I’m bamboozled by all the hand-wringing over the retreat of US troops from Middle Eastern soil in recent weeks. Some American soldiers were pelted with rotten vegetables as their convoy rolled out of northern Syria after President Donald Trump said he wanted to extricate America from “endless wars” in the Muslim world.
At the time, I don’t believe that anyone other than his hardcore supporters took him seriously. Just like his predecessor Barack Obama pledged to shut down Guantanamo, but didn’t, I suspect that the real powers at play in Washington thought they would be able to obfuscate, prevaricate and in the end frustrate Trump’s election promises.
While the bizarre decisions coming out of the Oval Office since his arrival in the White House have left us all — including the many Trump advisers and observers — breathless and baffled, maybe this time he is doing the right thing even if his methods are unorthodox and chaotic. With no US troops and firepower in the region, maybe, just maybe, the Arab world will stand a better chance of solving its own problems, even those caused by Western influence in the first place.
Removing US troops from Syria did cause the locals to panic and prompted a backlash. Now it seems that there’s no welcome for them in neighbouring Iraq either. The people in charge in Baghdad these days insist that the US no longer has permission to stay there. Those Iraqi politicians influenced by Tehran-backed factions were horrified when Trump said that he intended to keep American troops on standby in Iraq to monitor neighbouring Iran.
Now that American soldiers are getting used to packing up their kit bags, it might be an idea to pull them out of Afghanistan as well. The US should never have gone to war against the Taliban; successive US administrations have been trying ever since to find ways of getting out, just like the Soviet Union and even earlier British armies did before them.
What Trump is discovering is that retreating from the Middle East can be just as devastating as diving headlong into ill-conceived wars, not least in terms of the human cost. In all of this there is only one thing that is certain: US foreign policy cannot bring about peace through the barrel of a gun, and its current diplomacy is just as catastrophic as its military interventions.
“Nothing in the modern history of the Middle East – not the Taliban or the Saddam or Assad regimes – has equalled the horror unleashed by the US’s ‘wars of 9/11’,” Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins wrote recently. “They have come to seem as interminable as they are unspeakable.”
Despite putting a wrecking ball through the Middle East Peace Process once and for all by declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel last year, withdrawing funding for Palestinian refugees and recognising Tel Aviv’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights in Syria, Trump may yet obtain partial redemption by his bizarre style of leadership.
We might, after all, be witnessing the beginning of the end of nearly a century of destructive US interference in the Middle East, which followed in the footsteps of the equally destructive British Empire. According to the law of averages this latest US President has, statistically at least, got to get something right sooner or later. Perhaps that particular “sooner” is now.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.