John Mattis addresses U.S. soldiers at Myer-Henderson base. Photo: U.S. Department of Defence John Mattis addresses U.S. soldiers at Myer-Henderson base. Photo: U.S. Department of Defence

Anti-war campaigners should exploit the cracks in neoconservative foreign policy as the priorities of US imperialism clash with the republican voter base, argues Lindsey German

Donald Trump’s announcement that US troops are withdrawing from Syria has caused havoc amongst the political and military establishment there. The resignation of Defence secretary James Mattis is the most public expression of this. The Financial Times’ Edward Luce describes Mattis as ‘the last grown-up in Donald Trump’s “axis of adults”’. Mattis has made it clear that his resignation is because he disagrees with Trump over the issue.

The despair evidenced by Mattis’s resignation from these quarters demonstrates how much he was relied on to keep the president on a course desired by the US and its allies. It seems that he stopped even heavier criticism of Nato by Trump, prevented a breach between South Korea and the US, and most importantly assured US allies that nothing would happen to disturb the existing balance of foreign policy.

Trump’s decision on Syria throws all this up in the air. It leaves the Kurdish YPG, who carried out most of the serious fighting against ISIS, under serious threat from Turkey’s Erdogan. More importantly, it has left Russia in a centrally strategic position in Syria and the wider Middle East. Trump’s claim that ISIS has been defeated is only partly true, and his Middle East allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, fear the continuing influence of Iran in Syria and more widely.

The announcement is expected to be followed up by another withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. This too will be seen as a retreat into isolationism.

But there are two issues here which underlie the decisions. One is Trump’s continuing determination to relate to his US voter base – and troop withdrawal from unpopular and unwinnable wars was a key plank of his election campaign. More than that, Trump has sent troops to the US-Mexican border to confront the central American migrants there, which plays to his racist base but has caused unhappiness with Mattis among others.

The second and more important issue is that Trump’s actions reflect a realistic appreciation of the abject failure of America’s wars over the past two decades. In Afghanistan, the Taliban controls large parts of the country, and Islamic state has grown considerably there. Kabul is now constantly under attack from bombings. US policy in Syria and Iraq has been a failure. The war on terror has created terrorism in these countries as well as Libya and Afghanistan.

There is a war weariness among ordinary people which comes into conflict with the needs of US imperialism. The cost of these wars – as well as regular deployments in countries such as Japan – is immense, but abandoning these commitments is also extremely costly in terms of US influence and economic issues.

Anti-war campaigners should welcome these withdrawals while recognising that they do not represent any abandonment of the US imperial project, but rather that it has reached an impasse. We should demand that the British government, which follows the US so devotedly on most issues, now withdraw its troops and special forces from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Those MPs who voted for intervention in Syria three years ago did so assuring us that this would be key to solving the problems of the country. It is the latest failed intervention – unfortunately from past experience they are unlikely to learn from it.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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