived of any prospect of any kind of consideration, let alone participation, in the superpower’s undertakings and achievements.

The fact that Trump announces that from now on anyone who is bothered by the Islamist terrorists in Syria should take care of it themselves, mentions “Russia, Iran, Syria and many others” in one go, illustrates his discriminating view of the world of states. He declares his fundamental lack of interest in the Syrian government’s – increasingly successful – fight for survival. As far as Syria is concerned, he denies Russia and Iran, war parties who intervened on their own authority and out of their own calculations, the status of serious competitors to America in an exemplary and fairly fundamental way. He does not retract any of his hostility towards the Mullah Republic in particular; on the contrary, he makes it clear that he sees it’s and Russia’s involvement in Syria as a burden on the resources of his enemies and thus as advantageous for America, and in any case not at all as an opportunity or suitable scenario for fighting them; this takes place, not at all indirectly and by proxy, differently and in other arenas. Trump at least acknowledges the Turkish president as an assistant with the right ambition and the necessary skills to free America from pointless burdens; by immediately threatening economic destruction in the event that Turkey attacks, without authorization, the US army’s previous cannon fodder, the Kurds who are fighting for their own nation state, he removes any doubt that recognition of Turkish servitude requires non-recognition of Turkey’s own interests in Syria. Finally, the “many others,” who, however and for whatever reason, but mainly in alliance with the USA, have contributed to the Syrian war, can infer from the president’s Twitter messages that their interests deserve no consideration at all, for example in the form of consultations. The contemptuous categorization of their supporting role as an easy way to help themselves to America’s superior power is an almost hostile rejection of the paradox of cronyism among imperialists that has been cultivated and maintained for decades.


Trump’s dealings with friends and foes and all the rest are met with resistance within his own national establishment, including in the case of Syria. America’s war policy has always aimed to involve as many, especially all important, competing players as possible, whether by forming a front with an ultimate “shock and awe” type of approach, or more by “leading from behind,” in any case always with a reflection on the partners’ own interests in an alliance under US aegis that can be exploited and mobilized accordingly. The creators of this traditional world order policy, who still have some say under the new president, do not deny at every opportunity that Trump’s “America first!” amounts to ‘America alone’ or even should amount to that, so they certainly see a problem here. In the case of Syria in particular, they warn of a loss of all credibility for “fifth columns” of American world politics in foreign countries if the Syrian Kurdish troops are abandoned and practically handed over to the Turkish army; they understand that Trump does not treat the Russians in Syria as a competitor to be eliminated, but condescends to it as a party to a minor war, and disapproves of this as a carte blanche for the enemy; they are not entirely indifferent to commitments to NATO partners; and so on. So some internal guidance is still needed.

For all that, the president at least has on his side the deep dissatisfaction with the results of the military deployment of American military for universally accepted civil relations between states, especially with the continuing chaos of the “Middle East”; a dissatisfaction that has already prompted his predecessors to change strategy on many occasions. And the point he makes so emphatically when he rejects the whole approach – that America is far too big and powerful to be fighting with inferior powers, let alone to be drawn into endless small wars that promise no strategic or other gain – is not at all alien to his critics. The great yield of an exemplary military power development, which was always envisaged in the program of a comprehensive American world order – the secure allegiance of awed powers from the second to bottom tier – has in fact been so ambiguous for some time that the result can be interpreted with some justification as a shamelessly exploited service of the leading power to the interests of its followers.

Under Trump’s leadership in any case – this general line of modern US imperialism is being applied in Syria in exemplary fashion – America can and must only be concerned with one thing in every global political engagement: a clear benefit for the nation at the level on which it stands alone with its wealth and war power, and in proportion to this. If wars already cost “trillions of dollars” and “precious lives,” then the costs must be worth it, and accordingly: countable in an even greater increase in national wealth, in economic power which, when used to extort money, has an irresistible effect on civilian life, and in military force against which resistance is futile and enemy attempts at deterrence must fail. From the point of view of such a secure and self-perpetuating superiority, the self-interests of other states deserve, firstly, no respect and, secondly, conditional recognition only and precisely to the extent that they result in deals that save the USA money and lives without providing the other side with any gain comparable to America’s benefit. Trump’s new America spares the world of states Washington’s leadership; it replaces it with the law of the strongest.


With his new policy on Syria, Trump is confronting all the powers involved there. They are taking this as a challenge to make the best of it for themselves.

– The Europeans are reacting diplomatically with a mixture of dismay and disappointment to the fact that Trump’s policy is pulling the rug out from under their previous Syria policy. This has consisted of spearheading an international anti-Assad front and a Western-led reorganization of Syria and its surroundings. Part of their economic and political alignment of the Mediterranean world with their European bloc was declaring Assad to be a problem long before the Syrian uprising and war. The anti-Assad uprising was then an opportunity for the Europeans to turn their reservations and accusations against the regime in Damascus into demands for regime change. The fact that the operational effectiveness and global political significance of their line depended from the outset on America making the overthrow of Assad its cause incited them to steer their great leading power on this course. In the case of Syria, they wanted to commit the Western alliance to a common cause that they had defined. France in particular, with its self-image as the leading European military power with the means to wage a limited autonomous war, put itself at the forefront of the Western anti-Assad front and acted as the diplomatic firebrand in every available or self-created forum. And then a few hundred poison gas victims in Syria came just at the right time: In the face of US President Obama and his attitude toward deploying troops in Syria, which has been decried not least in Paris as “hesitant,” France insisted on the meaning of the “red lines” Obama had drawn in terms of “using weapons of mass destruction against his own people”: A reason for convincing airstrikes. France did not allow itself to be deprived of this and used its air force to demonstrate that it still understood the lessons in violence that intransigent Syrians need in order to come to their senses – France had already proven its determination to bomb Damascus for days on end if necessary in the course of its glorious colonial past. Germany, having learned its lesson from its imperialistically unsuccessful refusal to participate in the Libya bombing in 2011, joined the united Western line of eliminating Assad and deployed Tornados. But in all of this, it was guilty of many diplomatic and legal contortions in order to demonstrate the necessary distance within Western unity, so that no one sees participation as subservience. Along the way, it worked towards becoming the central point of contact for the civilian Syrian opposition abroad, and a little later it tried to put its own specifically German stamp on the shared Western definition of the Syrian case of disorder by pointing to its pioneering role in managing the refugee crisis. Although all of this increasingly had to work through Russia’s new-found determination in Syria, and Assad was increasingly successful ‘on the ground’ in his fight for survival against the international alliance to remove him from power, politically the Europeans never moved away from the core of their demand: Assad must, sooner or later, go.

This requirement is now being discredited, in a completely different way than by Russia’s militarily effective action, by Trump no longer wanting to hear anything about a shared Western line under American leadership in Syria either. His decision to withdraw is a lesson to the Europeans about how little agreement they can wrest from the American President, even where they are in a formal alliance with the USA in the war effort. He discredits their military engagements in and around Syria – no matter how much they have tried and staged their own independence in the process – as auxiliary services for America, which are no longer of any value, which therefore do not promise any yield for the service provider itself and, moreover, are not even sustainable on their own without the basis of a correspondingly robust American military presence. France, in particular, is experiencing this through its Turkish NATO partner, which is openly threatening the French troops on the ground with a military confrontation if they want to implement the plan, which has since been floated in Paris, of becoming the protectors of the northern Syrian Kurds against Turkey’s anti-Kurdish ‘war against terrorism,’ rather than the withdrawing US troops.

However, the European powers are far from giving up their claims to defining Syria as part of their south-eastern backyard under whatever special title. Politically and diplomatically, they maintain that there can only be a lasting solution to the ‘Syrian conflict’ without Assad. The fact that America has said goodbye to this does not prevent them from at least telling their Arab partners, some of whom are now starting to reckon with Assad again. At a summit meeting with the Arab League, the EU agrees with the Arabs, according to the final communiqué, that they all want to work towards a solution to the ‘Syrian conflict’ – in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and under the premise of preserving Syria as a territorially unified whole, i.e. by explicitly referring to the ‘multilateral’ stipulations from which Trump absolves his nation. In practical terms, this means that the EU sanctions against the Assad regime remain in place and are being tightened in some cases. And Germany also continues to finance a few remnants of the so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist anti-Assad factions, particularly in north-western Syria. In this way, the European powers announce that they are taking care of the Middle East as a prominent object of their strategic interest, even without the prospect of being able to make it the concern of ‘the West’, which Trump has denounced. And their leaders are aware of what this will ultimately require: they must really and seriously set about acquiring the autonomous military power that they lack.

– For Turkey, Trump’s policy, even before the December withdrawal announcement, is in every respect a confirmation of the position it has been working its way towards for some time, not least due to the Syrian war: it no longer even finds the recognition it demands from its traditional Western allies for its claims to sovereignty, security and co-determination, which it defines as existential. It has failed in its attempt to force the NATO allies to make explicit and credible pledges of support for the confrontation with Russia[1] which has escalated to the brink of war; on which fronts the position of this club vis-à-vis Russia requires escalation and on which de-escalation, which is a NATO alliance case in the first place – that is obviously for others to decide. The lesson Turkey has learned is that it must pursue and assert its territorial and strategic claims itself, separately from the allies and, if necessary, against them. This is the premise of Turkey’s handling of the announced American withdrawal: “We are now taking command of the fight against IS” is Erdoğan’s first official reaction immediately after Trump’s “coming home” tweets. In this context, Turkey does not even deny that this does not bode well for the Kurdish combat units in Syria, which have so far been quite useful in the American-commanded fight against IS and accordingly sent to the slaughter; on the contrary, it takes the liberty of interpreting Trump’s decision as an admission that Turkey has always been right in its definition of IS and Kurds as equally terrorist gangs. Trump’s urge to relieve America of the useless burden of the Syria mission is an opportunity for Turkey to practice its anti-Kurdish line to the extent that it sees necessary, without having to test how much confrontation with the American military it can afford in the process.[2] From the outset, Turkey’s leaders have not taken the Trump line as a firm promise of reliable American support and legitimization of their concerns: they welcome the announcements from the White House both fervently and sceptically,[3] and they practically demonstrate their certainty that the new opportunity that arises for them is only worth as much as they make of it. The prospect that the USA “will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” presented by Trump in all friendliness and as usual via Twitter, confirms what they already knew in this respect. Which at least does not prevent the Turkish army from carrying out the planned regroupings and preparing for the decisive battle with the Kurds. Especially as Trump, in order to avoid any illusions on the part of the Kurdish supporters, added the following warning to his promise of devastation against Turkey in his very next tweet: “Likewise, I do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.” Turkey warns France all the more vehemently against any ambitions to act as the new protecting power of the Syrian Kurds – in any case, this will not stop Turkey from doing anything.[4] Otherwise, Trump’s ironclad pursuit of the principle that the USA will under no circumstances allow itself to be dragged into a position of leader of whomever, with consultations, consideration and concessions, means that Turkey must all the more come to terms with the other major power acting in Syria.

Russia welcomes the US decision to withdraw as the right step toward recognizing its long-held political and international legal position that the US presence in Syria is per se counterproductive and illegal.[5] The Russian leadership thus sees itself confirmed – this is the imperialist prose for political-international law poetry – that it was and is right with its confrontational line: it has successfully opposed the Western-orchestrated plans for regime change in Syria, first with diplomatic and material support for Assad, and since 2015 with its own troops in Syria. In the case of Syria, it has viewed and practised diplomacy as a back-up to its own presence as a military power, in other words it has learned from its earlier ‘mistake’ of using diplomatic concessions as a substitute for the confrontation that was due in its relationship with the West and its leading power: Since then, Russia has also for the first time become the patron of its own foreign “peace process.” Within this framework, it negotiates with those subjects of force that qualify for it according to its standards, as legitimate belligerents and therefore – strictly according to imperialist reason and custom – as authorized supervisors of a ‘post-war solution.’ By demonstrating its material and military power and determination, Russia has also wrested political validity from its “Astana” negotiations with Turkey and Iran vis-à-vis other powers[6] and, in the process, has also undermined the line largely enforced by the USA under Obama and Clinton that the precondition for a lasting post-war solution is that Assad abdicate. [7] And even Israel, which is otherwise so unmanageable for all other powers due to its unique alliance with America, can’t help but adjust first practically and second politically and diplomatically to the fact that Russia is now a second potent military power with global claims in Syria alongside the USA.[8]

It is obvious that the USA under Trump no longer owes it to itself to revise this ‘situation’ in any case, i.e. to effectively deny Russia the status it has achieved as the main power in the Syrian war. The political leaders and, even more so, the Russia-haters responsible for public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic were and are correspondingly horrified that Trump is offering their main enemy what they consider to be a gift with his withdrawal plans. But the talk of the reward that Trump is now giving to the persistent Russian, Iranian and Syrian violations of all the standards of humanitarian warfare and all the values of a civil, i.e. Western, world order is not even half the truth.

The Russians realize this themselves. And so, from the outset, their joyful to malicious statements about the imminent American troop withdrawal have been accompanied by the repeated public mistrust of what to make of such statements.[9] In truth, however, the problem for Russia is not so much the ‘unreliability’ of American announcements and plans, but what is confirmed very unequivocally in them: America, in general and in the Syrian case, is no longer interested in an international order of somehow sovereign powers. It rejects the idea of securing any kind of unified, externally sovereign existence for the ruin called Syria. Although America is no longer competing with Russia for the definition of a post-war Syria within the rough borders of before the war, it is no longer available as a co-guarantor of such an entity and its international appearance. On the contrary: Russia practically learns that the USA is not only indifferent to the Russian claim to have restored Syria to its pre-war borders, i.e. the Damascus government’s claim to sovereignty over this territory, but is discredited by the American calculations, particularly with regard to Iran; negotiations on this: none.[10] The American way of simply referring to a whole, half or rump Syria or not, according to its own opportunistic considerations – the practical basis for this is its reduced but permanent presence in Syria and the presence of its troops in the entire surrounding area – is at the same time giving other, smaller powers a boost in undermining the position of “complete territorial integrity” advocated by Russia wherever it suits them, and they think they can take it. The Russian leadership can see this in the advances made by Turkey, Israel and Iran. The new freedom that America is giving the rest of the world with regard to the Syrian carnage and its prospects is therefore also a necessity for Russia to assert and secure its strategic claims against all other powers, which may be smaller, but have been freed to be irreconcilable with each other by the regional “America first!” policy.[11] And this in view of the fact that there will be no return in the foreseeable future: Using the case of Syria as an example to teach the USA that it should generally treat Russia with more respect will disappear as a prospect if the USA under Trump no longer considers and uses its own violence as a means for a hierarchical order of state powers, but instead decides exclusively on a case-by-case basis what the bilateral compliance should consist of, which it then enforces in each case. In this way, Trump is driving up the price of the Russian assertion of power in Syria and the implementation of its strategic calculations for Syria – and at the same time, he is forcing it to answer the question that he has already dismissed for America from on high: Is this price of forcible supremacy over the Syrian entanglement actually justified by its yield? Through the freedom that Trump’s America affords itself in a spirit of secure superiority and total self-interest, it is setting new standards, not least for the next largest military power in the world, in terms of what it must be able to afford in matters of violence.

Israel is also affected in contradictory ways by Trump’s fight to free America from all the voluntary obligations of a world-leading power. And for Israel, too, this is the reason for a great deal of initiative. Until recently, the state, which had been isolated and despised within its region for decades, was regarded as one of the undisputed main beneficiaries of Trump’s policy shift: The new man at America’s helm has thrown the idea that a reconciliation process between Israel and the Palestinians must lead to a two-state solution onto the dung heap of unjustified dogmas, as well as the view that the status of Jerusalem is an ‘open question’ that must under no circumstances be decided unilaterally by Israel, but only as part of a comprehensive peace solution. The recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s heartland, which had previously been considered occupied in violation of international law, can now be discussed with Washington’s representatives just as impartially as the question of the possible and necessary methods of finally eliminating Iran’s claim to regional power. In this respect, Israel has celebrated the fact that Trump has formally terminated the nuclear deal with Iran as the final carrying out of its definition of enmity towards Iran in Washington politics. In this sense, it has tried with increasing vehemence to practically impose its front position against Iran and its allies in the Syrian war as the actually decisive one.

It is precisely at this point, however, that Israel must be taught that America’s traditional unique ally in the Middle East is also subject to the fact that Trump really accepts no dogma for his assessment of the world other than American benefit: Under Trump, gone are the days when America treated the unbreakability of its wartime alliance with Israel as the premise of its Middle East policy to such an extent that it put up with its junior partner’s expansive security claims under the title of “securing the existence of the Jewish state” as an essential precept for American policy. Above all, Israel has always been able to make its definition of Iran as an enemy bent on Israel’s annihilation, i.e. one that must be fought at all costs,[12] the content of the common enmity against the mullah regime. This didn’t prevent disputes, but they revolved around how. For Trump, Iran is no longer a case for the ‘unique alliance’ with Israel, but for the truly unique means that only the USA has at its disposal: the application of its exceptional economic and military position through a sanctions regime that simply no one can resist or even evade, regardless of whether they are an ally or an enemy. For him, therefore, his decision to finish off Iran in accordance with this principle of absolute, unilateral and universal American superiority necessarily means that this state no longer has a chance and is therefore on the verge of capitulation. He doesn’t need a closer analysis of the situation for this either, and when asked, he says accordingly: “Iran is no longer the same country. Iran is withdrawing its troops from Syria. Frankly, the Iranians could do what they want there, but they are withdrawing their people from there. They are also withdrawing their people from Yemen. Iran now only wants to survive.” This means that all of Israel’s objections have been resolved for him. The fact that Israel has declared the positional war in Syria, which Trump has defined as useless and expensive, to be an existential issue for itself, is therefore taken just as seriously by him – which is the real blow for Israel’s leadership – as the existential imperatives of all other powers: not at all. His subsequent statements about America’s vigilance against Iranian expansionist ambitions against the ‘Zionist arch-enemies’ do not make things any better for Israel: they confirm to the politicians and military in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that there is simply no question of their hostility towards Iran corresponding to America’s Middle East strategy.[13]

This denunciation of the alliance, which for decades was celebrated by both sides as unique and existential, shows Israel that it must take its credo – ‘the Jewish state must only rely on itself. It must be able to defend itself with its own means’ – in an imperialistically new way. It demonstratively takes note of the withdrawal perspective with a bad temper and at the same time resolutely emphasizes that it will not abandon its essentials with regard to the Syrian war: It will not tolerate any expansion or firm planting of an Iranian military presence in Syria. Instead, it will continue to regularly blow up Iranian and Hezbollah positions or transports on Syrian territory or in Lebanon and test with some risk appetite how far it can go against Russia. The obviously effective Russian air defense systems are becoming a military sticking point: On the one hand, they practically prevent Israeli air strikes from causing even more damage to Syrian or Iranian positions. Secondly, Israel’s attacks are forcing the Russians to ask themselves how much of a confrontation is Russia prepared to enter into with Israel: firstly, to defend Iran’s claims to authority in Syria, which Russia also only agrees with to a very limited extent, and secondly, on the condition that Israel’s ability and willingness to escalate is difficult to calculate and thirdly, in view of America’s even less calculable position in this regard. Israel is demonstratively no longer relying on the latter, is venting its claim that it can in principle wage a three-front war of new dimensions in Syria, Lebanon and against the Palestinians on its own, and is also no longer trying to be impressed by American guidelines and threats in matters of military procurement. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government, whose leader likes to appear before the UN with the Old Testament and wants to teach the world that Islamism is identical to National Socialism and is bent on the extermination of the Jews, is forging new tender ties with the Islamic monarchies in the Gulf that are hostile to Assad in view of the Syrian issue. Israel has now officially admitted that it is providing direct military support to Islamist rebels in southern Syria. In Jerusalem, too, the message has been understood that the “America first!” policy, which is sometimes reviled in Israel as unreliable or even irrational, means that for a modern nation, by all the standards of global political rationality, there is no straightforward alternative and that its own regional and global demands require a great deal of autonomous force and its application freed from any inappropriate dogmatism.

[1] Relatively early, Turkey switched to the Western line that Assad must be removed from power. Accordingly, it clashed with its main protective force, especially in the north of Syria. In November 2015, the Turkish army shot down a Russian military aircraft on the Turkish-Syrian border, after which both sides threatened further military consequences for some time.

[2] In November, Turkey announced that it would under no circumstances tolerate planned joint American-Kurdish border patrols, as had been planned in the meantime.

[3] “Finally, we heard heartfelt words from the leadership of the United States that offer hope. However, due to bad experiences in the past, we view this with caution.” (Erdoğan, quoted by Sputnik, December 21, 2018)

[4] Turkey is already in a permanent quarrel with another major supporter of the Kurdish YPG operating in Syria: it accuses Saudi Arabia of sponsoring terrorism because the kingdom is trying to instrumentalize the Kurdish force for its own influence in the Syrian civil war, which has since shrunk considerably, especially in the wake of the Russian intervention. With constructive reference to the inclusion of the YPG in the US war strategy, which was still very promising at the time, Saudi Arabia only made financing commitments of $100 million for “stabilization projects” in the areas controlled by the YPG in August 2018 – and it is clearly not willing to write off the associated ambitions simply because of America’s withdrawal plans. Following Saudi assurances that it would not abandon the YPG even after a real withdrawal of US troops, “new details in the Khashoggi case promptly emerged” from the relevant Turkish authorities.’

[5] “We believe that this decision can advance a comprehensive resolution of the situation. We have emphasized more than once that the US occupation of a significant part of Syrian territory is a main obstacle to such a solution.” (Foreign Minister Lavrov at a press conference on December 26, 2018)

[6] For example, the German Foreign Minister admitted in passing in September 2018 that the Astana Process was an important forum for a Syrian peace settlement; up to that point, Germany’s official line was that the ‘only legitimate framework’ for such a ‘solution’ was the Geneva negotiations under UN leadership.

[7] On the one hand, this applies to the administration of D. Trump, who – for the reasons explained above, namely, the only imperative he recognizes for American politics – has no false scruples about finding such guys acceptable and even great who on other occassions he declares monsters. On the other hand, more and more opponents of Assad in the camp of the Arab Gulf monarchies and now even Turkey are ready to come to terms with a Syrian leadership under Assad.

[8] For example, Israel negotiated with Russia that Russian troops are to ensure that Iranian troops, or those directly allied with Iran as defined by Israel, are not allowed to operate west of a certain line.

[9] For example, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov: “We have no illusions about the real implementation of this [American] line. We assume that this will be a lengthy, rather uncertain and controversial process.” (Quoted from TASS on January 5, 2019) Or, on another occasion, his boss Lavrov was a bit more dismissive: “There is a problem with the American plans. First it was announced that the withdrawal would take place within two months, then that it would take place in six months rather than two, and later it was said that the withdrawal would have to be postponed. This brings to mind a quote from Mark Twain: ‘Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.’ This is ALSO an American tradition.” (At a press conference in Moscow on January 16, 2019)

[10] In southeastern Syria, the USA permanently reserves the right to occupy the base at Tanf in order to eliminate the possibility of a continuous corridor of Iranian infiltration from the Iranian heartland through the Shiite areas of Iraq and Syria and into Lebanon.

[11] This is already leading to Russia finding itself in the role of a buffer power between Israel and Iran, whose irreconcilable claims against each other it is of course not serving in this way, i.e. not pacifying them, i.e. not transferring them into a brave new world of regional order.

[12] This also included the repeated assurance that “all options” were on the table against Iran, which everyone could understand as a threat with the option of a nuclear strike.

[13] Trump is now praising Iraq as the USA’s base and forecourt against Iran – entirely in accordance with the logic of his cost-benefit criteria and its implications: According to his coordinate system, the main argument in favor of focusing on Iraq to contain Iran is this: “Well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it.” And when asked, he immediately rebuffs the war fantasies of his journalist interviewers, who were obviously fueled by this: “One of the reasons why I want to keep this base is that I want to look a little at Iran, because Iran is a real problem,’ he said in an interview on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation.’ Asked if that meant he wanted to be able to strike militarily against Iran, Trump said: ‘No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up.’” ( For Trump, no deployment, no matter how expensive, is the inevitable lead-up or prelude to military strikes. Just as he sees no reason to even formally ask the Iraqi government for permission to use Iraq for the – not only, but above all – anti-Iranian control needs of the USA or to care about Iraq, which the USA is covering with an entire network of military bases, as a state that should somehow function.