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Can Trump play peacemaker?

By Abdul Sattar

The announcement by ‘whimsical’ US President Donald Trump on December 19 regarding the withdrawal of troops from Syria created consternation among hawkish circles in Washington. However, the unpredictable president further infuriated warmongers soon after by announcing his decision to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan as well.

Now, these elements are scrambling for ways to convince Trump to reconsider his intentions to pull out from Syria and Afghanistan. Troops are likely to return from Syria in the next few months while a reduction in American forces stationed in Afghanistan is expected after some deliberations and consultations.

The decision to withdraw from Syria has been interpreted in different ways. The Syrian Kurds have viewed it as a form of betrayal by Washington, accusing the sole superpower of leaving the Syrian Democratic Front at the mercy of Turkey, which is likely to wipe them out from the tiny autonomous territory that they have carved out for themselves during the conflict with the help of America.

This is not the first time that the Kurds have been left to face the brunt of any US adventure. After the First Gulf War, which is also known as the Operation Desert Storm, Washington initially lured the Kurds and the Shia communities into rebelling against Saddam Hussein and later left them to be brutally repressed by the Arab dictator.

Trump’s detractors believe that the fickle US president has made this decision to divert the media’s attention from the domestic problems that have been haunting the president since he assumed office. But there are other analysts who think the businessman-turned-politician carries out a cost-benefit analysis of everything to decide matters on the basis of profitability. They assert that Trump doesn’t see any point in pumping money into this military adventure at a time when the country needs investments worth billions of dollars to improve its crumbling infrastructure, which has been ignored for decades by successive US administrations.

Whatever the reasons may be, the decision should be welcomed. It has created a ripple of excitement among pacifists across the world. The situation in Syria and the rise of the Isis had alarmed all peace-loving elements. Many of them blamed the US and other Western states for the reign of terror that had been unleashed by those who thrived under the nose of Western powers in the region.

Moscow and Damascus also criticised Washington for what they called the collaboration of Western powers with Al-Qaeda and other jihadi elements, which also partly led to the rise of such groups in the Horn of Africa where Al-Shabab and Boko Haram committed unimaginable atrocities.

It is fallacious to believe that the US forces are essential to the stability of any country or region. When the US decided to withdraw its troops from Vietnam decades ago, the same hue and cry was raised by warmongers and hawkish elements. They asserted that it would plunge the war-torn country into chaos. However, the two Vietnams soon emerged as a single united country that is a beacon of stability and prosperity, making stunning strides in trade and commerce.

It is hoped that Syria will also steer itself out of this crisis if Western powers don’t pull any strings after putting an end to their physical presence. They would also need to rein in Ankara if they want peace and stability in the region.

But this won’t happen overnight. A country that has incurred losses worth more than $200 billion dollars owing to the destruction of infrastructure in a war imposed by the West will need time to rehabilitate over 11 million displaced people and account for those who lost more than 500,000 loved ones in a senseless conflict. Damascus no longer requires bombs or missiles. It needs investment from Western countries.

Washington’s intentions to pull out from Afghanistan also bode well for the region. But before it completely withdraws from the 18-year war, it must help all stakeholders in the war-torn country come up with a power-sharing formula. The Taliban must realise that they cannot capture the country the way they did in the 1990s. Their ruthless rule with retrogressive laws won’t be accepted by the international community, including Russia and China. The anti-Taliban elements – mainly non-Pashtun – need to understand that their dominance of the state by prolonging war won’t benefit the country. They must account for the rightful share of the Pashtuns in various state organs.

Many believe that the pull-out of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan could go a long way in avoiding future conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. Hawkish elements wanted to use the American presence in Syria to open another warfront with Iran.

With the possible departure of the US troops from the Arab state, the chances of that conflict look thin. Similarly, the presence of American troops in Afghanistan had created fears in the region that the US wants to spy on Pakistan, China, Russia and other states of the region. The withdrawal of American soldiers would allay such fears, reducing the trust deficit between Washington and other regional powers.

Anti-war activists believe that the pullout from Syria and Afghanistan is important, but that the US should also dismantle its more than 700 military bases in over 150 states of the world. In addition, they also believe that Washington should also shelve its plans to produce chaos in countries like Venezuela and Iran that threaten to create more war zones. These activists have asserted that the huge amount of money spent on these military bases should be diverted to the American people, many of whom are still struggling to gain access to medical treatment at reasonable rates.

Critics are of the view that the Trump administration should also set up a commission to probe the spending of $3 trillion that Washington pumped into Iraq and Afghanistan’s wars alone. It also needs to conduct inquiries on other war-related expenses in various parts of the world where, it is believed, huge financial anomalies have been committed. These inquiries and possible convictions might go some way in tiding over the massive corruption that is believed to be the part of military and defence-related expenditures.

It seems that the Trump administration is keen to end America’s role as the world’s policeman. If Trump wants to translate this dream into reality, he needs to muster public support for this purpose. The people will only support such a move if it sees the material benefits of the government’s actions. Ending this role would mean reducing the country’s defence budget that is $681.1 billion for financial year 2019.

So, a drastic reduction in this mammoth budget and its diversion to health, housing, education and road infrastructure could boost Trump’s popularity and enable him to fight the multi-pronged strategy of American deep state and its acolytes in the corporate media. The Trump administration’s decision or intention to pull out from Syria and Afghanistan could turn out to be the first step in weakening the military-industrial complex that has held American democracy hostage for decades. It could easily be done if Washington doesn’t open any new warfronts, reduces the defence budget and stops exporting democracy through B-52s.

Hawkish elements in Washington are seeking a new confrontation with China and Russia. Can the US president foil their attempts, which are aimed at pushing America towards another cold war that would only benefit Trump’s rivals in the deep state and lead to the squandering of precious public money?