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Siling Labuyo: Presidential Malpractice

When President Donald Trump precipitously announced that the U.S. will soon be leaving Syria, many were caught by surprise including those around him and especially America’s allies who are part of the coalition against ISIS. No discussion, no strategy meetings – just out of the blue, Trump decided it’s time to leave Syria.

His impromptu declaration is really par for the course. During the presidential campaign Trump made a big deal about not telegraphing his punches when dealing with the enemy. “Whatever happened to the element of surprise,” he once mused. Hence, his surprise withdrawal plan surprised everyone. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is clearly against it because he does not want the resurgence of “ISIS 2.0” This belief stems from the lessons learned from the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq which many analysts believe created a vacuum in Iraq that ushered ISIS in Iraq and the Levant.

If Trump follows through with his announcement – although he is getting a lot of pushback now – his decision is solely his and not grounded on any sound policy or strategy. The fact is, as long as the American troops are still there fighting there Trump cannot claim total victory and that is really the driver of his thinking. To Trump, it is all about winning. He wants to be able to say that his strategy of just going there, doing it, and leaving after declaring victory is better than his generals plan to occupy through the building of bases.

The building of bases after destabilizing a region really follows a template that America has employed since the beginning. America’s imperialistic template has been proven effective and has served America’s national interest. But for Trump, that is anathema to his concept of dealing with it as a real estate transaction. He wants to be able to close the deal and claim his commission.

But there is a real danger in abruptly leaving Syria now. First, the coalition already controls 30% of Syrian oil and giving it up would allow either Russia or Iran to take over. Particularly for Iran, the oil revenues will certainly continue finance its malevolent overtures in the Middle East. Second, absconding now will leave the Kurds out in the cold. The Kurd’s Peshmerga fighters were at the battlefront that pushed the ISIS Caliphate out of their safe havens. Without the U.S. air support, however, the Kurds will also pull out and concentrate instead in the Kurds occupied Afrin (northeastern Syria) where it is fiercely locked in battle with Turkish forces.

Turkey considers a faction of the Kurds (the People’s Protection Units or YPG) as a terrorist group and is trying to prevent an enclave of an independent Kurdistan from materializing next to its border. Turkey blames the YPG for the terrorist attacks in the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to crush this Syrian Kurdish militia.

But Trump does not want to be involved in the minutia of such fragile alliances because to him he knows better than his advisers. Those who opposed him found themselves out in the cold. Not only where they fired; president Trump had purposely embarrassed them publicly to teach a lesson and make them recognize who is the boss. Even if that would mean disarray in his national security team, he could care less because he does not think through the consequences. He is only dealing in the moment and if that moment means an idea that came out of Fox News during his executive time that he supports, he will tweet it.

Trump does not have scruples as can be gleaned from his lack of moral compass. There is no North Star, he is only after what’s good for him and his family. He is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possibly colluding with the Russians in the last presidential elections, fighting legal battles in several fronts involving a porn star, a former Playboy playmate, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “Apprentice,” and other women who alleged malfeasance by Trump, and fighting lawsuits involving his Washington DC hotel for violation of the emolument clause (making profits off foreign clients).

Trump’s administration is also beset with corruption charges involving his cabinet secretaries some of whom have been fired or has resigned. The corruption angle is what bothers Trump and not so much the legal troubles he is currently facing. The corruption charges will hurt his standing with his loyal base who believed Trump when he said that he will be “draining the swamp” that is Washington. Instead of draining the swamp, Trump has brought more alligators to Washington who are helping themselves with the people’s money. He also rewarded his wealthy campaign donors and himself with hefty tax breaks and tax cuts while giving the poor a mere pittance.

Trump has built a fortune in real estate following his own instincts through multiple business bankruptcy and he believes that his approach will work during his presidency – by mouthing off falsehoods to distract, bluffing, threatening with lawsuits or actually filing one against his accusers, and would never admit he was wrong. He is such a bullshit artist (or a con man – whatever serves your fancy) who does not deserve to sit any minute longer in the White House. His boundless faith in his ability to survive any financial, political, and legal or public relations mess would hasten his own undoing as he continues to engage in daily presidential malpractice.

He has already rattled Wall Street, company CEO’s, and many Republicans in Congress for his obstinate approach in dealing with trade issues. His slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against his perceived enemies (ally or not) has already drawn blood and reciprocated by China with imposing additional tariffs on agricultural products exported from the United States. While this was a measured response, China’s long list of agricultural products would hurt many farmers in Red States where Trumps supporters are mostly from.

His avowed threat to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal was put on hold because of intervention from his former national security advisers (General H. R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) but with both being gone, Trump’s new National Security Adviser John Bolton could just egg Trump to abrogate the Iran deal and probably launch a preemptive strike on North Korea if the talks between Trump and Kum Jong Un falters. Bolton strongly believes that America is supported by international law if it attacks North Korea preemptively.

Meanwhile, Trump gets chummy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and even congratulated the guy for winning a rigged presidential election. It took Trump a while to impose sanctions on Russia after the attempted assassination of a former KGB now a British citizen and his daughter, using a chemical weapon. While leaders of NATO were unequivocal in condemning the attack, Trump was eerily silent and did not even raise the issue when he recently spoke to Putin by phone. It was only upon insistence by his senior staff that he silently ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats.

Trump’s incompetence has America on retreat from the world stage. His lack of a war strategy in Syria and Afghanistan, incoherence on foreign policy matters, his disdain for legislative sausage making, and obsessive self-promotion is hurting America’s image and will put the country’s national interest in perilous ground in the long term.

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