Neither Mattis nor Trump Recognizes the Scope of This Fight
Like all presidents beginning with Jimmy Carter, President Trump isn’t promoting the downfall of the Iranian regime. He loves sanctions, somehow believes that economic misery will eventually provoke the Iranian people to rise against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his henchmen, and periodically sends our troops to kill proxies and members of the Revolutionary Guards.
General Mattis did not, so far as I can tell, challenge this policy. He was an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic when he led Centcom, but he was opposed to Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal, and never, so far as I can tell, called for American support of the ongoing uprising of the Iranian people against the regime.
I am a Marine dad, and I am full of admiration for General/Secretary Mattis’ many fine words warning of the Iranian threat to us, as well as his outstanding leadership on the Iraqi battlefield. But I have been disappointed by his lack of action against the mullahs.
It should be obvious that an effective Syria policy must include defeating Iran -- Syria, and also Lebanon, are run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards -- and I was dismayed and surprised that Mattis’ resignation letter did not deal with Iran. I am afraid this means that Mattis agrees with Trump that we should not challenge Tehran. Like the president, Mattis seems to favor some sort of deal. So while I am impressed by the dignity and coherence of his resignation, I am not impressed with his policy views, any more than I was when he called John Kerry “valiant” in a public conversation with a CNN talking head at the Aspen Institute.
Nor do I admire Mattis’ -- and Trump’s, and Pompeo’s, and most of the pundits’ and journalists’ -- failure to see the world for what it is. How often have you heard warnings that the withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan will make war more likely? They don’t seem to realize that the war is on, right here and now. Nor do they see that it’s a global war, and that we face a coalition of radical Islamist and radical Leftist regimes, from China and North Korea and Cuba to Russia, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Our enemies, who fear and despise freedom, are well aware that this is a big war. Listen to the Taliban, as quoted by my fine colleagues Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn:
For years, the Taliban and al Qaeda have told their followers that victory is on the horizon. “Verily, Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar has been quoted as saying.
More recently, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri claimed that the Taliban’s resurrected Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be the “nucleus” of a new caliphate.
Such is the importance that Osama bin Laden’s successor has placed on the Afghan jihad. Similarly, the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar, predicted in 2017 that Trump’s “America First” policy meant that America would retreat from Afghanistan, thereby signaling the loss of its global leadership position.
Today, their predictions look prophetic.
All members of the enemy alliance are celebrating our withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan. It seems excellent news for Putin, Xi, and the others. As I wrote with General Flynn on the eve of Trump’s election, our failure to see the nature of the global war, and our consequent failure to design a winning strategy, guarantees our peril will intensify.
Meanwhile, there are our local allies. I have long advocated American support for the Kurds, and, like Mattis and several other senior policy makers, I mourn the damage to them that is likely to follow our Syrian withdrawal. But that betrayal is not new, and not a surprise. Ever since Nixon/Kissinger, we have regularly left the Kurds to the mercies of the Turks and Iranians. I once called it a fixed principle of American foreign policy, and so it remains.
Let’s hope the new secretary of defense stands with them.