Some of our knowledgeable but more cranky foreign-policy experts have absolutely had it with President Trump — as they have at least once a week every week since Jan. 20, 2017. This time the source of their profound disappointment, even amazement, is that the president would so alienate a great soldier-statesman like James Mattis as to wind up with his resignation as defense secretary — and just days before Christmas. What these distinguished complainers maybe won’t accept is that at the core of the Mattis-Trump incompatibility is the president’s understanding of a basic reality. It is that the exercise of comity and nothing but comity with allies, though soothing to Mattis-type souls everywhere, isn’t and wasn’t cutting it. The U.S. did the punching while our allies held our coat. OK, a bit of an overstatement, but it lights up the target. The target point is our repeated, unwise, unnecessary military intervention abroad in the absence of a clear and present danger to the United States. Syria was never a threat to us. A source of irritation for Israel and Saudi Arabia maybe. A ruthless suppressor of speech and assembly to its own people. But not a threat to the United States. Mr. Trump also appears to understand that once U.S. troops are committed, there is no unarguably right time to withdraw them. Washington has been tying itself in knots in Afghanistan for 17 years and in Iraq for 15. What’s the game plan there? When will enough be enough? What’s victory look like there? General Mattis, for all his dedication and valuable military leadership over a lifetime, can’t seem to answer that question. What he does say, once boiled down, comes out to what every other establishment member of both parties always says: Better to fight them (terrorists, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and on and on) over there than here. A false either-or. They fight us over here because we fight them over there. The about-to-depart defense secretary says with first-glance plausibility that we can’t sacrifice our allies by cutting and running from a war. Any war. Any time. Anywhere. Yes we can. The Obama administration, without a congressional declaration of war, took us into the Syrian civil war not to help the Kurds establish an independent state. We entered because, in the full plenitude of our foreign policy arrogance, we thought we could pick the winning side, establish a mini U.S.-style government in Damascus, protect the Christian minority, end Russian and Iranian influence in the country — and all go to the seashore on Sunday. As usual, we were clueless about the hugely complex religious, tribal, local, regional, political interests struggling for incompatible ends against each other in some cases and in alliance with this or that party in other cases — and America be damned. But, yes, Secretary Mattis, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our neoconservative war hawks and our foreign-policy establishment are right. This is not the ideal time to withdraw from Syria — or from Afghanistan for that matter. Hard to imagine, realistically at least, an indisputably right time in the near — or even far — future.
Agreed.. For more on this op/ed by Ralph Z. Hallow, click on the text above.