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Trump Brings the Troops Home… to Iraq

Trump has lied in a way that even his most devout believers should find difficult to stomach.

Soldiers fire an M777 howitzer during a fire mission at Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, on August 10, 2019.

“He does what he says he is going to do.” This is the line I’ve heard time and again from Donald Trump’s supporters in their seemingly endless quest to defend the indefensible. “He keeps his promises.”

Unpacking this kind of enforced self-delusion is usually a challenge, given the fervency with which Trump’s people cling to their cognitive dissonance regarding the man and his behavior. In the matter of Syria, the troops and the truth, however, Trump has lied in a way that even his most devout believers should find difficult to stomach.

The timeline in brief: On October 6, Trump got rolled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a phone call that set the stage for the ongoing Turkish invasion of northern Syria. After green-lighting the Turkish incursion, Trump immediately announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region.

Those forces had been supporting Kurdish fighters against ISIS (also known as Daesh) for five years, and their presence acted as a restraint against Turkish military aggression. Once the U.S. personnel was removed, the attack by Turkey came three days later, putting 2 million Kurdish civilians in peril of slaughter. The Kurds, outraged at this wanton act of betrayal, pelted retreating U.S. military personnel and equipment with curses and rotten fruit.

On the day of the Turkish military incursion, Trump was with the press in the White House for the signing of an executive order. “The worst mistake that the United States has ever made, in my opinion, was going into the Middle East,” he said when asked about the withdrawal of troops from northern Syria. “It’s a quagmire. We are up to close to $8 trillion, and we’re bringing our folks back home. We have great, talented military. We’re bringing them back home.”

A little more than a week later, as the consequences of Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds sank in, Trump spoke at a rally in Dallas. “American combat troops should not be at the center of ancient sectarian conflicts all over the world,” he told the adoring crowd on October 17. “Bring our soldiers back home. Bring our soldiers back home.”

“Bring them home! Bring them home!” the audience chanted. “USA! USA!”

Leave aside for a moment the historically bizarre tableau presented in Dallas — the same GOP base that helped cheerlead George W. Bush into his 2003 invasion of Iraq was now on its feet applauding the “Bring the Troops Home” slogan of the antiwar left — and focus on the fact that Donald Trump was lying straight to their angry white faces even as they lapped it up like dogs.

“Amid growing chaos after Turkey invaded the region earlier this month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said late Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops pulling out of northern Syria will now head to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants,” NBC News reported three days after Trump’s Dallas performance.

That’s right. Trump is bringing the troops home… to Iraq, where they’ve been since either 2003 or 1991 depending on where you want to place your marker. He couched his lie in exactly enough truth to make it plausible — it’s a quagmire, we can’t be the world’s police — before pivoting to throw those troops back into the Iraq meat grinder so they can… wait for it… fight ISIS, the same militia group that has benefitted enormously from Trump’s precipitous Syria withdrawal.

Apparently, someone forgot to inform Iraq that U.S. troops from Syria would be headed their way. “These forces do not have any approval to remain in Iraq,” read an Iraqi military statement issued Tuesday. There is no set timetable from the Trump administration for the removal of these troops from Iraq, because of course there isn’t. As far as Iraq is concerned, however, the deadline for their removal is four weeks. When asked if these U.S. soldiers might actually ever get to go home, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney replied, “Well, they will eventually.”

“Tomorrow is a long time,” sings Bob Dylan… and in the meantime, ISIS is already stepping up its attacks in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria. “Elements of the terrorist Daesh gangs attacked two security checkpoints in the Alas oilfields area of Salahuddin province,” said the Iraqi military in a statement, “and an improvised explosive device blew up a vehicle belonging to security forces stationed there.” Two Iraqi soldiers were killed, and three others were wounded while attempting to retrieve the bodies of their comrades.

Adding to the grotesquerie, the U.S. troops in Syria will not all be going “home” to Iraq. According to Defense Secretary Esper, some 20 percent of the force will likely be remaining in Syria to defend oil fields against attacks from Russian mercenaries and… wait for it again… ISIS fighters, many of whom escaped military detention after the Trump-approved Turkish invasion.

The chicanery does not end there.

On Wednesday, Trump attempted to peddle this self-made debacle as a victory even as he lifted the economic sanctions against Turkey, a nation where he has significant business interests. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” Trump said at a White House press briefing.

Someone else?

“We also learned Monday that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan were down by about 2,000 in the past year,” reported Aaron Blake for The Washington Post. “This comes on top of news last week that 3,000 troops were being sent to Saudi Arabia as tensions between that country and Iran increase…. There may soon be more troops in the Middle East than before Trump’s announced withdrawal from northern Syria two weeks ago. And depending on what happens between Iran and the Saudis, the United States could technically be involved in more conflicts of indeterminate length than before.”

Trump and his supporters appear to be having a grand old time parroting the rhetoric of the antiwar left. As one who has spent the bulk of his adult life personally and professionally invested in the cause of peace, allow me to proffer some tips for the edification of that yowling mass of hypocrisy.

First, there is nothing antiwar about Trump’s partial Syria withdrawal, because that action has caused more war. The U.S. troops fighting with the Kurds were the plug at the bottom of a barrel of blood. Trump has yanked that plug out, and the blood is now running in the gutters.

Second, “Bring the troops home” does not mean “Move them around the map like living chess pieces to expand U.S. involvement in multiple chaotic war zones.” Home should mean home, not a base in western Iraq, alongside a Syrian oil field, or in Saudi Arabia. The concept is simplicity itself.

Trump’s supporters are being lied to in broad daylight. Do they care? If they do, now would be a splendid time to prove it.