The transactional value of Trump's withdrawal from Syria
Many of my fellow Arab writers and analysts have built their analyses and interpretations of US President Donald Trump's sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and thus leaving the Syrian theater to Russia, Iran and Turkey, on the grounds that it was his personal decision.
Well, yes and no. It was his decision, that’s true, but major decisions concerning war and peace and strategic relations and agreements with foreign powers, in particular, are not taken by a president or a Congress, even though they do have a major role in elaborating them. America’s big decisions are suggested and even formulated by the country’s economic and financial empires, whose income and profit taxes go to finance three quarters of the federal government’s policies, programmes and agencies.
All of America's foreign military, technological or cultural aid, all of its intelligence efforts, all of its land fixed and floating military bases and all of its space satellites exist for the sole purpose of protecting exports and ensuring imports, and neutralising those who reject American economic hegemony.
To put it more clearly, US foreign policy is essentially a utilitarian trade in which there is no fixed hatred for an adversary or constant love for an ally. Trump, by virtue of his long experience in the world of business, is closer than any former American president to the centres of economic power in the US, and he can understand their demands and needs and implement their proposals, especially with regard to markets of countries with money to spend and buy.
All of Trump's experience, for over half a century, has been in managing nightclubs and casinos and in trading in real estate and luxury hotels. Unlike his fellow world entrepreneurs, Trump has proved his skill at reducing costs to the maximum, even by exploiting legal loopholes and weaknesses or by evading paying taxes and reimbursing government or bank loans.
So, in this accounting game, Syria does not represent a juicy market in the eyes of American barons of armament, technology, agriculture and energy. Retaining an American force there, therefore, is too costly for the small returns it would bring. Trump also has to think of the upcoming presidential elections and shoot down whatever he can of the Democrats' arrows, especially with regard to the budget and Putin’s Russia.
Given this perspective, we can understand Trump’s decision to bring the troops home and save money, effort and equipment, as long as Russia, Israel and Turkey, which will be managing the Syrian arena, do not pose any threat to US interests and its national security. Besides, abandoning America’s declared policy of removing Iran from Syria may be useful in many ways in the near and long terms. And even maintaining Iran’s presence in Iraq has not been and will not be detrimental to America’s government and businesses. On the contrary, it is quite profitable when we know the fortunes Iraq spends on armament, technology and experts, and we know Iraq’s debts to the US since 2003. The Iranian leadership knows that, for sure, and consents to it, without a doubt.
Even though the Iranian regime is openly hostile to Arab countries in general and Gulf regimes in particular, and even if it actively engages in draining their wealth, disturbing their security, threatening their stability and disrupting many of their development projects, Iran is rather useful to America and does not represent a threat to anyone there, be they Republican or Democrat. As for the anti-Iran legislation that Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- and the White House keep mouthing and spinning, they were necessitated by the game of convincing America’s Arab allies that it does not abandon its allies, but protects their security and defends them against their enemies.
The domestic political rivalry between the Republicans and the Democrats is nothing more than shenanigans between brothers within the same household. Trump does not want to start a street fight with the Democrats, nor are the Democrats worried about that; they will fight the president only within the limits of the nation’s higher strategic goals and within the framework of the rivalry for the leadership of the pack.
As Daniel DePetris, known for his unwavering support for Trump, put it in the “Washington Examiner”: "This decision [to withdraw from Syria] will prevent a possible crisis with Russia. The prolongation of the US military presence in Syria could increase the likelihood of a clash with Russia, which is uncalled for."
Ibrahim al-Zoubeidi is an Iraqi writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.