So – the new Senator from Alabama is not going to be Roy Moore.
For two days in a row, the BBC seemed to take the view that the big news coming out of America was the Alabama story: the “shock defeat” of Republican Roy Moore by Democrat Doug Jones. Only a little behind is the ongoing conflict with North Korea.
However, I would like to suggest that there is another couple of interesting stories that came out at the same time – both covered by the BBC – which are highly significant for understanding America, as the BBC hints. But neither concerns events that actually happened in America. And that is also highly significant.
One concerns what looks like a very uninteresting story: “US helicopter part crashes on Japanese school in Okinawa.”
“Part of a US helicopter has crashed on a school in Okinawa, Japan, renewing tensions with the local population. The window dropped on the school grounds, slightly injuring one boy, news agency Kyodo said. The southern island of Okinawa hosts the largest US military presence in Japan. Over the past years, a number of accidents and crimes have led to growing local oppostion to the US base.”
The other concerns a meeting in Syria. The BBC headline reads “Syria war: Putin’s Russian mission accomplished.“
But the BBC report begins in a rather unexpected way:
“When Russia launched its military operation in Syria in 2015, the then US President Barack Obama predicted Moscow would get “stuck in a quagmire”. His defence secretary, Ashton Carter, warned that Russia’s approach was “doomed to fail”. Two years on, Russia appears to have proved the doomsayers wrong. On a surprise trip to Syria this week, President Vladimir Putin told his troops they had fought “brilliantly” and could “return home victorious”. He ordered the withdrawal of a “significant part” of Russia’s military contingent. So, mission accomplished for Moscow? It seems so.”
There are three interesting things about this story
The first concerns the reason that “Russia launched its military operation in Syria in 2015,” – and also the reason that it is leaving. It launched it in response to an invitation, nay request, by the Syrian government, whose army was, at the time, struggling in the face of an onslaught by Islamic militants, who had seized Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. And when they seized territory, their treatment of members of religious minority communities, such as the Christians, was brutal.
At the invitation of the Syrian government, Russia came in, and Aleppo was eventually recaptured. One could even say “liberated”. The Russians stayed on, however, and were involved in the battle with ISIS in the East of Syria. Now that ISIS have finally been defeated in Eastern Syria, most of the Russian troops will head home.
But while the Russians are withdrawing, someone else is not withdrawing. The American troops are staying. For, yes, America has troops in Syria, too – about 2000 of them. Three weeks ago, Reuters (among others) reported:
The Pentagon is likely to announce in the coming days that there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, two U.S. officials said on Friday, as the military acknowledges that an accounting system for troops has under-reported the size of forces on the ground. The U.S. military had earlier publicly said it had around 500 troops in Syria, mostly supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces group of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State in the north of the country.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon could, as early as Monday, publicly announce that there are slightly more than 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. They said there was always a possibility that last minute changes in schedules could delay an announcement.
The report goes on:
The Pentagon said last December that it would increase the number of authorized troops in Syria to 500, but it is not clear how long the actual number has been at around 2,000. Obama periodically raised FML limits to allow more troops in Iraq and Syria as the fight against Islamic State advanced.”
In other words, both Russian troops and American troops were in Syria fighting against ISIS, who have now been largely (though not entirely) defeated in Syria. Most of the Russians are leaving, though not all, because Russia has for many years had military bases there.
What is interesting is that it looks like American troops are not leaving. Last week, just before Putin’s announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported
“The Pentagon plans to keep some U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely, even after a war against the Islamic State extremist group formally ends, to take part in what it describes as ongoing counter-terrorism operations, officials said.
There are approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, along with an unspecified number of contractors supporting them. Last month, the U.S. military withdrew 400 Marines from Syria, which U.S. forces first entered in the fall of 2016.
Officials earlier this week disclosed the plans for an open-ended commitment, known as a “conditions-based” presence. That is the same approach the Trump administration is taking in Afghanistan.
“The United States will sustain a conditions-based military presence in Syria to combat the threat of terrorist-led uncertainty, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas,” Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.”
But the WSJ also reports something very strange:
“The military says it has the legal authority to remain there. “Operating under recognized international authorities, the U.S. military will continue to support local partner forces in Syria to stabilize liberated territory.”
Really? What “recognized international authorities”? That sounds like, at best, a half truth. And exactly why are the US supporting these “local partner forces” – basically the Kurdish militia – instead of just withdrawing and leaving it to the Syrian government?
If the Russians can pull out, why can’t the Americans? Especially because (though the WSJ doesn’t mention it), while the Russians troops were invited into Syria to fight Islamic militants, the Americans were not. They simply invited themselves.
Now, just imagine for a moment that in 20 years time, Chinese power has grown significantly from what it is today, and there is trouble in Mexico, and the Chinese simply invite themselves to intervene . . .
It gets even more bizarre, however. The BBC reported “So-called Islamic State has, indeed, suffered defeat in Syria, although Western governments have criticised Moscow for also targeting the moderate Syrian opposition.”
What is weird about that is that the so-called moderate opposition that Moscow targeted, and that western governments were actually helping, were al-Qaeda and similar groups – who ruthlessly persecuted Christians and members of other religious minorities in areas they controlled. The so called moderate groups that the west directly supported were allied to al-Qaeda, and fought alongside them.
And that is not all that is odd. When the Syrian armed forces were involved in a battle with ISIS at Deir ez-Zor in September 2016, the Americans helped ISIS by bombing Syrian government positions. They later claimed it was an accident, but that story seems extremely unlikely. This was not something that happened in the heat of battle, and the Americans have the technology to know exactly what is happening on the ground.
And, as reported by the BBC in a piece entitled “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret“, a “secret deal” recently took place,
” . . . that let hundreds of IS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city. A convoy included some of IS’s most notorious members and – despite reassurances – dozens of foreign fighters. Some of those have spread out across Syria, even making it as far as Turkey.”
“The war against IS has a twin purpose: first to destroy the so-called caliphate by retaking territory and second, to prevent terror attacks in the world beyond Syria and Iraq. Raqqa was effectively IS’s capital but it was also a cage – fighters were trapped there. The deal to save Raqqa have been worth it. But it has also meant battle-hardened militants have spread across Syria and further afield – and many of them aren’t done fighting yet.”
America has a track record over the past 5 years of doing things in Syria that help ISIS and other Islamic extremists in their battles. They have announced that that they intend to maintain a military presence in that country, despite the fact that they have not been invited by the Syrian government.
Apparently, they have no intention of leaving. Just like they apparently have no intention of leaving Afghanistan and little intention of leaving Iraq – because whatever America’s missions in those countries, they have little chance of being accomplished in the near future. And Obama warned the Russians about getting bogged down in a quagmire?
I am reminded of words from the Bible – like “Physician, heal thyself.” Or, as I have said before, with respect to this very situation:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Why do American politicians not see it like this? The simple answer is that Americans simply do not see themselves as subject to the same rules as other countries. They are above the law. An American president (Richard Nixon) once said “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Exactly the same kind of thinking applies here (as can be seen in this article by Andrew Bacevich). Apparently, “When America does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
In an interview earlier this year, Noam Chomsky, when asked about his take on the view that Russia had interfered in the American election, responded by pointing to America’s record of
” . . . constantly overthrowing governments, invading, forcing people to follow what we call democracy. . . . As I say, if every charge [against Russia] is accurate, it’s a joke, and I’m sure half the world is collapsing in laughter about this, because people outside the United States know it.”
A lot of Americans clearly believe that America is an exceptional nation, and that it has the right to do things other nations don’t. And America is also able to do those things, because of its military power. That is why America has troops deployed in over 170 countries around the world.
Which brings us back to Okinawa, the subject of the other BBC news item I mentioned: the part from an American military helicopter that fell off and landed in the grounds of a school. To many Americans, it seems natural, right, and proper that America has a military base in Okinawa. They don’t even question it.
Why? Because they believe that America has a duty to be everywhere, and oversee everything that happens all around the world. But if that is the way it seems to Americans, to most people in other countries, it does not. Indeed, it looks like arrogance.
Which, in a nation, is a dangerous characteristic.
As the Bible says (Proverb 16:18) “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. “