Introduction

In a 2014 two-part series on the US role in Afghanistan and Iraq, I concluded all US troops should be withdrawn from both countries. Trump’s decision to pull all US troops out of Syria and half out of Afghanistan raises again the question of exactly what the US is doing in the Middle East. In what follows, I update the information contained in the 2014 articles and add in considerations on Syria…

It is important to draw attention to these two wars because most Americans are only occasionally reminded that these wars are still ongoing by brief reports on cable news.    

Iraq

The US has been involved in Iraq 17 years. “Weapons of Mass Destruction” did not exist so this reason for invading was false. The effect has been to end Iraq’s ongoing wars with Iran and turn Iraq into a vassal of Iran. And the bloodshed continues as the Shiite dominated Iraqi government systematically works to eliminate the Sunni opposition. The last available information indicated 7,402 US soldiers remain in Iraq. Why? What is the reason for them being there?

In the 2014 piece, I reported the following:

We hear that the Mosel was freed of ISIS by US support of the Iraqi government. To understand what is really happening, this New Yorker piece by Ben Taub is worth reading. He notes:

“A year and a half after the battle, Mosul’s Old City is still in ruins, and unexploded bombs regularly kill people. Ten million tons of rubble…. But, insofar as there is a strategy, it seems almost perfectly crafted to bring about the opposite of its intent. American and Iraqi military officials spent years planning the campaign to rid Iraq of ISIS, as if the absence of the jihadis would automatically lead Iraq toward the bright democratic future that George W. Bush’s Administration had envisaged when U.S. forces invaded the country, in 2003. But ISIS has always derived much of its dangerous appeal from the corruption and cruelty of the Iraqi state.

Taub believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadis’ narrative—that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out.”

Afghanistan

The US had only one reason to go into Afghanistan: to “get” Bin Laden for being the mastermind behind the 9/11 bombings. I remember at the time of 9/11 hoping/praying that the US would not follow in the footsteps of the France and the Soviet Union by getting into a hopeless and unwinnable ground war. But it did. And since 2002, the US Congress has appropriated nearly $103.2 billion to “rebuild” Afghanistan through such programs as “Operation Enduring Freedom”. This is a huge amount: it is more than the United States has ever spent on reconstruction of any other nation. And this number does not include most of the US military costs.

As of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,320 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.

What is the objective? What justifies the expense and loss of life?

Syria

Initially, the US got involved in Syria to thwart the Assad regime and block ISIS inroads. The US “took its eye off the ball” allowing Russia and Iran to both get footholds in the country. Assad, with the help of chemical weapons has been allowed to continue the slaughter. For the US, the game is lost. What is to be gained by remaining in Syria?

Trump’s Transition Out Strategy

While getting out is consistent with Trump’s campaign promises. But Trump’s way of getting out is absurd. To make a unilateral announcement without any discussion with US allies and even his own military??

The Bigger Picture

Look at the numbers in the following table where countries are broken down by controlling Islam sect. Simple minded? Maybe, but also more enlightening than most other ways to look at the Middle East. Note what happened as the result of Saddam being removed: one million soldiers switched to the Shia side as Shiites take control in Iraq.

So what should the US do as it pulls its troops out of the Middle East? Note that Sunnis have a large population advantage over Shiites but Shiites have more enrolled in the military. And this is largely explained by the fact that only 1% of the Saudi population are in the military.

Population and Military Personnel of Middle East Countries by Sect

Sources: Wikipedia and Pew

The problems in the Middle East stem largely from Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia and The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that “The Saudi kingdom, an active promoter and sponsor of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist strain of Islam that serves as the backbone of modern Islamic extremism.”

Now that it is no longer dependent on Saudi oil, the US can exert considerable influence on Saudi Arabia. It should do so to:

  • End the Saudi invasion of Yemen;
  • Re-establish working relations with Qatar, and
  • Increase its military force to take over from the US in battling Middle East Terrorists.

The fact that Trump continues to defend the Crown Prince after the Khashoggi assassination is troubling.